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 if it is his political success. The scholars who researched for, collected, compiled the document that proved the classical distinction of Oriya are nowhere projected in the celebrations.

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 status, though in reality, for collection and compilation of documents placed before the union cabinet in support of Orissa’s claim, they have allegedly used officially procured data for projection thereof as their own researched collection and have misled the Nation as on who prepared the document! 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 the same. Sources in the government say, a gang of Language mafia has stolen the classical document prepared by Odia 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.

In quoting Sir George Grierson (Linguistic Survey of India), Prof. Dr.Bainshidhar Mohanty has said in his enlightening work ‘Odia Bhasar Utpatty O Krama Vikash’, (Friends Publisher, Cuttack, 1970, p.39), “The Oriya Language can boast of a rich vocabulary in which respect neither Bengali nor Hindi nor Telugu can vie with it.” On the other hand, in tracing out the “Place of Oriya in reference to other Indo-Aryan Languages” Sir Grierson has made it clear that, though “Oriya, with Bengali, Bihari and Assamese, forms one of the four speeches which together make up the Eastern Group of the Indo-Aryan Languages”, it needs be noted that Oriya “has one great advantage over Bengali in the fact that, as a rule, it is pronounced as it is spelt. …… The Oriya verbal system is at once simple and complete. It has a long array of tenses, but the whole is so logically arranged, and built on so regular a model, that its principles are easily impressed upon the memory. It is particularly noticeable for the very complete set of verbal nouns, present, past and future, which take the place of the incomplete series of infinitive and gerund which we meet in Bengali, and for want of which that language is sometimes driven to strange straits in order to express the simplest idea. When Bengali wishes to express the idea embodied in what in Latin would be called the Infinitive, it has to borrow the present participle for the occasion, and then has to use it for all tenses, so that the word is used, in the first place, not as a participle, and, in the second place, often not in the present tense. Oriya, on the other hand, simply takes the appropriate verbal noun, and declines it in the case which the meaning necessarily requires. As every Infinitive must be some oblique case of a verbal noun, it follows that Oriya Grammar does not know the so-called ‘Infinitive-mood’ at all. The veriest beginner does not miss it, and instinctively makes up his ‘Infinitive’ or his ‘Gerund’ as he requires it. In this respect ORIYA IS IN AN OLDER STAGE OF GRAMMATICAL DEVELOPMENT THAN EVEN CLASSICAL SANSKRIT, AND, AMONG INDO-ARYAN LANGUAGES, CAN ONLY BE COMPARED WITH THE ANCIENT SANSKRIT SPOKEN IN VEDIC TIMES” (Linguistic Survey of India, p. 368). This classical distinction of Oriya Language is honored by eminent Linguist Dr. Sunit Kumar Chatterjee in ‘Origin and Development of the Bengali Language’, when he says, “Of these three speeches, Oriya, Bengali and Assamese, Oriya has preserved a great many archaic features, in both grammar and pronounciation 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.1939,p.337).

Thus, Oriya is “older” than not only the Eastern Group of Indo-Aryan Languages, but also than the Classical Sanskrit, in the deeply researched findings of responsible linguists whose determination is never challenged by any. Therefore, national recognition of Classical Status of Oriya Language is just the confirmation of the reality. The classical claim as made by the Government of Orissa with research inputs contributed by scholars in the field must not be allowed to be bereft of its sanctity by selfish claims of credit by politicians and language-traders as is seen after the recognition.

But why this distinction was so faded that a requirement was needed to convince the nation that Oriya is a classical Language? Let us look into a little past.

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 Ghumusar (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).

Against this background, and against chauvinistic situational claim of the people speaking Bengali, Hindi and Telugu to the detriment of Oriya as an independent Language, scholars in general, and the above named linguists in particular, had tried to find out the truth. This is why, the quoted comparisons were made.

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 Biju Patnaik, whom Choudhury had refused to appoint a minister in his Cabinet. To avenge the insult, he ganged up with Harekrushna Mahatab and campaigned against Chowdhury, using two of his proteges namely Nilamani Routray and Biren Mitra. Chowdhury was to relinquish office due to their conspiracy. Biju eventually succeeded in ejecting Mahtab out of office, when, after succeeding Chowdhury, he also showed reluctance to carry out all avaricious plans of Biju. In order to survive in power, Mahtab had accepted an erstwhile king R.N.Singhdeo as his political partner to the irritation of Congress rank and file that had fought against the former kings. This confusing situation had created a congenial environment for Biju to grab power of the State following the election to Orissa Assembly. He grabbed the Mines and Industry departments – the very same portfolios Chowdhury had denied him – and indulged in unfathomable corrupt practices to enhance his personal gain. Allegations against him were so huge and unrefutable that Prime Minister Nehru had forced him to resign at Delhi and the Congress legislative Party of Orissa was asked to elect a new leader in his place. When the election of a new leader was awaited and the CLP had asked him to remain in charge till the election of the new leader, he proceeded to amend the Orissa Official Language Act, the prized contribution of Nabakrushna Chowdhury to Orissa, in order to avenge the insult Chowdhury has caused to him by refusing him a berth in his cabinet. The Act was amended in 1963 to render it inconsequential in administration.This amendment inserted a new section – Sec. 3A – in the Act that provided 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 the 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 the adoption of the Official Language Bill in the Orissa Assembly were all non-Oriyas. Due to them, despite the 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 the interviews 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 compulsiveness 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

These very principled and aggressive postings in ORISSA MATTERS forced Naveen Patnaik to create circumstances to show the people of Orissa that he has his thinking for the development of Oriya language. And, accordingly, a new hotchpotch styled as Odia Bhasa Pratisthana was floated. In this exercise, he has destroyed the preeminence of Orissa Sahitya Akademi (Orissa Academy of Letters) in the matter of Oriya language.

The autistic offspring of escapism

However, when OBP has already been formed and functional, it was hoped that it would work to achieve the objectives, including authentic projection of Oriya Language as an ancient, archaic, unique language older even than the classical Sanskrit. But it blatantly failed. As was apprehended, it was an autistic offspring of escapism that was evident in the conduct of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in matters of Oriya Language.

Self-seeking authors

The community of authors of Orissa also commonly failed to make it functional in proceeding to achieve its purpose. They are so eager to ingratiate themselves to fellows in power for achieving official patronage including awards, that, none of them showed any courage to reprimand the State Government for their failure to preserve the mana of Oriya Language. None of them reacted to inferior languages gaining the classical status when the superior Oriya language was not in the consideration zone.

We first raised the issue

“Superior Language Oriya languishes due to inferior leadership”, I had to write on April 3, 2006, in these pages. Several times I had discussed the issue with my friend and Secretary of Lekhaka Samukhya Barendra Krushna Dhal, who had ultimately to prevail upon his colleagues in the Samukhya, to which, reportedly, some had ridiculed at the beginning.

Finally, the Samukhya President Satakadi Hota moved the Government to claim the classical status for Oriya. This letter formed the base on which official endeavor to claim the classical status for Oriya was built up.

But the same is now shrouded under clouds of credit-claim where the Sahitya Academy Secretary appears to have played mischief! The Government of Naveen Patnaik is mysteriously mum over how the Bhasa Pratisthan’s work has been projected as the work of a private body.

Bitchy politics

Against this backdrop, three-days long official celebrations of the classical status of Oriya language under orders of the Chief Minister, when a 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. Jena’s claim that the Congress is the architect of the Classical Status with his party MP Rama Chandra Khuntia asserting that the State Government has done nothing in the matter, makes the matter murkier.

Khuntia, no doubt, has many times raised the issue in the Parliament and has succeeded in creating an impression that he has played a vital role in achieving the status for Oriya Language.

When he says, the government of Naveen Patnaik has no contribution to this recognition, because, it is done by a combination of private bodies including one belonging to linguist Dr. Debi Prasanna Pattanayak, on being asked for and appointed by him for the purpose, the political cloud shrouds over the scholarly achievement.
And, to make the matter worse, some of the scholars associated with the work allege that Dr. Pattanayak and his associate Subrat Kumar Prusty are the villains, who, having worked in the official project, have stolen the official work to help Khuntia with the credit he claims.

We are deeply disturbed with this information that prima facie does not appear incorrect.

Bitchy politics mar the sanctity of this achievement. Nobody bothers to honor the scholars whose contributions have helped us to have the Classical status for our mother tongue. It is urgent, therefore, for the government of Orissa to look deeply into the background of the counterclaim of Sri Khuntia and Sri Jena and place the truth before the public in order to save the history of this achievement from being pierced with any iota of untruth.

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