Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
“The Oriya Language can boast of a rich vocabulary in which respect neither Bengali nor Hindi nor Telugu can vie with it” Dr. Bainshidhar Mohanty has noted in ‘Oriya Bhasar Utpatti O Krama Bikash’ at p. 39, quoting Sir George Grierson’s observation in Linguistic Survey of India.
Sir Grierson had to take up a comparative study of these languages when Oriya, as a vernacular, was threatened by the other three, i.e. Bengali, Hindi and Telugu.
British administrators had to admit that Oriya race was the most formidable amongst all the peoples of India.
In fact, Orissa was the last of all provinces in India to be annexed by the British and the Oriyas were the first amongst all the Indians to revolt against that foreign power.
Overwhelmed by Oriyas in the first upsurge under a General known to history as “Paik rebellion”, British officials had to notify their masters that “It is to be feared that the nature of the Country (Orissa) and disposition of its inhabitants will always present a formidable obstacle to the suppression of these disturbances either by military or police”- W.Forrester to Robert Ker at Para 18 of his Report dated 09 September 1818.
From the day they had put their dirty feet on the holy soil of Orissa, the British had earned such experience that their fear for Oriya disposition was ever in the rise. To overcome this fear, they had to divide Orissa in parts and to merge these parts in neighboring provinces of Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra (then in Madras), declaring the languages of those regions as official language for the people of Orissa after merger.
This crude conspiracy ruined Orissa. Our mother-tongue was shattered. Our existence as a race was threatened.
Administratively we were most disadvantaged as we were being compelled to write every communication to put forth any grievance in the language of the province in which we were merged. We were being compelled to adopt their language as our own. We were even being bound to accept our land records in their languages.
Taking advantage of our predicament, the Bengalis who were satisfying the British officers as ‘native servants’, not only grabbed our valuable lands, becoming landlords in different parts of Orissa by the grace of the British, started saying that Oriya was not an independent dialect. Encouraged by the Bengalis, the Hindi tongue of Bihar and M.P. as well as the Telugu tongue of Madras started playing their nefarious games against Oriya.
When thus our mother-tongue was threatened we awoke again. India saw the first, the finest and the most united awakening of the splendid segment of her children who from ancient days were known and respected not only for their original thinking and Buddhist outlook, but also for their unique contribution to culture and art captioned in the name ‘Utkala’ of the place they were dwelling in, in support of their language. There had never been as strong and specific a mass movement as that under the banner of ‘Utkala Sammilani’, which, as Gandhiji observed in Young India on 18 February 1920, “raised the large question of redistribution (of population and landmass) on linguistic basis”. We were the first in India to found our State on strength of our language.
But when the Lingua-Benga chauvinists were trying to convince their British masters that Oriya was not a separate language but was a branch of their’s, and their partners in Hindi and Telugu tongues had been conspiring to keep us subjugated, the bona fide arguments advanced by our leaders to show the unique ancientness of our mother-tongue had attracted eminent linguists to find out the truth.
Older than Classical Sanskrit
Sir Grierson, as quoted supra from Linguistic Survey of India, after intensive study, in pursuit of this quest under such circumstances, had arrived at the conclusion that neither Bengali nor Hindi nor Telugu can vie with Oriya in richness of vocabulary. Oriya, in the opinion of the world famous linguist, is certainly vast and superior to Bengali, Hindi and Telugu as a vernacular. Oriya Language, in his opinion, has the incomparable distinction of having a “grammatical development”, which is “older” “than even Classical Sanskrit”. He has clearly said that, Oriya Language is the one among Indo-Aryan Languages, which “can only be compared with the ancient Sanskrit, spoken in the Vedic times”. This speaks of how splendid and superior is Oriya.
This superiority was factually so unquestionable that eminent Bengali linguist Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee had also to say, “Of these three speeches: Oriya, Bengali and Assamees, Oriya has preserved a great many archaic features in both grammar and pronunciation; and it may be said without travesty of linguistic truth that Oriya is the eldest of the three sisters, when we consider the archaic character of the language”-(I.H.Q. Vol.XXIII, 1947, p.337).
A new phase of linguistic recognition has commenced in India with accordance of classical status to Indian Languages. When Tamil had bagged the tag in 2004, Sanskrit has got the status in 2005. Our linguists should find out if the status could be claimed by our mother tongue, specifically as the Linguistic Survey of India had spelt out that the grammatical development of Oriya is older than classical Sanskrit.
Post Independence political assault
But our mother-tongue is in danger. We have a Chief Minister who does not know Oriya. The sycophants of Biju Patnaik, a mafia of yesteryear, who was such a fraud that in spite of having grabbed political top post of Orissa many a times only by projecting himself as the sentinel of Oriya nationalism has not taught his mother-tongue to his sons, have made and maintained one of his sons, Naveen Patnaik as the Chief Minister. He is in power continuously for the second term. But during his tenure, the earlier importance given to Oriya in administration has declined and it has suffered the worst of ignominy.
Our beloved mother tongue, which, as admitted by eminent linguists quoted supra, is a classic language with so much archaic immensity and such vast vocabulary “in which respect neither Bengali nor Hindi nor Telugu can vie with it”, has been humiliated by a Lingua Benga Samir De, who, as Minister of Higher Education, had dared to drop Oriya from courses of study in degree colleges; and yet, Naveen has ignored our demands for dropping him from the Cabinet.
Because of Naveen’s nonchalance, geographical limits of Orissa bordering Bengali and Telugu speaking provinces have been rampantly encroached upon under official umbrage of those States even as a separatist movement has gained strength in the area bordering Chhatisgarh, carved out of M.P. On the other hand, in mainstream Orissa, the vernacular schools have been managed so menacingly badly that English medium schools are mushrooming even in remote villages.
Oriya, our mother-tongue, though recognized as vast and superior in the context of Indian languages, is now languishing under inferior leadership. But in a democracy like that of ours, who can ensure that leadership shall not fall in inferior hands?
Where is the remedy? The Oriya race must have to cogitate this question and recognize the urgent necessity of freeing our State from the pernicious grip of persons who have not cared for Oriyanising themselves. On the other hand, the Act of 1954 needs be amended to provide for punishment to whosoever plays with primacy and paramountcy of Oriya language in the matter of governance of Orissa in any and every respect. It is also essential to repeal Biju’s mischief against Oriya Language enforced through an amendment to Orissa Official Language Act in 1963.
To a race, its identity rests with its mother tongue.