Orissa: The purpose of its creation

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The sole purpose of the movement for creation of Orissa as a separate province was ‘use of Oriya as official language’ instead of any other language.

The province was created on April 1, 1936 comprising majority of Oriya speaking tracks, as the first linguistic State of India.

Supporting the demand for amalgamation of all areas inhabited by the Oriya speaking people, Mahatma Gandhi had noted in Young India on February 18, 1920 that the movement “raises the large question of redistribution on linguistic basis” and had stated, “This fine (Oriya) race cannot possibly make the natural advance which is its due, if it is kept split up into four divisions for no sound reason”.

The British had split up the Oriya speaking areas into four parts and clubbed those parts in neighboring provinces in order to weaken the militant race by reducing them to linguistic minority in Madras in the south, Madhyapradesh in the west, and Bengal in the northeast. Its fear for Oriya “disposition” had, of course, forced it to play this mischief.

After occupying Bengal and majority part of India, the East India Company had claimed ownership over Khurda, the citadel of the Gajapati Emperor, who, despite having lost his empire, rules even today over every Oriya heart by inheritance, revered as the moving incarnation of Lord Jagannath.

The people raised their swords against the invader British. Giving an account thereof, in ‘A sketch of the History of Orissa’ 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”. This was in 1803.

History has yet to be honest to recognize that this was the first war of independence from British yoke that was so strong that, in his report dated September 9, 1818, the Magistrate of the area W.Forrester had to write to Commissioner Robert Ker, “the nature of the country and disposition of the inhabitants will always present formidable obstacle to the suppression of these disturbances either by Military or Police” , following which the British had to make a truss with the General of Khurda, Buxi Jagabandhu Vidyadhar Mohapatra.

This truss eventually elevated the East India Company from the status of a Company to Government.
The present day Orissa was not the Orissa of those days. A portion of it comprising the modern districts of Balasore, Bhadrak, Jajpur, Kendrapara, Cuttack (minus Athgarh Sub-Division), Jagatsinghpur and Puri were known as ‘Mughalbandi Orissa’ and the rest comprising 26 Garhjat Kingdoms was known as the ‘Princely Orissa’. The King of Khurda – The Gajapati – was the spiritual sovereign over all of those Kings. When Khurda made a truss with the Company and accepted them as a kingly power, all the Garhjat Kings recognized the British similarly and signed truss of peaceful living with the British. Before attacking Khurda, the Company had diplomatically obtained occupancy over the Mughalbandi Orissa. With the Princes signing the truss of peace, the entire Oriya speaking area de facto came into British control. With this diplomatic victory, the British proceeded to divide the Oriya speaking tracks and club them, as noted supra, with neighboring provinces under the pretence of administrative facility.

Reduced to linguistic minorities in those provinces, the Oriyas lost their mana and means of livelihood to people of those provinces, as their beloved mother tongue Oriya did not stay the official language.
Bengalis being the first Indians to serve the British Company that had occupied Bengal, persons from them were imported to Mughalbandi Orissa to work in company offices. Through treachery and tricks, these Bengali personnel plundered the land and tried to ruin the language of the people. It was so severe that a British Officer, who served as Collector of Cuttack – Mr. W. Troyer – has said, “A regular system of oppression and peculation appear to exist throughout and instead of proving a protection to the country and a preventive against improper conduct, these people (the Bengali personnel) are considered as the terror and the scourge of the district” (Troyer’s Report dated May 23, 1817, Manuscript Vol. No.387, Orissa State Archives).

On the southern part, clubbed into Madras, when Telugu became the official language in place of Oriya, the people lost their positions and properties to the Telugu community. The first ever protest against this was raised in a mass meeting of the people of southern Orissa on September 11, 1870 at Rasulkonda (present-day Bhanjnagar) under the leadership of Dinabandhu Pattanayak of Ghumusar of Ganjam. This meeting called upon the Oriya population to demand for revival of the Oriya language as official language. The resolution detailed the devastation the Oriyas were subjected to as Telugu was clamped on them as the official language in place of Oriya (Utkal Dipeeka, October 22, 1870)

Western part of Orissa, known as the Princely Orissa, suffered the most as Hindi was imposed as official language in place of Oriya. The great poet Gangadhar Meher criticized the kings, even his own, for their silence in a poem captioned Utkala Bharatinka Nibedan (Sambalpur Hiteisini, March 5, 1895) and build up the first linguistic nationalism ever witnessed in India. A powerful movement of the people under the leadership of Chandra Sekhar Behera, Dharanidhar Mishra, Brajamohan Pattanayak et al for revival of Oriya as official language gathered momentum, with whole of Oriya population supporting the cause under leadership of Kulagourav Madhusudan Das .

Viceroy Lord Curzon had to ask Andrew Frazer, Chief Commissioner of the Central Province to make a spot study and report if the movement and demand had any justification. Frazer’s report (October 15, 1901) was concluded with this observation: “What I am convinced of is this, that Oriya, not Hindi, ought to be the Court Language of Sambalpur, and that in this case, Sambalpur ought to be joined to Orissa, to which it really belongs”. It described the details of the people’s sufferings as Oriya had not remained the official language.

On the basis of Frazer’s report, Sambalpur ultimately merged in Orissa and the process of the amalgamation of Oriya speaking tracks started, as was also emphasized by Gandhiji in Young India noted supra. And Orissa of the present day was created as the first linguistic State of India on April 1, 1936.
Thus, the State of Orissa was created in fulfillment of the people’s determination to see their affairs managed in their own language – Oriya.

The political leadership of the day and the mandarins will be forced to honor this reality, when they are ruining Oriya by running the administration in English.

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