Launching of “BENI” as a newspaper in Koshali: Dr. Arjun Purohit’s message
My heartiest congratulations to BENI publications in launching this new Koshali newspaper. Believe it or not,this is a historical moment in the sense that BENI’s will reach across length and breadth Koshal bringing pertinent news of our area in our own language. I have come across several newspapers in area, such as,Arji from Bhawanipatna,Agnisikha from Sambalpur , Paschimanchal from Rourkela, etc.,all great endeavours to accomplish the same goal; they all should be saluted. But BENI’s reach will be most extensive. All widely circulated newspapers,such as Dharitri,Sambad,Samaj,etc. in Odisha are based in coastal area,some having special editions for Sambalpur and Rourkela. They also have reporters from Koshal but editorial controls are in the head office. Occasionally, we also get Koshali language supplements from some of these publications.Why then must we have another Koshali newspaper against all odds ? Really,we have no choice. It is not prudent to leave your issues,your priorities,your aims and aspirations, your dreams, core values of your identity to left to be articulated by some body else. You should not see your image from somebody else’s mirror. Few years ago I met Dr.Arjan De Haan, a Dutch scholar who spent a few years in Odisha as a member of of a British NGO investigating inter-regional disparity. He has extensively published on this issue. When I asked him as what can be done to tackle this mammoth and chronic problem, especially when political power center in Odisha is so coastal Odisha focussed having scant interest towards other parts ? He replied,”I am astounded that there is not single viable newspaper which does not originate from Bhubaneswar/Cuttack area. In a democracy,silence is not golden. Do not ever think that in democracy,things are done because of logic or equity. You have to scream hard so that your voices will be hard. So the very first thing you have to do is to start your own newspaper.”(my paraphrase).
Surrendering editorial control to non-Koshalis can have disastrous consequences. A newspaper called Sambalpur Hiteishini was started under the patronage of Basudev Sudhal Dev,Raja of Bamra with editorship of Nilamoni Bidyaratna from coastal Odissa. The problem was that Sri Bidyaratna was unapologetic hater of Koshali language. In 1891,he published a Koshali poem KAHA GO DUTI KENTA KARASIGO by Madhusudan, with the following commentary attached to it:”Though Odia is the mother tongue of People of Sambalpur division, it is horribly distorted. It is true that the language has now improved in the civilised part of this society. But among the low class of this society, it has remained as distorted as before.Recently we obtained an ancient poem composed in Sambalpuri language, which we have published herewith for the information of the readers.”(Source: Paschima Odishara Giti Kabita edited by Sasanka Sekhar Panda,2004). This instance illustrates quite clearly a few salient points. This exhibits the utter contempt in which Sri Bidyaratna held for Koshali language. Secondly, he like many even today in coastal odisha never acknowledged that Koshali,not Odia, is the mother tongue of Koshal region.Thirdly, it also shows that Koshali poets have been composing poems but their work could not find any media for expressions. Koshali was was not only marginalised but also ridiculed as a distorted Odia. Political climate in those days also did not help the cause of Koshali. Intellectuals of Koshal region were actively involved to get the Sambalpur tract to get amalgamated to Bengal Presidency away from the Central Presidency.Therefore, cause to accentuate Odia was accepted to thwart the attacks of Bengali nationalists intent on disenfranchising Odia as a separate language distinct from Bengali, and many called Odia as their mother tongue , though they knew Koshali as their real mother tongue. Sambalpur Hiteishini was the only periodical in Koshal region heavily subsidised by Raja of Bamra, was at the forefront championing the cause of Odia, while actively suppressing Koshali. Hence to get their works published poets like Gangadhar Meher and Bhima Bhoi wrote exclusively in Odia. Very low literacy rate in the region was another reason why Koshali writers simply did not have any avenue for expression, because poor illiterate folks do not buy books.
What role BEN must play at this juncture of growth of Koshali ? The same as Utkal Dipika in Odia under the editorship of Gauri Shankar Roy,himself a domiciled Bengali in Odisha. Utkal Dipika, published in 1886, became the voice of Odia speaking people which challenged virulent attacks by well known personalities like Rajendralal Mitra, who argued that use of Odia in stead of Bengali schools would adversely impact learning of kids, and Kantilal Bhattacharya who wrote”Odia Swatantra Bhasha Noy”. We have to see that Koshali is recognised in the 8th schedule as soon as possible. My fervent hope is that just like BENI we will have many more publications in Koshali asserting our identity and reinvigorating our language. Therefore I urge all Koshali lovers join me in celebrating the launching of BENI at this crucial stage of our struggle. Jay Koshala.Jay Ma Samalei.
PS: Ignore typos