Kosali language movement

July 14, 2018 at 9:59 am Leave a comment

TNN | Amava.Bhattacharya

With the elections about a year away, western Odisha finds itself in conflict with the rest of the state. Part of the issue is Kosali, a language yet to find a place in the Eighth Schedule. Amava Bhattacharya traces its genesis

Labour minister Susanta Singh on Tuesday sought the replacement of the word ‘Utkala’ in ‘Bande Utkala Janani’ with ‘Odisha’. By proposing this change in the de facto state anthem, the BJD leader from Bhatli in Bargarh has turned the lens on the aspirations of western Odisha, a region that is markedly different from northern and coastal Odisha that were part of the historical Utkala kingdom.

Western Odisha’s aspirations have ranged from better infrastructure to a demand for more political attention, to even a separate Kosal state. Central to its identity is the Kosali Language Movement, a socio-political and literary movement. While its literary goal – to prove that Kosali is a language and not a dialect of Odia – has more or less been achieved, its political goal – inclusion of Kosali in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution – is yet to be realized. With elections scheduled for early next year, political parties are expected to raise the emotive language issue to target each other and gain votes in a region that comprises almost half of Odisha’s population.

Kosali (also referred to as Sambalpuri or Kosali-Sambalpuri) is spoken in 10 districts of western Odisha – Bargarh, Boudh, Subarnapur, Jharsuguda, Balangir, Deogarh, Sambalpur, Nuapada, Sundargarh, Kalahandi and the Athamalik subdivision of Angul, besides Raigarh, Mahasamund and Raipur districts of Chattisgarh. For a long time, the language spoken in this vast region, part of the ancient kingdom of Dakshin Kosal, was considered to be a dialect of Odia, but the language movement led by writers, historians, politicians and linguists has punched holes in this theory.

Proponents of the Kosali Language Movement say it is a direct derivative of Sanskrit and belongs to the Ardha-Magadhi Prakrit group of languages as opposed to Magadhi-Prakrit to which Odia belongs. There is significant difference between Kosali and Odia in terms of morphology, semantics, syntax and phonology, they add.

“Kosali is a separate language. It bears as much resemblance to Hindi as it does to Odia,” says Tila Kumar, professor of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics. A frequent traveller to western Odisha, Kumar says he has seen first-hand the difficulties faced by students in government schools in the region.

“Odia-speaking teachers find it hard to communicate with students here. Certain words have different meanings. For example, ‘ghuri’ means kite in Odia but it refers to the village deity’s altar in Kosali,” he adds, attributing the lower exam success rate in this region, particularly in the Kalahandi-Balangir-Koraput zone, to Odia and not Kosali being the medium of instruction in schools. In a memorandum submitted in 2011 to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Kosali Development and Discussion Forum, an organization working for the cause of Kosali, had listed education and administrative efficiency as a reason to seek official recognition of Kosali. “Civil servants from other areas who do not have rudimentary knowledge of Kosli language cannot communicate with citizens, resulting in miscommunication,” the memorandum says.

The Kosali Language Movement is a relatively young phenomenon that gained momentum in the 1970s and 80s. It brings to the fore questions such as what constitutes a language, what differentiates it from a dialect and how important language is to political aspiration, explains Pritish Acharya, a professor of history at the Regional Institute of Education in Bhubaneswar.

“A language gains from the number of works written in it and there has been an explosion of writing, drama and films in Kosali,” says Acharya, a native of Bargarh.

The literary journey for Kosali authors has been both fulfilling and rewarding. While it has always had a strong oral repertoire, the first written work in the language is a poem by one Madhusudan published in the magazine ‘Sambalpur Hitaisini’ in 1891. Verses were composed by a number of poets like Chaitana Das, Balaji Meher, Laxman Pati and Kapila Mohapatra in the early years of the 20th century. The poems were characteristic of Kosali works at the time in that they dealt mainly with rural life. A leading light in Kosali is Khageswar Seth, a dalit fisherman who wrote prolifically in both Sambalpuri and Odia. Caste equations coloured the Odia-Kosali binary as those working in the ‘dialect’ were looked down upon for primarily belonging to the ‘lower’ castes.

A major boost to the language was given by the All India Radio station in Sambalpur, commissioned in 1963. It broadcast programmes, especially music, in Sambalpuri and helped it gain greater acceptance. The following decades saw a flowering of works in Kosali. ‘Rangabati’ written by Mitrabhanu Gauntia become a household name. Sabyasachi Mohapatra’s award-winning ‘Bhukha’ (1989) became the first full-length feature in Kosali; the language got its first novel – ‘Bilasini’ by Dhanpati Mohapatra – in 1990 and Prayagdutta Joshi wrote his seminal ‘Koshali Bhasar Sankshipta Parichaya’ in 1991. Poet Haldar Nag emerged as an icon with his unique style and inspired the emergence of ‘Haldardhara’, a brand of poetry paying tribute to him. In 2012, the Registrar for Newspapers for India enlisted Kosali in its language list. Today, Sambalpur University offers a diploma course in Sambalpuri studies.

Despite being the second-most popular language in a state that is itself the first to be formed on the basis of language in 1936, Kosali has found it harder to notch up political victories. The year 2003 was a watershed moment for language movements as the Centre passed the 93rd Constitutional Amendment to enable the possibility of inclusion of other languages in the 8th Schedule. In the same year, it set up a committee led by Odia littérateur and IAS officer Sitakanta Mohapatra to determine the criteria for inclusion of more languages in the 8th Schedule. The committee submitted its report in 2004 and recommended the inclusion of 38 languages. Kosali/Sambalpuri is one of them. Eighteen years later, the fate of these languages remains unclear.

“The report of the committee is under consideration. No time frame can be fixed for the inclusion of more languages in the 8th Schedule,” reads the government’s official line.

While central recognition has proved to be elusive, state recognition, too, has been lukewarm. In 2014, days after the Centre declared Odia as the sixth classical language of India, the Naveen Patnaik government threw its weight behind Kosali and recommended its inclusion in the 8th Schedule.

Naveen has time and again pushed for the inclusion of Kosali in the 8th Schedule, most recently while campaigning for the Bijepur byelection in Bargarh district. But Odisha remains one of the few states to have only one official language. The Orissa Official Language Act of 1954 recognizes Odia as the official language of the state even though Kosali is estimated to have around 2 crore speakers.

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Entry filed under: Athmallik, Balangir, Bargarh, Books, Boudh, Deogarh, History of Kosli language, Jharsuguda, Kalahandi, Kosli language and literature, Language, Magazine & Periodicals, Nuapada, Region watch, Sambalpur.

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