Goa's Non-Performing Official Language Act

Posted on 2009-02-02
KONKANI ‘a millennium old rich Indo-European language spoken by an estimated 4-5 million creative, cultured, literate and liberal people is among the top 125 languages in the world. It is a beautiful, dynamic, idiomatically ornamented language, which has incorporated Sanskrit, Marathi, Austric, Dravidian, Perso-Arabic, Latin-Iberian influences.
Lexicographically, Konkani would surpass some of the largest languages in the world. The multidisciplinary scientific research in origin and evolution of Konkani has vast scope. Goa needs researchers like Tove-Skutnabb Kangas to shed more light on Konkani, its history and politics. Kangas is champion of small indigenous languages like Konkani. She is vice president of Terralingua an international NGO devoted to preserve world’s linguistic diversity and to investigate links between biological and cultural diversity. Terralingua recognises that the diversity of languages and their variant forms is a vital part of the world’s cultural diversity. It declares that every language, along with its variant forms, is inherently valuable and therefore worthy of being preserved and perpetuated, regardless of its political, demographic, or linguistic status. Deciding which language to use, and for what purposes is a basic human right inhering to members of the community of speakers now using the language or whose ancestors traditionally used it.
Commenting on social functions of languages she quotes Pattanayak (1991) – the developed countries treat their respective dominant languages as resources, call them world languages, and use them to further their national interest, while those of the third world elites who follow the west deride the mother tongues in their own countries as dialect, slang, patois, vernacular, and condemn them to marginal use, or completely ignore them.
Konkani was ignored for centuries. It could not flourish. The Portuguese carried out the world’s most notorious linguistic genocide against it. Like persecuted and hunted Jews, the Konkani speaking Goans fled to Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala in the 16th century where their descendants are still known as Konkans. The persecution of Konkani came to an end in 1987. It was a watershed year for Goa because the twin demands –recognition to Konkani as official language (February 4) and status of statehood (May 30) were met.
Without using the label of official language, Marathi, the official language of Maharashtra was also given the same status as co-language in Goa. The Official Language Act, 1987 (OLA) did not incorporate any specific clauses for systematic and time bound promotion and development of Konkani. OLA helped in defusing the social tensions promptly but could not really translate incrementally into a dynamic legislation. Once the limited mission was over, other issues like agitation on Konkan railway route alignment, Nylon 6,6 project etc occupied the public mind and OLA’s real purpose – the holistic empowerment of Konkani speakers was forgotten.
Why did Goa need an Official Language Act? An official language act primarily offers linguistic, cultural and economic security, a cushion, a barrier and a shield for its people. Used creatively within the constitutional framework it also acts as a tool to educate and empower the speakers. That’s why there is a different picture in southern Indian states, which virtually worship their respective official languages – Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu. These states have ensured that the speakers of their official languages would always have an upper hand in running the affairs of the state, in politics, culture, education, trade, commerce, enterprise and employment. These states also care for their linguistic minorities. It has to be seen to what extent OLA of Goa has succeeded on these fronts.
The OLA could not immediately connect and relate to the aspirations and spirit of 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments. This was necessary to empower the local authorities and take the administration from the Anglophilic ruling elite to the Konkani speaking masses. So the irony today is even the village panchayats with poor knowledge of English are forced to carry their administration in English. People are compelled to fill various forms and write applications in English. They don’t perceive any benefit from OLA. OLA did not result in a flurry of activities to lift the veil over the laws of the land. These laws should have been translated in both Konkani and Marathi as per the local demand. It wasn’t an economic issue. The problem of script should not have come into the way. If English – a foreign language in Roman script was permitted to dominate everywhere it was illogical to oppose peoples need-based legitimate demand to get documents in the Roman script which they found convenient to read. The legislative assembly, the lower judiciary do not use Konkani. All the government websites are exclusively in English. A tame excuse was given that lack of paribhasha or a suitable terminology for translation was not available. But its lack did not come into the way of translation of the largest piece of statute – the Constitution of Indian that the Goa Konkani Akademy could commission successfully. OLA has absolutely no relevance as long as laws and regulations made for the people are not translated in Konkani and these translations are not disseminated to the masses. It is a hopeless situation because 22 years after OLA there is no progress on this front. More than 200 acts need translations. People feel cheated when they are told that they are ignorant about the laws of their land.
We have village panchayats where people have no idea of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act. If we give them a copy they don’t understand the jargon. The entire regional plan is in a language, format and style, which is totally alien to them. OLA could never relate to ecological and economic priorities, concerns and aspirations of the people although several agitations saw powerful oratory in Konkani.
If OLA were to be an instrument to empower the speakers of Konkani and consolidate their social, cultural, economic and political base then there would not have been a demand for special status for Goa, craving for conversion of Goa University – a state university which is yet to make a radical difference in the lives of an average Konkani speaking Goan or the controversial and seemingly impractical moves to ban sale of land to the so called non-Goans and foreigners.
Such crisis of self-confidence is clearly a sign of defeat of the purpose for which OLA was originally envisaged. It would be considered a miracle if the stalwarts of Konkani movement manage to convince their government to get at least the state’s official gazette published in the official language. A time bound action plan is needed to transform the OLA into a powerful democratic instrument for holistic empowerment of Konkani speakers. The non-performance of OLA is the root cause of Goa’s current crisis of self-identity in a challenging globalised world.