20 Sep 2022  |   07:29am IST

For far too long language has been used as a politically divisive tool

People must use language and its scripts to unify. Herald thanks readers for huge response to its weekly Romi Konkani page, Konknni Diaz
For far too long language has been used as a politically divisive tool

Herald’s decision to infuse our media and literary space with a weekly page in Romi Konkani was in part duty and debt. Duty towards the land where both the languages and the Romi script need backing, support and encouragement, to prevent slow decay. And a debt to the language across both scripts, which is the essence of Goan culture and its very being. Konkani is Goa’s leitmotif.

But if Konkani in Roman and Devanagari scripts are proud siblings of Goa, it would not be unfair to put this out i.e. Romi Konkani hasn’t quite got the attention and backing that it deserves in our literary, social, and education system.  Moreover, the vernacular newspaper space is filled with Marathi papers, which adds to the right culture of being language inclusive. However, a key facet of Goa’s own language and script, Romi Konkani, needs more play and presence in Goa’s everyday usage and reading. Because Konkani is our language.

Languages are living beings. They need to be used, consumed, and be a bridge for communication, expression, and culture. The same goes for scripts. Or else they end up being in libraries and museums. Herald humbly performed its debt and duty by responding to the call by Vincy Quadros and Fr Myron Jeson Barreto, to bring out a page in Romi Konkani called Konknni Diaz. While we launched it as a fortnightly, in the Sunday Review Section, the immediate overwhelming response by Goans across Goa and the rest of the world, appreciating this effort and seeking its publication at least weekly, made us decide to immediately publish without hesitation, the Konknni Diaz page in our Sunday Review Section, weekly.

Language and religion have both become political tools, we must make language a human bridge

Language and scripts have become political tools rather than cultural ones. They have been used to divide rather than unite. Like religion. Is there any need for Romi and Devanagari script followers to be so sharply divided along religious and even geographical lines?

Yes, Goa fought for Konkani, because Konkani was deeply linked to its Statehood aspirations. When Luizinho Faleiro, as a part of a delegation met Indira Gandhi in Delhi before Statehood and personally reminded her of Goa’s twin aspirations of Statehood and language, she told him “ Have you finalised your official language as Konkani and passed a resolution in the Assembly.”

Therefore, Konkani is beyond a language. It is the key to Goan identity. And at that time no one spoke of Romi or Devanagari scripts. Both scripts can and should coexist as each other’s strengths, not as each other’s competitors. And they are sadly, not just language competitors but have become political competitors. This was never ever planned. The divide over scripts has kept Goans apart to the advantage of political groups and parties.

Both scripts could have easily fed off each other enriching the language as a whole and benefiting from intellectual and literary synergies emanating from both scripts.

We celebrate the diamond jubilee of “liberation” but is our language free and flying?

Can you imagine the extent to which the language would have grown if this synergy had existed in terms of books, publications, plays, songs and cinema?  We celebrate the diamond jubilee (60 years) of liberation with a huge fund flow to observe it and yet we do not have a single book shop that is fully stocked with and sells only books in Konkani in both scripts. How many Konkani periodicals do we have? How many news websites in Konkani do we consume content from?  We are the home of IFFI but how many new Konkani films are  made and shown each year?

The reason is not far to seek. Both language and religion, instead of being free to practice and observe have been trapped in closed political boxes and taken out by vested political interests in the time of elections.

The reasons to arrest the slide of Konkani especially, Romi Konkani are obvious. The Outlook magazine in a piece on the tug for war between the backers of the Romi and Devanagari Konkani script, published in May this year, begins the article with these words

When Fausto V. DaCosta, editor of Gulab, one of the last Romi Konkani monthly magazines published out of Goa, goes on his distribution rounds in the countryside, a thought occasionally crosses his mind. “It first came to me when I went to Aldona recently on a distribution round. Even after 100 Romi Konkani readers die, we do not get even three new (Romi Konkani) readers. So, when I go on the first (of every month) for distribution, instead of visiting booksellers, I wonder if I should visit the cemeteries instead,” says DaCosta

This dilution has been reflected in the Chief Minister’s earlier comment this year that Goa has four languages. Konkani is spoken, Marathi is read, English is written and Hindi films are watched. While this, may underline Goa’s inclusivity, the rapid dilution of language linked to identity is a concern that Goans must address.

One Goan who recently returned from England recounted an anecdote that was telling. He said, “In England at the airport, on the bus from the airport, at the medicine store outside the airport, and in grocery stores, I heard only or mainly Konkani. I was surprised but also at home. But when I landed back at the Dabolim airport, I heard so many other languages and only a sprinkling of Konkani as I waited for a cab. That made me sad.”

Goans are benevolent and too welcoming. The fact that so many people from outside Goa have come and settled here, with the added baggage of so many other issues are a sign of accommodation. But, in the process language and identity have been diluted along with our landscape.

But if this chips away at our core starting from our backwaters, our villagers, our fields, and our skyline and decay the way we speak and the way we write, and yes even the way we live. We must stop this and go back to where we started. As simple down to earth people living in a small beautiful land, united by vibrant customs and traditions and bound by the nectar of words flowing from our very own language Konkani.

It is for this reason that we must do all we can to keep our beloved Konkani going- both as a spoken language and a written, one in both scripts with neither getting unfair treatment.


Iddhar Udhar