The question of language constitutes one of the major areas of ongoing debate at the heart of international organizations involved in education and culture, such as UNESCO, European Council and others. This growing debate over the defence of linguistical heritage ? related to contemporary concerns over the preservation of biodiversity and cultural diversity ? among both, scientific bodies and diverse international institutions has to be understood in the light of the crucial function of language in the genesis of cultures.
According to the figures released by UNESCO, there are more than 6700 living languages in the world. Of these, many African, Asian and American languages are at the risk of extinction. Recent estimates show that 25 languages disappear annually, that is, at the rate of one every two weeks.
In the past some colonial regimes have attempted to kill certain languages and sometimes they have achieved success in their attempts. Some attempts, of course, have failed. In the present times however, languages disappear due to diverse factors arising from peculiar circumstances which differ from place to place and language to language.
With the disappearance of a language it is not only a human creation that dies but also a form of expressing a conception of the world, a means of expressing a relationship with nature, an oral tradition, a poetry and ultimately a culture, thereby contributing to global impoverishment of humanity. It is for these reasons that states, regions, societies and civil and cultural organizations are seeking to adopt measures conducive to the preservation of languages as these constitute a priceless heritage, fulfilling a central role in the preservation of the identity of numerous communities threatened on diverse continents as well as being indispensable factors in guaranteeing cultural diversity.
A number of warnings by linguists and other social scientists, as well as international organizations have come to underline with growing intensity the crucial factor of languages and mother tongues in the development of human creativity, of capacity to communicate, of the elaboration of concepts and above all, its primary role in cultural identity. It is these concerns that gave rise to the Universal Declaration on Language Rights approved in Barcelona on 6 June 1996 during the World Conference on Language Rights.
Yet there are attempts to belittle or subjugate languages for political or cultural domination. Konkani is one such language which has gone through one painful experience after another. It is also a language which has survived numerous attempts to kill or to suppress or replace it with the language of colonial masters.
The environment too is not quite conducive in as much as it suffers from fragmentation of several kinds. It is fragmented geographically as Konkani speaking people are spread over four different states though Goa is the place of its origin. It is fragmented linguistically as there are seven dialects spoken from the North to the South in its region. It is fragmented culturally as the cultural environment differs from state to state. It is almost a miracle that Konkani has survived and it has been able to tread the path of revival gaining strength as it reaches each milestone of its development.
The history of Konkani language is the history of a language which was being taken for crucifixion but fortunately was not killed. This is the story of a language suppressed by the foreigners and neglected by its own speakers.
Some of the languages from this world, being difficult and scholarly, are lagging behind. Some languages being less spoken gradually become extinct. However, in a bid to demolish a particular culture, an attempt to destroy its very base was done, which was a bad fate for Konkani. Nevertheless, it sustained, grew and could very well dream of a bright future only because it had an incredible vigour of its own. At present, around 40 to 50 lakh (4 to 5 million) people speak Konkani in India. Stretching from Bombay to Kochi along the west coast, Konkani speaking people reside in the four states of Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.
Most of the scholars concede that Konkani language evolved around the 10th century. According to Dr. Jose Pereira, during the 8th century, Aryans set foot on the Konkani soil. Their dialect was influenced by Prakrit languages and that led to the birth of Konkani language in the 10th century.
Sripad Raghunath Desai opines that during the 9th or 10th century, Konkani, Marathi, Gujarati, Rajasthani, Bengali and other modern Indian languages were born from Apabhramsh Prakrit.
Thereafter, for around 500 years, Konkani must have remained only a spoken language continuing the oral tradition. No evidence is available to prove its written tradition of that time. However the 12th century Gomateshwara idol at Sravana belagola carries an inscription under its feet in the words CHAWUNDRAYEM KARAVIYALEM. Dr. Jose Periera contends it to be the first sample of written Konkani. The Head of the Dept. of Marathi at Nagpur University, Dr. S. B. Kulkarni agrees.
Saint Namdev in one of his verses of Gawlan type has written one of the stanzas in Konkani:
This may be a piece of written Konkani from the 13th or 14th century.
Portuguese scholar Dr. Cunha Rivara has recorded that during conversions, Portuguese rulers burnt most of the manuscripts that existed then. They included some Konkani manuscripts too. But before the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa, i.e. before the 16th century, no evidence is yet found to prove that written Konkani was in vogue during that period.
The First Prose
Stories of various incidents from the epics -- Ramayana and Mahabharata -- written by Krishnadas Shama are found. Nevertheless, no proper research throwing light on the aspect whether the stories were written in the 16th century or whether they were recited to missionaries or were written for some other reason is yet done. But that being the first prose among all the modern languages of the country, Konkani can certainly be proud of this very fact.
In 1510, Portuguese conquered Goa and within the next few years, 3 Talukas -- Salcete, Tiswadi and Bardez -- were brought under their rule. Around 1936, the process of conversions began. On that account foreign missionaries came to Goa. Foreign language did not prove effective to impart religious education to the masses. "I had gone to hear the sermon with great hope, but the sermon was delivered in a foreign language", this Konkani proverb must have emerged from those experiences. Obviously, the missionaries were compelled to make provision to study and to teach the language to others. Therefore, they compiled Konkani grammars, dictionaries and produced religious literature.
Printing press came to Goa in 1556. Konkani books were printed and published in this press and thus the propogation of Konkani books was rendered easier. Initially the printing press was installed in Old Goa but it was later shifted to Raitur. Father Thomas Stephens published his book ?Doutrina Cristam? in 1622 and his book 'Arte de Lingua Canarim' the first Konkani grammar of its kind, was published in 1640. Two factors are important in this light: the first book in an Indian language was printed in Konkani and second, the first published grammar of any modern Indian language was of Konkani.
The work continued for around 100 years. Fr. Thomas Stephens, Fr. Diogo Ribeiro, Fr. Antonio Saldanha, Fr. Etiyam de la Croa, Fr. Gaspar de San Miguel, Fr. Jose de Pedroz, Fr. Ignacio Arcamone and others contributed a lot to literature. Some other writers too contributed according to their might. Perhaps this can be considered the fundamental and pioneering work in creating various resources for the study of Konkani language and to start a new era of written tradition of the language.
Unfortunately, after a 100 years, this work suddenly came to a standstill. Two factors were responsible for it: one -- the establishment of Inquisition in Goa and the other -- influence of the luxury loving missionaries upon the King of Portugal.
Inquisition started in 1560. The institution worked to ensure that the converts should not opt for their original religion again. It tried cases, passed judgements and declared punishment for the crimes committed in the matter of religion. Along with that, purely with a religious intention, it was authorized to impose certain religious restrictions on the people. The rules framed by this institution put some restrictions on the use of Konkani language too. Those who changed their religion, obviously were sought to be cut off from Konkani and Indian culture as well. The importance of Konkani from the viewpoint of others eventually declined.
Attempt at Destruction
Bardez taluka was allotted to Franciscan priests for the propogation of the religion. Gradually, they too became lavish in style. They were addicted to the worldly life. The compulsion of learning Konkani was an impediment and burden for them. They immediately apprised the then Viceroy of Goa: ? We have come here to civilise the local masses; therefore, instead of learning their language, they must be taught our language.? The Viceroy Conde de Alvor questioned: ?How many years will the people require to learn the Portuguese language?? The priests answered: ?3 years.? The Viceroy accepted the proposal and recommended it to the king. The King issued an Order in 1684, banning the use of Konkani. Study of Konkani abruptly came to a halt by this order. Obviously, accept for oral communication, use of it for other purposes stopped.
A fair number of books was published in the 18th century. But in the perception of the government and religious leaders, Konkani bore no importance at all. The tendency of treating Konkani as a language of low dignity, germinated from this environment.
Darkness for Two Centuries
The Order of 1684 was followed by darkness for almost 200 years on the developmental front of Konkani. The written tradition having been discontinued, the language prevailed only on the tongues of the people; the gap between the various styles of Konkani widened. Two happenings, one good and the other bad happened during this period. In 1812 the European Archbishop of Goa, by his command, banned the use of Konkani, even in speech in the schools. The same order was implemented in the seminaries too. The language which had already suffered a setback received yet another blow. Konkani was banished from the educational field. Even today some students from convent schools are fined if found speaking in Konkani. The root of this tradition must be found lying in that order of 1812.
The good event was, a bright candle lit amidst the darkness of 1857. Joaquim Eliodoro da Cunha Rivara was appointed Chief Secretary of Goa in 1855. He was a scholar, researcher and a keen lover of books. In 1856 he wrote a thesis entitled ?Historical Essay on the Konkani Language? in Portuguese. It was published in 1858. He exhorted the youth through his thesis and sought to arouse the spirit of Konkani. He insisted on the development of Konkani and emphasized that education be imparted in that language. But his vigorous efforts did not yield any fruits.
He came out with revised editions of some important Konkani books. He made an effort to start schools in Konkani medium. But due to apathy and antagonism his efforts were in vain. The darkness prevailed.
During this period, Barao de Cumbarjua, Tomaz Mourao and a Luso Indian writer Fernando Leal proposed the policy of imparting education in Konkani. But these efforts too failed to produce the required results. Konkani still lagged behind.
In 1858, Dr. Sebastiao Rudolfo Dalgado was born. After 30 years he compiled Konkani-Portuguese and Portuguese-Konkani dictionaries. He must have been inspired by the thesis of Dr. Cunha Rivara.
The history of Konakani people is also by and large accountable for the underdeveloped state of Konkani language. Till 15th century, Goa was ruled by kings from other regions. All of them ruled their empire and the administration was carried on in their own language. Thus, Konkani never got any patronage of any government at all. In addition to this, Konkani community was scattered and the plight of Konkani became pitiable.
In 1294, Allah-ud-din Khilji invaded Goa and a few families from Goa fled to Cochin. The king of Cochin offered them shelter. Due to conversion and inquisition more families migrated to Maharashtra and Karnataka. A few Goans fled from their territory owing to famines and persecution from the Marathas. These families studied the languages of other regions and with the help of scripts from those languages, tried to preserve Konkani. But they spent quite some time settling and stabilizing themselves. No work could be done on the language front. Gradually, fences of scripts developed and communication was hampered.. Due to this course of events Konkani survived but it lagged behind its sister languages.
The study of Konkani began in the 16th century and religious literature was created. Nevertheless, the inspiration behind this achievement was neither lingual not cultural but was exclusively religious. As an important instrument of cultural renaissance, the work of development of Konkani accelerated at the end of the 18th century.
He embarked upon the task of awakening the people about Konakni at the intellectual level. His endeavour later on took the form of a social movement and eventually it spread to all sections of Konkani speaking community. Shenoi Goembab is aptly regarded as the pioneer of this movement.
In 1899, Eduardo Bruno de Souza published the first Konkani newspaper, 'UDENTECHEM SALLOK' and that paved the way for Konkani journalism.
In 1892, Lucacino Ribeiro gave to Konkani, ?Tiatr? and provided a platform for the rich folklore of the soil. Obviously, it attracted more and more people.
Shenoi Goembab published his books in the first half of the 20th century. Not only did he write on linguistics, grammar and history but he created potent creative literature in Konkani. The ideas projected in his writings awakened the masses. The future generations girded up their loins having received inspiration from his works.
At the same time, the development of Konkani was progressing in Mangalore. A foreign missionary named Agnelo Maffei compiled a Konkani dictionary and a grammar. St. Aloysius College was established and Fr. Silvester Menezes shouldered the flag of Konkani. In 1920, Louis Mascarenhas started a periodical ?Konkani Dirvem? and creative literature thus blossomed along with journalism.
Awakening of the Masses
Year 1939 saw an important event in public life. Late Madhav Manjunath Shanbhag organized the First Konkani Parishad in Karwar. For the first time, the representatives of Konkani community had assembled there. A new era of awakening had begun.
The 3rd session of this Parishad was held in Bombay. Later on, Konkani Bhasha Mandal was formed there and various activities began to take shape. Likewise more of such sessions were held in other regions and Konkani community became more and more conscious about its own language.
Goa was liberated from Portuguese regime in 1961. The 8th session of the Parishad was held in Margao in 1962. The flag of Konkani movement was hoisted in this session with jubilant pride.
Konkani programmes were broadcast from All India Radio, Bombay since 1956. Writers and artistes got a platform to exhibit their talents. This led to increased awareness about the strengths and requirements of the language.
During this period, Konkani Mandals were started in most colleges in Mumbai and Konkani speaking students from Goa and Mumbai actively participated in the activities of the Mandals. The Mandals lit the torch of cultural identity in their hearts. Not only did the Mandals serve literature and culture, but they created an army of energetic volunteers needed then to keep going the Konkani movement.
In 1963 Goa Government accepted Konkani as a medium of instruction. A few primary schools in Konkani medium were started. The dream of Cunha Rivara, Mourao, Fernando Leal and others was on the verge of being a reality.
In 1966 Konkani Bhasha Prachar Sabha was formed in Kochi city of Kerala. The Konkani lovers there united together with the bond of love for the language and its culture. A host of writers in the new generation came forth.
In 1967 Opinion Poll was held in Goa. Before that, while opposing merger of Goa with Maharashtra, a few points were focused upon and Konkani language, culture and identity were prominent among them. This propagation effaced many a doubts and misunderstandings about the language. The new generation was impressed upon with an unprecedented feeling of love and pride in their mother tongue.
By and large, at the same time, creative activity in the language was progressing. It bloomed to a great height after the liberation of Goa. Literature was enriched by writers from Mangalore, Bombay and Kochi as well. Initially, there was a fertile crop of poems. But gradually, other genres of literature also flourished. New writers came to light and the literary potential of the Konkani language was projected in a radiant way.
There was a demand for the recognition of the language by Sahitya Akademi from Goa and Kerala. The then President of Sahitya Akademi, Dr. Sunitikumar Chatterji bestowed affectionate blessings upon Konkani. However, the Akademi appointed a committee of five linguists and sought their recommendations. The committee was unanimous in recommending that Konkani is an independent literary language.
Sahitya Akademi called for a meeting to discuss the proposal to recognize Konkani. The then Central Minister, Mohan Dharia dispatched a letter to the members of the Akademi urging them not to recognize Konkani. The then Chief Minister of Goa, Smt. Shashikala Kakodkar, in a similar letter threatened that rivers of blood would flow in Goa if Konkani was recognized. Yet, brushing aside those threats Sahitya Akademi recognized Konkani in 1975.
In 1986 the obstinate and stubborn attitude of Goa Government provoked an agitation. It was launched under the banner of Konkani Projecho Avaz basically with three demands ? I) To enact legislation to make Konkani the official language of Goa. II) Goa should be given the status of fullfledged state, and III) To include Konkani in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
The agitation was successful and on 4th February 1987 the Legislative Assembly of the then Goa, Daman and Diu Union Territory passed a legislation making Konkani the official language of Goa. The bill was assented to by the Governor on 14th April, 1987. The problem of official language having been solved, the Central Government conferred full-fledged Statehood on Goa on 30th May 1987.
In 1992 the Central Government considered the demand to include Konkani in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. In all eight languages were demanding such recognization.
Leaders of various political parties recommended the criterion: a language which is recognized by Sahitya Akademi and which is official language of any state be included in the Eighth Schedule. Only three languages could satisfy these conditions: Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali. The Government accepted the criterion and on 20th August, 1992 a bill seeking amendment to the Constitution was introduced. Both the Houses unanimously passed the bill on the same day. Thus Konkani was finally included in the Eighth Schedule.
In the recent history the movement launched by Konkani Projecho Avaz had great significance. The very movement resulted into making Konkani the official language, attainment of statehood for Goa, and Konkani, having been the official language of the State, its inclusion in the Eighth Schedule.
In a way, this history is full of obstacles. The development of Konkani is attained only after crossing all sorts of hurdles. These obstacles serving as blessings in disguise, guide the language into multifarious paths of progress. Of course, Konkani ought to feel proud of its achievements in various spheres. It can now legitimately dream of a bright future with a sense of confidence. __________________________
Mr. Uday Bhembre, Chief Editor, Daily Sunaparant, Near B. P. S. Club, Pajifond, Margao, Goa 403 601, INDIA