Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
The most peaceful and principled movement of the people of a State against the political government’s willful contravention of the most benevolent law of the land is being witnessed in Bhubaneswar for the first time in human history. It is Bhasa Andolan, Orissa, led by a well-knit team of dedicated language activists.
It commenced with an ultimatum delivered to the Chief Secretary of Orissa notifying the Government of the movement in advance. As per the ultimatum, the silent black-flag rally is continuing since April 13, 2016.
It is an experimentation of how silent protests can cause resounding effects if the issue is genuine and purpose pure.
Its effect has put the government in fidgets, which is found in senior most member of the cabinet Dr. Damodar Raut openly supporting the contravention of Orissa Official Language Act in order only to counter the Bhasa Andolan in a meeting at Cuttack on May 15.
He argued that, non-Oriya officers assigned to Orissa cadre by the central government cannot read or write in Oriya and hence imposition of Oriya as a must in administration would be wrong. He, however, showed no courage to reflect on his chief minister, who, despite being in power for around 17 years, has not learned to read and write in Oriya, as a result of which, people are perishing under non-Oriya rule.
Bhasa Andolan has four demands: (1) Provision of punishment against whosoever contravenes the Orissa Official Language Act, because contravention of any law is a punishable offence; (2) Repeal of the amendment done to the Act in 1963 that revived English as an official language in Orissa in addition to Oriya, which has rendered the Act of 1954 inconsequential; (3) Change of the name of the Act to Orissa Public Language Act, so that every office and establishment – mostly private – could come under the purview of the Act and (4) to amend the Act to authorize the government to frame necessary Rules to implement these three demands.
Dr. Raut was intriguingly silent on these demands.
Had the creators of the Orissa Official Language Act not thought of the point raised by Dr. Raut? Before going to this question, let us first know as to why the Act was necessary.
The British had no courage to attack Orissa till annexing all other regions of India.
They knew that, even to Asoka, the terror of Magadha, who had claimed to have conquered this land at Dhauligiri battlefield, had not only to discard the Brahmanya Dharma to get converted to Buddhism, but also had declared that the people of this province were unconquerable.
They also knew, when Muslims had dared to attack Orissa, they were so severely thrashed that, even the Muslim historian Minhaj-I- Siraj, who was witness to the battle, being in the Muslim Army, had to admit, “A greater disaster had not till then befallen the Muslims in any part of Hindustan” (The History of Bengal, Muslim Period, pp.48-52).
However, under the constant impact of the socio-philosophic battle between Brahminism and Buddhism, when Chaitanya had flourished under the guidance of Raya Ramananda Pattanayak and the patronage of Gajapati Prataprudra Dev, as the people of Orissa had somewhat shunned the swords, the British had dared to put their filthy feet on the sacred soil of Orissa. But no sooner than they grabbed the Orissa Gajapati’s estate through tricks, the valorous Oriyas raised their swords against the British to oust them from their territory. In “A sketch of the History of Orissa”, the British historian G. Toynbee writes, “It was not long, however, before we had to encounter a storm which burst with so sudden fury as to threaten our expulsion, if not from the whole of Orissa, at least from the territory of Khurda”.
The British tried its best to suppress this first freedom movement of India by using its advance military force and police. But failed.
It transpires from Para 18 of Magistrate W. Forrester’s report to Commissioner Robert Ker, dat5ed 9.9.1818 that, he was afraid, “The nature of the country (Orissa) and the disposition of the inhabitants will always present formidable obstacle to the suppression of these disturbances either by military or by police”.
This long history of heroic habit and valor had led to sectionalization of our motherland where Oriya was the mother tongue, by the British that could gain recognition of the people of Orissa as the Government by virtue of the treaty signed with Buxi Jagabandhu, Orissa’s General. The British not only divided our compact soil into parts, but also clubbed each part in neighboring rival provinces in the guise of its smooth administration, where the Oriya people became linguistic minorities. We perished as our language was denied official use in administration of those provinces.
So, we woke up as a whole to save our mother tongue from the rival lingual assault and this metamorphosed to a historic and incomparable linguistic movement, as a result of which our motherland Orissa emerged as the first linguistic State of India in the present geographical shape in 1936.
Thus, if Orissa is created, it is created by Oriya language and therefore, it must be governed in Oriya.
This resolution was adopted in Orissa’s special Assembly while celebrating the first Utkal Divas in independent India on April 1, 1948. Accordingly when the first Assembly was formed under the Constitution of India, it created the Orissa Official Language Act in 1954 stipulating that Oriya shall be the language for all and any official purpose in the State of Orissa.
Legislative Intention was to end Non-Oriya rule
The legislative intention of the O.O.L. Act was to end the role of non-Oriya language in governance of Orissa. The Opposition had not only totally supported the Act, but also had made it clear that non-Oriya rule shall not be tolerated. For just a reference, I will cite Hon’ble Pratap Keshari Deo, the legendary Opposition heavyweight, who was representing Junagarh of Kalahandi district.
In total support to the Official Language Bill, he had called upon non-Oriya officers and business operators to learn Oriya language properly and quickly or to get out of Orissa. “They must learn Oriya or else they will have to clear out”, he had declared (Orissa Assembly Debates, Vol.VI-No.4).
From the answer of Chief Minister Nabakrushna Chowdhury it transpires that the Government had granted a grace period of three years to the non-Oriya officers to learn and excel in Oriya language so that administration shall not suffer for their deficiency in Oriya. He had made it clear that whosoever officer shall fail to use Oriya proficiently and properly as official language, shall be punished (Ibid).
Subterfuge by Biju Patnaik
But before end of the grace period of three years, on 19.10.1956 Naba babu preferred to relinquish his office, partly because of personal reasons and mainly because of his disillusionment in politics marking the ever increasing imprudence in public life.The tricks the central government played to keep Sareikela and Kharsuan in Bihar despite they being the homes of Oriya speaking people, in order to please the then President Rajendra Prasad , had precipitated his decision to resign.
This suited the non-Oriyas most. Later when Biju Patnaik became the Chief Minister, they got their strongest ally in him.
Biju babu was not efficient in Oriya. He was eager to show himself as too elite to write in Oriya. The Act was the hindrance. So, he invented a way to hoodwink the people and render the Act inconsequential. Accordingly, he brought in the first amendment to the Act in 1963, taking advantage of a step taken by the central government to please the anti-Hindi campaigner of South India.
This amendment is Act 18 of 1963. It inserted a new section (Sec. 3-A) in to the Act of 1954 to continue with English in addition to Oriya in transaction of the business in the Legislative Assembly of Orissa, even after the 26th day of January 1965, the maximum period granted by the Constitution for replacement of English with the language of the people. It reads, “Notwithstanding the expiration of the period of fifteen years from the commencement of the Constitution of India, the English language may, as from 26th day of January 1965, continue to be used, in addition to Oriya for the transaction of business in Legislature of the State of Orissa”.
When, thus, this amendment was relevant only to the business of the Legislature, the ministers and the mandarins have arbitrarily subjected the entire business of governance to English Language. This is blatant contravention of the Orissa Official Language Act, 1954.
Dr. Damodar Raut, the most prominent member of the cabinet, supports this contravention!