'Bengaluru Declaration' for protection of local tongues

'Bengaluru Declaration' for protection of local tongues

The International Mother Language Day on February 21 this year will see release of Bengaluru Declaration of Linguistic Rights seeking to protect the rights of regional languages in India, which has lost 220 languages in the last 50 years.

For linguistic rights activists, Bengaluru came to the limelight when it asserted the Kannada identity during the protest against Hindi imposition. The city will now play host to a national conference on February 19 and 20, where representatives of 30 regional languages from different corners of the country will thrash out issues to prepare the declaration.

Joga Singh, president, Campaign for Language Equality Rights (CLEAR), a civil society organisation comprising individuals and organisations, said people across the country are recognising the threat to local languages.

"The fight for mother tongues is not limited to a few states anymore. In Punjab and surrounding states, rarely a day goes by without some or other protest over language issues. The movement is gathering force and the conference will start a discussion on some basic questions forgotten in the race for English education," Singh said.

In 2010, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) increased the number of endangered regional languages in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka from 17 to 300. Activists say the numbers will only rise further if the language policy continues to marginalise regional languages.

G Anand, an activist from Banavasi Balaga and CLEAR vice president, noted that successive governments at the Centre have ignored the recommendations made by several commissions for protection of local languages.

"We need to amend Article 343 to 351 in Part 17 of the Constitution which are being used for introducing and furthering flawed language policies. There are 1,652 languages in the country but only 22 get official status. The Sitakant Mahapatra Commission recommended inclusion of 38 other languages in the Eighth Schedule in 2004 but till today no government has done anything to implement it," he said.

Anand said the two-day conference will deliberate on all the issues concerning regional languages and come up with a document on the changes needed at policy level to address them. "The Bengaluru Declaration will be on the lines of the (1996) Barcelona Declaration which has proved effective in protection of regional languages in many countries in the European Union," he said.

Priyank K S and Arun Javagal from Banavasi Balaga said the conference will also be self reflective. "The point of view will be broader. It will not be limited to imposition of Hindi or English on Kannada and other languages. We will also see if Kannada has been imposed on people speaking Tulu, Konkani, Kodava, Byari and other languages," Javagal said.

Priyank said the goal is to give people the right to decide which language they want. "If Metro comes up in Mangaluru, then people there should have the right to choose whether they want Tulu over Kannada," he said.

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