Excluded Languages, Silenced Voices

Whenever there is any discussion about ‘language barriers’ in India, it is always between English and Hindi, and Telugu of course. Here, I would like to point out certain realities the ‘people from North-East’ has been facing for a long time.

It is a myth that all the ‘people from NE’ are proficient in English. It’s wrong. Many students even are not. But a student from any other part of India speaks or understands Hindi, even those who speak Telegu, far better than ‘one from NE’. So, many ‘NE students’ in colleges in various parts of the country face the problem of language barrier. Thus, for instance, while a Hindi medium student in Delhi University, if he cannot understand in the classroom, can easily ask the teacher after the class, it is not so easy for a ‘student from NE’ to do so. Indian scholars are worried about those who are in Hindi medium and unable to understand English properly. But what do they think about those who hardly understand both the languages? Are they planning to do something for them as well? Or, are they just going to put the issue aside saying that it is not worth discussing? At this stage, I think, they will blame the person for not working hard enough.
Familiarity in a particular language makes the people who speak it closer than those who do not. Those who speak the same language become closer fast with each other than with those who do not (of course, there must be exceptions in few cases). This leads to the late recognition of us and our talents. Many of us lose the ‘first impression’ before the teacher. The brilliant remark you want to make is suddenly stopped by the sense of unfamiliarity, doubt of your pronunciation, and of course the sense of being identified as ‘other’ in your own country.

I think it is important to think about the regional languages as well, about those people who speak languages other than Hindi, and are not familiar with it. Language barrier is one of the biggest reasons to cause vulnerability and inferiority when you are in a group or classroom who speak the same language with more or less familiarity, especially when you are seen as the ‘other’.

Finally, I want to point out something that we should ponder about. Staying away from our community for long, we have not spoken the language our people in our land are speaking. Language changes in accordance with changing social and political changes. But we have a linguistic gap with our community back home in this regard. The gap may not be huge, but there is a gap. Most of us has stopped reading literature of our own language as well. This has social, political, cultural, and even economic impact on us. By not reading our own literature that certainly reflects the social, cultural and political realities of our region, we slowly become unconnected from our own culture and society. (Many of us are ignorant about our history, political and social realities- also thanks to our state board’s curriculum). In case of Manipur, a large number of students is outside the state. If this huge chunk of students do not read, who will read? Thus, literature in our state does not have a wide audience. They publish few books, old books are not published, they become unavailable. You will experience this when you search for Manipuri books in Manipur.

Which language is excluded? Whose voice is silenced? These questions should concern us.


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Heigrujam Premkumar

I love to read. I love to write. On all things I am passionate about. Tweet me at @heigrujampk

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