Tribal People Create Script To Save Dying Language In Eastern India

2007-05-09 00:00:00

A tribal group in eastern India has prepared a written script to promote what it feels is becoming a dying language.

The Pastoral Centre of Ranchi archdiocese hosted a meeting on May 2 to discuss tribal issues, especially the promotion of Kurukh, the language of the Oraon tribe. The tribe mainly lives in Jharkhand state.

The state capital, Ranchi, about 1,160 kilometers east of New Delhi, is the base of the archdiocese and nerve center of India´s vibrant tribal Church.

About 300 bishops, priests, Religious and doctors, engineers, government officials, politicians and professors attended the meeting. It was organized by Kurukh Unnati Samaj (society for the advancement of Kurukh), a forum for development of the language.

The Oraon, the most "upwardly mobile" of Jharkhand´s 32 tribes, has a sizeable number of Catholics, including hundreds of priests, nuns and prelates. Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo of Ranchi, Asia´s first tribal cardinal, belongs to this tribe.

However, retired Bishop Nirmal Minj of North-West Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church has told UCA News that a gap unfortunately now exists between Oraon people living in cities and those living in villages.

"It is sad to say the city people have so developed themselves that it is not easy for them to mix with village people," the Protestant prelate said. "They have become strangers in their own villages because they do not know the Kurukh that village people speak all the time. Mother tongue spreads love and makes one feel oneness and belonging-ness."

He and several other speaker noted that the tribe´s socio-cultural advancement has adversely impacted their indigenous culture and language.

Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Barwa of Ranchi told the gathering that tribal groups worry about their traditional languages, literatures and cultures because the present generation is losing interest in them.

Auxiliary Barwa said this "threatens tribal society and its identity and existence," and can be checked only if the language is saved. He said he hopes the meeting also will help revitalize Oraon society.

Rameshwar Oraon, a member of parliament, told the meeting that the Jharkhand state government has taken steps to teach tribal languages in schools, "but the mother tongue can be learned best at the mother´s lap, at home."

Most educated people are shy about speaking their tribal language. Oraon remarked that their preference for English and other languages "is separating them from the rest of the Oraon society, and this will weaken our society."

Karma Oraon, an anthropology professor at Ranchi University who heads the forum to develop Kurukh language, pointed out that tribal children who study in English-medium schools prefer to speak with their parents in English.

Father Augustine Kerketta, general secretary of the language development forum, told UCA News that parents have been urged to teach the tribal language to their children at home. Advancement of the language, the priest said, has also been blocked by the absence of its own script.

But with the help of experts, the forum has developed a script called Tolong Sinki for the language, and it was officially accepted during the meeting.

"We will learn and use the script," Father Kerketta said. "We will also ask the government to accept this script to teach this language in the schools."


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