Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
As the people of Orissa are utmost happy over recognition of the classicality of their mother tongue, a wrong person in the right place – Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik – under whose misrule Oriya language has been de facto reduced to a stale condition being deprived of its primacy in official use, has exceeded all limits of brazenness in claiming credit for the achievement, as the entire official machinery was used to celebrate the long overdue recognition in a style that was aimed to tell the people that, it is his government that has made the dream come true.
Union Minister Srikant Jena, who has injured Oriya mana by shamelessly acquiescing into an utterly inferior position in the Union ministry, has not stayed behind. He has claimed that the classical status “given” to Oriya language by the central government is the best gift of the Congress party to the people of Orissa.
Sadly, a handful of men of letters, taking advantage of anarchy spread in the literary horizon of Orissa, are seen cultivating approbations for their self-claimed contributions to achievement of the classical tag, though in reality, for collection and compilation of documents placed before the union cabinet in support of Orissa’s claim, they have discharged a paid duty. Even some of them have allegedly used officially procured data for projection thereof as their own researched collection! But none of these fellows have shown and cannot show, how had they reacted when Telugu bagged the classical status even though it was well on records that Oriya is a far superior language than that. Sources in the government say, a gang of Language mafia has stolen the classical document prepared by the Bhasa Pratisthan and used the same to claim credit for their research. We are to dig that over in course of time. But, had there been no classical tag, could Oriya language have lost its claim to the superior position that it has been possessing?
Let me begin with the most authentic recognition of Oriya’s superiority and proceed to say how it declined because of Orissa’s political and executive governments and men of letters – more eager to ingratiate themselves with the men in power for bagging desired positions and awards than staying sentinels of the Oriya language.
“The Oriya Language can boast of a rich vocabulary in which respect neither Bengali nor Hindi nor Telugu can vie with it”, the internationally acclaimed linguist Sir George Grier’son had to declare in Linguistic Survey of India (Vol.IV). We will come later to why he had to make this comparison; but let me first make it clear that, Orissa owes its origin to Oriya language.
Unique position of Orissa
Orissa is the mother of the concept of linguistic provinces in India. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, it had “raised the large question of redistribution (of population and landmass) on linguistic basis” (Young India, 18 February 1920). It was born out of political debris the British had made of it, on the basis and because of its children’s ardent love for their mother tongue.
The invader British was most afraid of the brave and proud people of Orissa. Orissa was the last land in India to have shrewdly been annexed by the British; but was the first land, where no sooner than being occupied, swords were raised to oust the British from the soil.
Admitting this historic reality, British historian G. Toynbee has said, “It was not long, however, before we had to encounter a storm which burst with so sudden fury as to threaten our expulsion” (A sketch of the History of Orissa).
The patriotic “disposition” of the people of Orissa was such that it was impossible for the British to defeat or overcome them “either by military or police” (Magistrate W. Forrester to Commissioner Robert Ker, on 9 September 1818).
Therefore, it is Orissa, where the invader British had to make a compromise with the people. Their leader Buxi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mohapatra was honored with dignity and the moral sovereignty of their king-emperor the Gajapati of Orissa was restored. But through this compromise, the British also had gained acceptability as a government.
The people of Orissa allowed themselves to be ruled by the British in lieu of restoration of the lost honor of their leader Buxi Jagabandhu and their moral Sovereign the Gajapati.
It was a sacrifice par excellence ever made by a brave race.
But the British, after gaining this acceptability as a government, resorted to blatant treachery against the people and divided Oriya speaking tracks and arbitrarily attached the separated parts to neighboring provinces of Bengal in the north, Madhya Pradesh in the west and Madras in the south in order to weaken the Oriyas, whose “disposition” it was afraid of (Magistrate W. Forrester to Commissioner Robert Ker, cited supra).
In the labyrinth of conspiracy
Thus the proud people of Orissa were reduced to linguistic minorities in their rival neighboring provinces in the labyrinth of conspiracy.
To push them into further disadvantage, the “native servants” of the British were being helped to misappropriate the landed properties of the Oriyas militia and it was soon seen that a few fellows that were earning their livelihood as pimps in Calcutta brothels became Zamidars in Orissa!
People of Orissa got ruined as native servants of the British – the Bengalis in particular – went on looting their properties.
“A regular system of oppression and peculation appears to exist throughout …… these people (the Bengali servants of the British) are considered the terror and the scourge of the district” (Revenue Administration in Orissa, notes of W. Trower, Collector of Cuttack, dated 23rd may, 1817).
The Bengalis, taking the advantage, not only went on looting the jewelry and landed properties of the people of Orissa, but also their intellectual properties like Sri Jaya Dev’s world famous lyrics compiled in Geeta Govinda and Proto-Oriya works of the Siddhacharyas of Orissa known as Bauddha Gana O Doha and dared even to claim that Oriya was not a separate language, but an offshoot of Bengali!
The words used for the Bengalis by Trower in Cuttack context were applicable to Madhyapadeshis and Telugus in whose hands the Oriya speaking tracks had fallen under the conspiracy.
Birth of the Oriya movement
Dinabandhu Pattanayak of Dharakot (Ganjam) was the first man to have raised voice against this mischief. He made a public appeal to peoples of Cuttack to come forward to fight for amalgamation of the Oriya speaking tracks in entirety as otherwise Oriya culture, sculptures and natural wealth cannot be saved from non-Oriyas (Utkala Dipika, 22 October 1870).
It eventually gave birth to Utkal Sammilani, the great Oriya Movement led by Kulagaurav Madhu Sudan Das, which not only forced to create Orissa as a separate province with the concentrated Oriya speaking areas, but also paved the path for formation of language-based States in India.
But, by then Congress being the national forum of negotiation with the British and Bengalis and the Telugu as well as Hindi speaking people having their sway in the Congress, there was a lot of resistance to creation of Orissa as a separate State. The Oriya Movement led by Utkal Sammilani was unique and unprecedented. Gandhiji had to say, “The fine race (of Oriyas) cannot possibly make the natural advance which is its due, if it is split up into four divisions for no sound reason” (Young India, 18 Feb. 1920).
By then, the British had already had a linguistic survey of India.
Making a study of the linguistic superiority claims of Bengali, Hindi and Telugu as against Oriya, Sir George Grier’son had made it unambiguously clear – as quoted supra – that, Oriya was far superior to all these three rivals. “The Oriya Language can boast of a rich vocabulary in which respect neither Bengali nor Hindi nor Telugu can vie with it” he had declared (Vol.IV, Linguistic Survey of India). With specific reference to Bengali, Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee had later to admit, “It may be said without travesty of linguistic truth that Oriya is the eldest of the three sisters (Oriya, Bengali and Assamees) (I.H.Q. Vol.XXIII, p. 337), in view of her “archaic” richness.
Birth of Orissa from the womb of Oriya
The “Oriya Movement” succeeded and Orissa, as the first linguistic province took birth from the womb of Oriya language on April 1, 1936.
We therefore celebrate Utkal Divas (birthday of Orissa) on April 1 every year.
Orissa Official language Act
On the first Utkal Divas after independence, i.e. on April 1, 1948, Pt. Laxminarayan Mishra, a freedom fighter of Sambalpur representing East-Bargarh Constituency in the Pre-Republic Assembly of Orissa, moved a Resolution seeking direction to the State Government to enact a Law for governance of Orissa in Oriya Language with effect from June 1, 1948 (Orissa Assembly Debates, 1 April 1948, p.748). With Prime Minister Harekrushna Mahtab, as then he was, lending his strategic silent support to Bengali lobby powerful because of national newspapers published from Calcutta, Rajkrushna Bose, a Bengali stalwart representing East-Kendrapada, vehemently opposed Pt. Mishra. As the House was being prompted against his move by the henchmen of Mahtab, the Law and Development Minister Nityanand Kanungo stoutly refused to agree with the resolution. Pt. Mishra was forced to withdraw it. Revenue Minister Nabakrushna Choudhury was so disturbed over this that, a few days later, he resigned from his post and went away to his Ashram. When he became the leader of the first elected Assembly and took oath as the Chief Minister on May 12, 1950, it was, naturally, his first priority to create the Law contemplated by Pt. Mishra. The Bengali lobby not only in the Assembly, but also in the bureaucracy headed by Chief Secretary B. Mukherjee tried to foil his decision to bring the law. Finally, overcoming all the stiff resistance spanning from 1952, he succeeded in enacting ‘The Orissa Official Language Act, 1954’.
Biju sabotaged Oriya language
Nabakrushna Chowdhury, whose government had brought the Act, was not tolerable to fellows like Biju Patnaik that were priding in being elite.
The administrative officers, in order to keep them as a separate distinguished class, ignored the Act and went on managing their files in English.
Chowdhury was to relinquish office due to their conspiracy.
The Official Language Act was tampered with while being printed in Official Gazette and was relegated to insignificance and English reemerged as the language of administration.
Oriya language was rendered officially useless by Biju Patnaik when he became the Chief Minister. And he contrived a shrewd method to render it useless.
When the Act of 1954 had stipulated that Oriya was “to be used for all or any of the official purposes of the State of Orissa”, Biju Patnaik damaged this stipulation by amending the Act in 1963 providing for use of English “in addition to Oriya for transaction of business in Legislature of the State of Orissa”. This shrewd insertion subjected Orissa administration to predominance of English and ruined the utility of Oriya as a language.
Role of non-Oriya officers
The people of Orissa had saved their language from non-Oriyas through decades long movement. But non-Oriyas ruled the roost as Chief Secretaries till Biju Patnaik’s protege Nilamani Rautray was dismissed as Chief Minister by then Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi.
In fact, from B. C. Mukherjee to B. Venkataraman, the first sixteen Chief Secretaries since adoption of the Official Language Bill in the Orissa Assembly were all non-Oriyas. Due to them, despite adoption of the Bill by Orissa Assembly to make Oriya the official language with immediate effect, administration run in English, there being no punishment for contravention thereof. Even English remained the language of interview for administrative posts. Oriya lost its utility as far as official work was concerned.
J.B.Patnaik’s noteworthy steps
The change came with the end of Biju Patnaik’s shadow rule that his sycophant Nilamani Rautray was running, when President’s rule was promulgated on 17 February 1980. A silent scheme cooked up in Indira Gandhi’s kitchen made it certain that J. B. Patnaik would be drafted to take over Orissa and S. M. Patnaik became the first Oriya by birth to head the executive government as Chief Secretary of the State.
So, by the time JB took over, an Oriya was ready as the Chief Secretary to help the mission of J.B.Patnaik to enforce the 1954 Act in making Oriya the official language in reality.
Specific and time-bound steps were taken to train the stenographers in Oriya shorthand and typing; an expert committee was appointed to build up a full-fledged English-Oriya bilingual dictionary of administrative and legal words. The Government took up with type-writer manufacturers for Oriya type machines. JB set the 1st April 1985 as the day from which use of Oriya as official language would be compulsory. An year ahead of the targeted day, as many as 2,846 Oriya type-writers were supplied to all offices with another 2,077 machines on the anvil. It was decided to enforce use of Oriya as the official language by strengthening the 1954 Act with necessary amendments.
Biju was blatantly against Oriya
But Biju Patnaik blatantly opposed the idea of making Oriya the official language. He was entirely in favor of English.
When the Official Language (Amendment) Act, 1985 was taken up in the Assembly, it was Biju Patnaik, who opposed the proposal. “We can progress further if we have international (English) language (as the official language), he said. He ridiculed the idea of making Oriya the official language and went on elaborating, “If you go to Andhra , you will find DHUD DHUD, if you go to Karnatak, you will find FUD FUD ! Nothing you will understand there. So many languages there in our country. This is not a country at all”.
And, this Biju Patnaik, on succeeding Hemanand Biswal of Congress on 5 March 1990 as Chief Minister, dismissed Oriya from official use with such contempt that the 2nd edition of the Administrative Dictionary, which was ready with more words, was abandoned.
The third term of JB
After JB’s return to power again in March 1995 the abandoned dictionary of administrative words was recompiled and published. Translation of various Acts and Rules into Oriya was taken up and official communications and file notes commenced in Oriya.
But this third term of JB’s chief-ministership was under confusing impact of utter opportunism and corruption and capitalistic anarchy that Manmohan Singh’s emergence in power politics had generated in the country under Prime Ministers P.V.Narasimha Rao, which successive PMs like Atal Bihari Vajapayee, H.D.Deve Gowda, I. K. Gujral and again Atal Bihari Vajpayee had patronized to.
JB had to make a lot of compromises to retain his government and had to relinquish his chair ahead of his term succumbing to internecine rivalry when the Congress high command was too demoralized to ensure for him the much needed discipline in his party to continue with authority.
This is why, the compulsoriness he could have given to use of Oriya as official language had escaped his prerogative.
Rot returned with Naveen Patnaik as CM
And, then, with a very insignificant intervening phase in hands of two short stayers in CM chair, the State fell in the hands of Naveen Patnaik whose only qualification for the post is sonhood of a father whom the people had refused to rely, but whose posthumous image building by his shrewd sycophants has kept the people too overwhelmed to discard the dire danger. Oriya language has lost its utility most severely since the day Naveen Patnaik became the CM.
Like his father as quoted supra, he is so contemptuous towards the Oriya language that despite 14 years in the highest political seat, he has not learned the language though non-Oriya IAS or IPS officers posted in Orissa learn and speak Oriya quite efficiently within a very short span of time, philologically so systematic is the language.
When, to the bad luck of Orissa, a man like him became the Chief Minister, apprehensive of embarrassment that my State will have to suffer because of his zero capability to understand and express in Oriya, I had made a Xerox copy of ‘ A Handbook of Uriya or Oriya Language’ authored by a British Civil Servant Mr. T. J. Maltby in 1874, and revised and republished by Government of Orissa in 1945 on the basis of copyright obtained from the daughter and heir of Mr. Maltby, which was helping the British and other non-Oriya Officers to learn the Oriya language for official use in Oriya speaking areas; and had given it to him through his Secretary. But my endeavor did not bear any fruit. Naveen Patnaik, whose mother tongue is not Oriya, continues to embarrass the people of Orissa by his clumsy utterances of Oriya words as yet, which he reads out from scripts typed either in Hindi or English.
In his regime, Oriya language has suffered irreparable damage and humiliation.
A Bengali colleague of Naveen Patnaik was the Higher Education Minister when directions were issued to jettison Oriya as a subject in degree course. When we exposed and vehemently opposed the anti-Oriya modus operandi under the caption “A Renewed Bengali Conspiracy: Thwart it. Thwart it. Thwart it” on 22 May 2005, and demanded that the Lingua-Benga Minister be sacked, holding Mr. Naveen Patnaik responsible for the rot, the order was, of course, nullified by the Chief Minister; but the national humiliation Oriya language suffered was not avenged. Naveen Patnaik continued to keep Higher Education in the hands of Samir De. We had reiterated on 30 May 2005, “Not enough, National humiliation must be avenged”.
Damage done to Orissa Sahitya Akademi
In the circumstances, in order to further hoodwink the people, to show them that he has his thinking for development of Oriya language, a few months after the official assault on Oriya by his colleague Samir De, a new hotchpotch styled as Odia Bhasa Pratisthana was floated. And, in this, he has destroyed the preeminence of Orissa Sahitya Akademi (Orissa Academy of Letters) in the matter of Oriya language.
Against this backdrop, three-days long official celebrations of classical status of Oriya language under orders of Naveen Patnaik when general election is knocking at the door, seems to be nothing but bitchy politics, contrived again to hoodwink the people in the name of their beloved mother tongue.