In the history of humankind, languages, dialects and scripts are used not only for communication but also for domination, manipulation and suppression of weaker groups. This is true also for Konknni. Its scripts and dialects are at the crossroads.
Till the arrival of the Portuguese we have no historical proof to say that Konknni was used as a written language. The Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries were the first one to write Konknni in Roman script. The first printing press in India was brought to St. Paul College, at present day Old Goa by the Jesuit missionaries in 1556. Missionaries wrote and printed a number of Konknni books in Roman script.
Prior to the liberation of Goa, Hindu community and common folks of the Catholic community used Konknni for oral communication. The Hindu community used Marathi for primary education, for popular religion, accounts, written communication, theatre and other spheres of their lives. The elite of the Catholic community used Portuguese at home and for education. They used Konknni to converse with the Hindus and common folks of the Catholic community who did not know Portuguese language. Portuguese language was considered the language of the cultured people. The elite group of the minority community looked down upon Konknni as a language of the servants and socio-economically backward common people. Konknni in Roman script was used for popular religious practices and for mass media. Konknni written in Devanagari script hardly existed during this period. It had practically no influence over the members of the Hindu community. Marathi enjoyed the privileged position among the Hindu community. Due to this the Hindu community identified Marathi as their intellectual and cultural language. However there was no animosity or rivalry among the users of these three languages, namely, Konknni, Marathi and Portuguese. These three languages coexisted with unity and harmony.
After 1965, due to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church all over the world replaced Latin by local languages for the religious domain. Due to this, in Goa too the Church actively promoted religious services in Konknni. Church contributed to standardize Konknni in Roman script, which had its roots in 16th century. Let us call this dialect as Bardeshi. After the liberation of Goa, Konknni language suffered a number of setbacks. This happened due to partly lack of vision and leadership on the part of the minority community and partly due to the manipulative tactics used by self-proclaimed protectors of Konknni. After the liberation of Goa the elite Catholic community switched over to English.
After the liberation of Goa Catholic schools introduced Konknni in Devanagari script as a third language in their schools. The Devanagari proponents succeeded to convince a few leaders of the Catholic community that the Devanagari script is the ‘natural script’ of Konknni and it is related to our nationalism and patriotism! Majority of the students were from the Catholic community. They were familiar with the Roman script and Bardeshi dialect due to religious literature and mass media. But Bardeshi dialect was not taught in schools. A different dialect called Antruji was thrust upon them in the name of Konknni and nationalism. Students of the Catholic community who had opted for Konknni had no real option. They were not familiar with Marathi. Besides they never identified with Marathi as their language. Between Marathi and Konknni they were forced to take Konknni in Devanagari script. Students learnt Konknni not out of conviction or love of Konknni but out of sheer compulsion. Therefore, they never took interest in keeping up the language they learnt. Once they finished their education they gave up reading and writing Konknni in Devanagari script! This situation created a strong feeling of dislike towards Konknni in Devanagari script among the Catholic community. In Goa from Std V onwards, the medium of instruction is English. Hence Students use English as their normal language of conversation both inside the school premises and outside. For the Catholic students the dialect and script which they are familiar with are not taught in schools. Due to this they develop the dislike to their own mother tongue and instead of using it for oral communication they prefer to use English for all domains of their lives!
If the textbooks had included the Konknni dialect of the majority community and Bardeshi dialect of the Catholic community this unhealthy tension could have been avoided and a healthy blending of two dialects would have helped to promote a new standard dialect of Konknni in Goa. Dialects and scripts are emotional issues. Language is far more important than its scripts. Unfortunately among a section of Konknnis (Konknni speakers) Konknni language was identified with the Devanagari script and with a particular dialect called Antruji!
Roman script readers and writers who preserved, promoted Konknni and fought for it to become the Official Language of Goa have become second-class citizens in Goa itself! Anyone who supports or demands equal status to Konknni in the Official Language Act (OLA) 1987 is considered a ‘promoter of disunity’ and so on by the Devanagari proponents.
Vast majority of Catholics wrongly think that Marathi is the language of Maharashtra and of Hindus. Local Hindus do speak Konknni but identify with Marathi as the language of the religion and culture. Roman script is considered as foreign and Devanagari as the ‘natural’ script. This misconception prevails because language and script are associated with a particular religion. Both Christian and Hindu communities have not totally identified with written Konknni in any script. Due to this language suffers. In the OLA, if the definition of Konknni was avoided, then both the scripts would have flourished side by side. Here the Devanagari proponents put the fear in the mind of the Catholic leaders that if they demand for Roman script, Marathi would become the official language. Without becoming the official language, Marathi gets practically all the privileges which Konknni in Devanagari script enjoys in the OLA. In this language politics, Roman script was kept out of the OLA. Devanagari protagonists accuse Roman script supporters saying that after many years they are awakened and now demand a share in grants and awards. One could counteract this argument by saying, “What is wrong in democracy to demand equal share in grants, honour and awards?” In Goa, Roman and Devanagari scripts are used to read and write Konknni. They represent two different standard dialects of Konknni. They could be compared to two wheels of a cart. For the survival of Konknni in Goa they are essential.