Orissa and Oriya Language: Must we retrieve the Mana

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The first freedom movement of India – armed revolution begun by Jayee Rajguru in 1803 metamorphosing into the first non-cooperation movement led by Buxi Jagabandhi Bidyadhar Mohapatra in 1817 – had severely mauled the British in the soil of Orissa.

“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” – admits G. Toynbee, the British historian in ‘A Sketch of the History of Orissa-1803-1828’ (Calcutta, 1873), with reference to the armed attack on the British by Jayee Rajguru.

The land was such a land of valor and the Oriyas, as a people, were of such “disposition” that, it would not be easy for “suppression of these disturbance either by military or by police”, said Magistrate W. Forrester from the field to Commissioner Robert Ker (Para 18 of his Report dated 9.9.1818) in matter of the non-cooperation movement led by Buxi Jagabandhu.

On the basis of this report, the British had worked out a truce with Buxi, which had helped them gain the recognition as “government”, being part of the truce. With this new earned status, they proceeded to divide the land into parts and clubbed one part each with the Tulugu speaking Madras, Bengali speaking Bengal and Hindi speaking Madhya Pradesh in order to destroy the Mana of Oriyas by making them linguistic minorities in their traditionally rival States, while retaining the central part under Collector of Cuttack, where offices were run with their native servants brought from Bengal that plundered the land. Reflecting on the misrule, Collector W. Trower had described these native servants as “the terror and the scourge of the district” (‘Report on Revenue Administration in Orissa’ dated 23.5.1817).

Despite such speaking reports, the British Government continued to refuge sensible suggestions from well-meaning British functionaries like Sir Andrew Henderson Leith Fraser (With the Rajas and the Royats) to bring back the Oriya areas out of the de facto control of tormenting linguistic rivals to create a congruous land for administration in Oriya, simply because, the British was afraid of the Oriya “disposition”. United Oriyas cannot be kept under control, was the view of the Secretary looking into affairs of India.

On the other hand, the Telugu, Bengali and Hindi speaking people of the provinces to which limbs of Orissa were annexed, were strongly opposing the idea of allowing Oriya population to be governed in Oriya language. To make their evil design further dense, they had started even to misappropriate the Oriya Language and culture, claiming the same to be parts of their own.

To end this turmoil, a highly reputed citizen of Ghumusar – Dinabandhu Pattanayak – had convened a meeting of Oriyas from both the northern and southern sides of River Rushikulya on 11 September 1870 where it was resolved to demand for use of Oriya as official language in the areas of Oriya population. This meeting called upon for amalgamation of all Oriya speaking areas in order to create a separate province where administration should run in Oriya language. This resolution eventually had grown up into the epoch-making movement under the leadership of Kula Gourav Madhu Sudan Das. Oriya journals and authors had made tremendous contributions to this movement, watching which, even Mahatma Gandhi had to say, “This fine race cannot possibly make the natural advance, which is its due, if it is kept split up into four divisions for no sound reason” (Young India, 18.2.1920).

Despite this, the British did not give heed to the legitimate demand, as Telugus, Bengalis, and Hindi chauvinists were claiming that Oriya Language was a part of their languages.

At this critical juncture, the Linguistic Survey of India, published finally in 1928, brought to light the greatness of Oriya Language that forced the Telugu, Bengali and Hindi speaking people to shut up. It unambiguously declared that the Oriya Language can boast of a rich vocabulary in which respect neither Bengali nor Hindi not Telugu can vie with it (Vol.IV).

After this determination of Linguistic Survey of India, the Bengali, Telugu, and Hindi speaking people were forced to keep away from their unfounded claim and the British was bound to correct its wrong by bringing in all the congruous Oriya speaking areas into one administration to be governed in Oriya language and thus Orissa was created on 1.4.1936, as the first linguistic province of India. Not only in general offices, but also in the Courts, Oriya became the official language in whole of Orissa.

But, post independence politicians – some belonging to the families of the same non-Oriya native servants of the British dragged mostly from Bengal, whom Trower, as quoted supra, had described as “scourge”, but settled in Orissa; some eager to show off their elitism and knowledge in English; and others too simple to control non-Oriya officers of Indian Civil Service and indigenous officers of anglicized mentality – have ruined this position.

This ruin had inscribed its signature on the first Utkal Divas celebrated in free India on the 1st April, 1948.

Orissa Legislative Assembly, elected on limited franchise, was in session. A member from Bargarh, Laxminarayan Mishra, moved a resolution for creation of a law to declare Oriya as the Official Language of Orissa. He was severely opposed by a member of his own party – Rajkrishna Bose – who belonged to Bengali community settled in Cuttack. It is worth noting that, the member-in-charge, i.e. the Minister, was hand-in-glove with Bose to foil the noble atte3mpt of Mishra. The concerned Minister was Nityanand Kanungo. Kanungo is a surname that is used both by Oriya Karanas and Bengali Kayastas. Kabi Chandra Kali Charan Pattanayak has shown us how Nityanand Kanungo was used to foil his endeavors to earn classical status for Odissi dance. However, it is on records that he had helped Bose to attack Mishra, the first Oriya to have proposed for creation of Orissa Official Language Act to make Oriya as the Official Language of Orissa.

Bose stood up after Mishra’s speech to oppose his Resolution and declared, “Sir, since the hon’ble member in charge does not want to give a preliminary reply, I would like to speak at this stage”. And then he went on saying why Oriya should not be made the Official Language.

Mahtab was the Prime Minister, who kept mum.

Kanungo then vehemently opposed Mishra and nose led him, he being a Congress member, to withdraw his Resolution.

However, this same conspiracy against Oriya language is continuing till date. It is now in severe crisis of identity, as the State is being governed by a Chief Minister for last 17 years who does not know Oriya, who hates the Oriya language and has kept it defunct.

Bhasha Andolan, Orissa is the last battle of Oriyas that is trying to change the scenario and hence, has been fighting for restoration of the primacy and paramountcy of Oriya Language in offices of Orissa.

To us, the Mana of our Motherland and our Mother Tongue is of supreme importance. We must have to retrieve it.

Whosoever loves our Land and Language may pore over these books for further knowledge on this most calling issue:
1. ORISSA PRADESHA SRUSTIRE GANAMADHYAMA (Role of mass media in creation of Orissa) and
2. SHREE JAYA DEVANKA BAISSI PAHACHA (The 22 stairs Sri Jaya Dev created to reach SriJagannatha)

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