Godfrey J I Gonsalves, writer and social activist, gives us an enrichining insight into the current debate about the official script for Konkani. He looks at the roots of the demand and explains that non-recognition of Roman script Konkani will lead to the alienation of a large section of Goans – from different religious groups and social strata.
There is an ongoing battle for recognition of Konkani in Roman script since June 2005, with a few well meaning persons, and institutions viz the Thomas Stephen Konkani Kendra and Dalgado Konkani Academy spearheading the movement. After “The Goa Daman and Diu Official Language Act 1987” was passed, instead of rejoicing it turned out to be a damp squib.
It was not Konkani written in Roman script, that was recognized but section 2(c) definition of Konkani specified– Konkani written in Devanagari script. The obvious question on every ones lips — why have these people awoken after nineteen years. The answer is better late then never. The harm that neglect of this issue can cause eventually to Goa and Goans demand that we address to the problem now without mourning the past.
Who decided that Konkani would mean only Devanagari script? A question raised since 1987 but there were no answers. The facts then and as of now are the same, that
a) all Goans agree that Konkani is the mother tongue of Goans
b) all Goans write Konkani either in Devanagari (mostly Hindu Brahmins) or in Roman script (Catholics)
c) for historical reasons some Goans use Marathi, English and Portuguese for communication (in writing) besides Konkani
d) for historical reasons most liturgical services of Catholics are conducted in Roman script and religious rites of Hindus in Marathi. The mando , dulopods, tiatrs etc have ameliorate the Konkani in Roman script
Despite this there were several myths spread by the protoganists of Konkani “only in Devanagari”. The Convenor of the then Konknni Porjecho Avaz (KPA) and now President of the Goa Konkani Academy told this writer on 20th August 2005 at the office of Goa Konkani Academy at Panaji that at one of the many brain storming sessions of the KPA it was resolved (no minutes of such meeting available) that if the Catholics accept the Devanagari script for Konkani it would help make the Konkani language the Official language of the state.
Again, if the Devanagari script for Konkani was accepted the protoganists of Marathi would slowly fall in line and they would accept Konkani “as their mother tongue” instead of Marathi as otherwise they were already conversant with the Devanagari script. It was also Mr Churchill Alemao then UGDP MLA of Benaulim who also agreed that Konkani would mean only Devanagari script.
While initially the movement for recognition of official language under the banner of Konkani Porjecho Avaz (KPA) was expected to be essentially a peoples movement without interference of politicians they too jumped in the fray and polarized the language issue, on communal lines for their own nefarious ends.
Politics and politicians step in
Once the politicians stepped in the obvious happened. Three major events pre-Liberation and post Liberation were exploited by politicians to the hilt for their own nefarious end. a) Politically prosyletisation – converting people from Hinduism to Christianity (viz religion of the King of Portugal to be that of its subjects) and Inquisition left an indelible mark on the Goan mindset, but all Goans accept this as an unfortunate historical aberration and while unanimously condemning it maintain an unique level of tolerance albeit only skin deep. Subjugation of the masses by the Portuguese regime perhaps helped create an atmosphere of tolerance but slowly but surely not any longer post Liberation.
b) The first elections were held for village Panchayats in 1962 and the first Legislative Assembly was constituted only in 1963. Ever since Liberation those in the Velhas Conquistas (Old Conquests 1510-1961), (coastal)Talukas of Tiswadi (Ilhas) Salcete Mormugao & Bardez feared the interference of neighboring politicians from Maharashtra into our administration as deputationists. The Indian National Congress contested all the 28 seats in Goa and one each in Daman and Diu but ironically all the contestants being landowners lost their deposits and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party a pro merger with Maharashtra and pro agricultural labourers party came to power with most of their members from the Novas Conquistas (New Conquests 1763-1961) (midland and western ghat talukas) of Bicholim Pernem Ponda Quepem Canacona Sanguem Sattari. The reasons were obvious.
The Velhas Conquistas electorate was predominantly Catholic and Hindu Brahmin dominated constituencies. The Novas Conquistas electorate were essentially Hindu non Brahmin and a sizeable electorate constituted those from Maharastra and Karwar, who entered the territory for purposes of employment and adopted Goan village surnames to camouflage their outsider status. Hence politicians from the Novas Conquistas could never antagonize the electorate by adopting Goan centric slogans as this would alienate them from the indispensable non goan vote bank. Similarly with the INC putting up landowners as candidates the common man Mundcars and tenants felt betrayed and preferred the MGP .
Again, the first time ever a referendum was ordered by Prime Minister late Ms Indira Gandhi in India was the “Opinion Poll” of 16th January, 1967 to decide whether Goa and its other enclaves Daman and Diu should be merged with Maharastra or remain a separate entity. It was finally resolved to maintain it as a separate entity, a verdict which was accepted by Goa’s first Chief Minister late Bhausaheb Dayanand Bandodkar, with a pinch of salt as he relied heavily on the neighbouring state for governance.
These sowed the first seeds of polarization between Catholics and Hindus and also between landowners and tenants, the migrants from neighboring districts of Maharashtra and Karnataka always preferred to put their weight on the ruling side.
This in reality dictated the bitter battle of the language agitation .
But with documentary evidence now obtained that those persons who were instrumental for the recognition of Konkani as an independent language had indeed carried out a discreet battle with the Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of Letters) New Delhi to finally achieve recognition of Konkani as an independent language on 26th February 1975. There was however a rider. They wer determined to have only one script Devanagari for the universalisation and standardization of Konkani.
The origins of Devanagari hegemony
It was in 1939 at the first All India Konknni Parishad held in Karwar (as Portuguese then ruled Goa) an thinker and advocate Madhav Manjunath Shanbag from Mangalore, had postulated that Devanagari should remain the only script for Konkani and therefore the Advisory Board for Konkani which had a majority which subscribed to the views of Shanbag finally resolved that Devanagari should be the only script for Konkani. This was an unanimous act of betrayal of those conversant with the Roman Kannada Malayalam and Urdu script.
This they cunningly included in the Goa Daman & Diu Official Language Act, 1987 on 4th February 1987 and at the time of inclusion of the same in the VIII Schedule of the Constitution of India (a schedule which lists the names of 22 languages recognized in India) on 20th August 1992.
Now having done this in Goa they succeeded in eliminating the Malayalam script for Konkani in Kerala as the Konkani speaking community does not have an effective representation in Kerala. Recently they tried to do the same in Karnataka but with the ground swell support for Konkani in the Kannanda script the then Government relented and agreed to its introduction in the primary level from the coming academic year. With a change of government the issue needs to be pursued de novo.
Demand: recognize Roman script Konkani
It is in the light of these developments that lovers of Konkani in Roman script have vowed to fight tooth and nail to ensure official recognition to the Roman script as well by demanding an amendment to the Goa Daman and Diu Official Language Act 1987 sect ion 2(c) Konkani meaning in Devanagari and Roman script.
Let us not forget that since the sixteenth century in 1556 when the first printing press in Asia was set up at the St Pauls college it had fonts not in devanagari but Roman script and the first book in Konkani was in Roman script the, Doutrina Crista , was published between 1556 and 1561. Missionaries Jesuits Franciscans and produced extensive literature in the Roman script are exclusively conducted in the Roman script so also are the world famour unique tiatrs the mando the dulopods a symbiosis of the east west culture imbibed with over 451 years of the Portuguese rule all find expression in Konkani in the Roman script.
Over 29.86% of the nearly 13.5 lacs Christians will eventually be denied their heritage and existence with the elimination of the Roman script. Today in matters of employment it is clear that knowledge of Konkani means written in Devanagari script thus denying Christians their legitimate right to employment. The Directorate of Official Languages gives grants as passed in the fiscal budget to Konkani and Marathi through the Goa Konkani and Goa Marathi Academy. In the case of Konkani in Roman script mere assistance is promised – which amounts to doles not as our legitimate rights as deservedly ought to be ours.
Therefore it is now clear that there is a worldwide outcry by Konkaniwadis that diversity in script alone will help flourish the language. Let us join hands to achieve this agenda and wipe out the monopoly claimed by some through one script one language.