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Marginalizing the Regional: Creative Thievery in Indian Filmdom & The OTT Alternative

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Marginalizing the Regional cinema 3

By- Nirmal Joseph, Research Scholar, Central University of Karnataka

This work is a critique of the marginalization of regional cinemas in our country. It charts out a few ways in which regional cinemas are subjugated by the mainstream. Special emphasis is placed on remakes of regional films where the original gets overshadowed by the copycat. By proposing possible solutions to tackle this cultural domination, this work is a call for cinephiles and critics to give regional cinema the attention they deserve.

Marginalizing the Regional

Language and location are two important facets of any relation centred on power. In a multilingual country like India, the centrality and marginality of a region largely depend upon these two aspects. The further your location is away from the power-centre, your language and culture will be obliterated in favour of the nearby and this has largely happened with the Southern, North-Eastern, and Far-Northern (Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh) parts of India in numerous ways from the culture and language of these regions not being widely accepted to say the mainland culture and language being imposed on these areas for decades. There is also this growing tendency of homogenization that detests differences especially in these regions of India and this behemoth decimates and appropriates the regional into the national. This is a serious impediment for a nation that takes pride in its heterogeneity.

The narrative of domination and subjugation is a worn-out cloth. Its scope and reach are beyond the purview of this article and thus focus is just put on analysing a tiny strand of this vast narrative that anyone can relate with: The marginalization of regional cinema by the big daddies of Indian filmdom.

Marginalization through Creative Thievery

Creative thievery occurs when the creativity of the original is bulldozed by the receptivity of the remake. It is not synonymous with plagiarism or copyright violations which have legal consequences as the issue here is more cultural in nature. It is about under-appreciation. It is about erased memories. It is about deliberate disregard. In this digital era, it is too hard to conceal creative thievery. Still, the mainstream film-makers hardly think twice before they remake. Why is it so? Because we as an audience condone their actions for the thrill of viewing the films in our own language. In doing so, the potential of an industry is not fully realized. When in an industry most films released in a year are remakes, we are silently witnessing the demise of creativity and originality in that filmdom. Innovations and adaptability, from within the industry, will only sustain it in the long run and this is the reason why this work critiques creative thievery as it benefits none. Both the original and the remake will have undesirable outcomes on their respective industries as the original will be deprived of its recognition and the latter will fall into a vacuum of creative barrenness.

Problematizing Capsule Creativity

There is genuine creativity and then there is capsule creativity. Making an original script requires creativity. One should possess a genuine talent to do so. Creating a good film out of that script is also a hard task to achieve. There are numerous examples of this category which fall under genuine creativity. Then there is the remake, where creativity is capsuled and sold for a lump sum. It is true that, on the odd occasion, we have witnessed amazing cinematic adaptations that gave due credit to the originals and organically blended the cultural traits of the original into the receiving culture. But those kinds of artistry by master-craftsmen are a rarity at present especially when the originals are forced to the periphery and the cultural translations are limited to language, location and at times to religion, resulting in a retarded cinematic experience that paradoxically receives better adulation than the regional-original. The task at hand is a lot easier for such ‘creators’ – if one may address them so, because they got everything pre-cooked for them. Their creativity is so superficial that beyond the surface embellishments, it is the same old wine in a new receptacle. They are backed by privileged industries with a lavish budget, huge stars, and a greater linguistic advantage, allowing them to produce remakes that systematically erases the original from the public memory. The work does not give specific examples to pinpoint any individual or group. The issue under consideration is greater than any individual and it deserves the collective attention of all cinephiles for a sustainable change.

Decentring the Cultural Domination

Regional cinema for quite a long time rarely became a national phenomenon. But there are some optimistic incidents recently which takes us in that direction. We have witnessed how the Bahubali duology elevated the status of Tollywood (Telugu) cinema and later the extraordinary success of KGF from the Sandalwood industry took Kannada cinema to new heights. These are positive trends that clearly resonates that Indian cinema is beyond Bollywood. But the majority of the regional industries cannot afford to produce a Bahubali or a KGF to get a nationwide audience. For them, there are other ways. Rather than selling the remake rights, dubbing the original to other languages is a more welcoming attitude. It is true that dubbed films have their own limitations like the difficulty in translating culturally loaded terms and ideas, but it is the lesser evil. Here comes the problem of representation. When a regional industry gets represented by a mainstream industry, it is their version of the region that transmutes on to the screen. At large, such representations will only help in stereotyping and cultural mockery. It is only when regional industries get elevated to a position of representing themselves, they could occupy the space they deserve in Indian filmdom.  Personally, I prefer to watch films from other languages with subtitles because the feel of the original is retained there. When we are ready to watch Western and Asian films with subtitles why can’t we give the same respect to regional films? We as an audience should be able to satisfy ourselves with an answer.

The OTT Alternative & The Drishyam Phenomenon

Drishyam 2: The Resumption, the Malayalam film which got premiered on the OTT platform Amazon Prime Video on 19 February 2021 has shown us a different path through which the regional can be mainstreamed in this digital era. The film was the sequel to the acclaimed Malayalam drama-thriller Drishyam that released in 2013. Prior to the OTT release, the makers of the film received flak for their decision to circumvent theatrical premier, because the much-anticipated film was expected to rejuvenate the pandemic-hit Mollywood industry. But the Over-The-Top release proved a blessing in disguise as the unprecedented popular and critical appreciation bestowed upon the film served as an eye-opener to a graver problem at hand. In a reversal of the usual, the sequel brought the original film to the fore. The original Malayalam film Drishyam was remade into four Indian languages and two foreign languages. Some of these remakes have become more famous than the original due to the higher receptibility of their respective languages in the country. But the release of the sequel through an OTT platform blurred much of its linguistic handicap. The subtitled film was viewed by cine-lovers all over the world and the subsequent quest rediscovered the original. The OTT release was a temporary disappointment for the theatre arena, but it has given a better exposure to the entire Malayalam film industry.

Though, it is also true that international OTT platforms prefer stardom over the content. Only a few films of the regional industries that are helmed by established actors and directors got an OTT release through these international biggies. But Regional OTT platforms are a solution to these, there already exists Hoichoi in Bengali, Neestream and Koode in Malayalam, Aha in Telugu, and many others. Thus, creating regional OTT platforms are a sustainable solution for all marginalized regional film industries. Thus, if a film can be made available on OTT platforms a few days after its theatrical release, its receptivity increases a hundred folds. Regional cinema rarely gets substantial theatrical release outside their home-turf and for this reason not many people outside the region are too much interested in regional cinema. Another reason being that a regional film’s reach is delimited which curtails a particular industry’s progress. Thereby some of the best contents in cinema will never reach its deserved viewership.

These, online streaming platforms are a huge boon for regional film industries of especially Southern India which have all the infrastructure in place but do not have a bigger market as compared to Bollywood. The same platforms can also lead to the resurrection of upcoming regional film industries like the ones in Punjab and Bengal which also have good markets beyond national boundaries. Equally, these platforms can also help in the establishment of new film industries in places of India’s North East and Far North region which have a distinct language and culture from the mainland. One of the best examples in this context can be the linguistically similar Western Pahari region which includes parts of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir as well numerous parts bordering Pakistan. The separate Pahari music industries in these regions are very popular and OTT platforms can be used for planting the seeds of a combined establishment of a film industry in this region.

Additionally, remastering and re-releasing the best films of the past from the regional filmdom is a welcoming move. Many brilliant cinematic gems will reach a wider audience and receive critical adulation through this process.

Heterogeneity and Giving Space to the Regional

Finally, as an audience, the onus is upon us to accept heterogeneity and to be shrewd enough to distinguish the originals from the remakes and value the former over the latter. Because in the end, it is the viewer that dictates the fate of a film. If the majority of us favour the original productions by the regional cinema, the tendency to ‘own’ it through remake by mainstream industries will subside in the future. Thereby real talents of regional cinema will get recognition, and film-makers far and wide will be forced to produce original and engaging scripts. OTT platforms can expand the reach of these regional films. If the originals can breach the boundaries of language and location by portraying local contents with universal appeal and by releasing it across the globe through OTT platforms, the possibility of a remake can be nullified in advance.

Thus, in a nutshell, the work here attempts to suggest some useful markers for the decentring of the domineering forces in Indian filmdom and thereby elevating the status of the regional cinema. It is only when the tag ‘Indian Cinema’ starts to signify all the film industries of our nation the objective of this work is fulfilled.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.
 

Opinion

Development, Displacement, and Biodiversity: With Special Emphasis on the Forest Rights Act, 2006

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By – Aagam, Ph.D. Scholar at the Faculty of Law, Himachal Pradesh University.

The piece deals with the issue of development, displacement of indigenous people, and biodiversity. The article suggests that indigenous communities are closely linked to the forest and other similar resource-rich areas because they are the original inhabitants of such areas and are wholly dependent on that setup. In fact, they can be considered as the real protectors of biodiversity.  The work also highlights issues concerning the displacement of thousands of people through various development projects. Further, various pivotal provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and the problem concerning their ground implementation are discussed.

Development according to Amartya Sen is a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. It is the process of enhancing individual capacities to avoid various deprivations such as starvation, malnutrition, morbidity, and mortality. But nowadays the definition of development has changed. It has been limited to the GDP and prodigality. Constant destruction of nature has been a norm due to the coming up of many development projects in rural and tribal areas, at the same time all this plays with the interests of the inhabitants of these areas. In essence, when we discuss the term nature or forest, it does not mean only plants and trees rather it includes biodiversity and ecology. Everything is linked to ecology, from little plants and insects to large creatures and humans. Each component of this ecology serves a purpose, and each maintains a natural balance. Human beings are the ones who disrupt this balance, whether for the sake of development or to make indiscriminate profits. In the current Indian context, a lot is happening in this concern and various legislations enacted by the British colonizers have been used to grab the land in resource-rich tribal areas. The Indian Forest Act, 1927, can be seen as one such enactment which is wrongly perceived by many as an important legislation for the conservation of forests. But that is not the case, as it was only enacted to meet commercial and military demands for timber. By recognizing forests as state property, the enactment attempted to overthrow customary rights and forest management systems which gave an open license for timber exploitation.

Eventually, almost sixty years after independence, the Parliament passed the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006 (hereinafter mentioned as the Forest Rights Act, 2006). The legislation deserves praise as it admitted the historical injustices suffered by Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers whose rights had been inappropriately recognized throughout the colonial period as well as in independent India. In essence, it has multiple progressive provisions like  Section 3(1)(a)  which provides that the members of a forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers have the right to hold and reside in forest land under individual or common occupation for habitation or self-cultivation for livelihood. Then, Section 3(1)(c) gives the right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries. Section 3(1)(d) provides for other community rights of uses or entitlements such as fishing rights in water bodies, grazing (both settled or transhumant), and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities. Section 3(1)(g) then provides for the rights for the conversion of Pattas or leases or grants issued by any local authority or any state government on forest lands to titles. This legislation also grants the rights to protect, regenerate, conserve, or manage community forest resources under Section 3(1)(i). Furthermore, Section 5 empowers the holders of forest rights or other village institutions to protect the wildlife, forest, and biodiversity. It further puts a duty upon the holders of the forest right to ensure that adjoining catchments area, water sources, and other ecologically sensitive areas are adequately protected. They are empowered to ensure that their habitats are protected from any destructive practices that would harm their cultural and natural heritage. Further, they must have to stop any activity which adversely affects wild animals, forests, and biodiversity. Apart from this, the Gram Sabha has provided the authority to initiate the process of determining the forest rights.

Consequently, at the global level, all this can be related to the first half of the 19th century where imperialist powers had made most of the third world their colonies and implemented conservation strategies to loot natural resources. Then, in the late 60s, the strategy slowly changed, and neo-colonialism started getting implemented in these areas. This wave had a deep nexus with the corporates, who slowly and steadily in the decades to follow started running alternative propagandas with the help of the newly created NGO mechanism centered around campaigns which portrayed the opinion that people should plant more trees, save the environment, etc., and very consciously and cleverly were able to side-line social movements centered around environmental protection. Even with the emergence of the climate emergency, these powers did not halt their profit-hunger; instead, they vigorously promoted forest conservation propagandas whose main motive was never to protect the environment. In such conservation programs, many areas have been declared nature parks, wildlife sanctuaries, etc., and local people of the villages who lived in and around forests for hundreds of years were displaced from their lands. Moreover, as per the available data, Adivasis constitute 40% of those displaced in India between 1951 and 1990 as a consequence of large development projects. These are mostly poor and vulnerable people who are dependent upon primary production. They are dependent on natural resources such as water, grass, wood, fruits, flowers, and medicinal plants for their livelihood. Many forest dwellers who lived in and around forests were evicted from their ancestral lands in the name of conservation and very consciously they were made culprits and tagged as “encroachers”.

Pong Dam, District Kangra (Source: Indian Express)

At the same time, in India, thousands of people have been displaced from their lands due to the coming up of large projects in the name of national interest. In many cases, even rehabilitation was not done. For instance, many displaced people from the Bhakra Nangal and Pong dams have yet to receive their land or compensation for rehabilitation. According to a study, 90,702 people have been affected by the coming up of the Pong Dam, and 2,108 families were displaced due to the setting up of the Bhakra Nangal Dam. Approximately 8,000 ousted families which lost their land in the construction of the Pong Dam are still waiting to be rehabilitated because they were either denied land in Rajasthan or had their land allotments revoked by the Rajasthan Government. The tribals of Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh are also one of the communities affected in this relation. The entire region is threatened by massive hydroelectric power projects. Heavy blasting is done during excavation and construction, causing cracks in the houses, and in some places, entire villages are in danger. The ecology has been damaged, and serious environmental threats are prevalent. In many villages of Kinnaur, claims filed under the Forest Rights Act by the villagers have been rejected. Though many organizations are working in these areas, New Delhi seems to be adamant about resource exploitation of these areas and pushing successive state governments in this concern. As hydroelectricity generated from these areas is very useful for the mainland and it’s developmental needs.

On the flip side, it also needs to be stated that, especially in post-colonial India the movement for environmental protection against the capitalist forces and their NGO brigade was started by anarchist and radical forces who also used the affected people as a tool to further their ideological propaganda. But in that process, they degraded and weakened the statist and socialist forces who stood the best chance at creating the change in the Indian context. Certainly, I believe that people who are fighting for forest rights i.e.,  jal, jungle, jameen are not against development. But development should be progressive, support-led, and aimed at social justice. Development must focus on the use of natural resources to fulfill the genuine interests of mankind. Development that is growth-mediated and profit-centric is not in the best interest of humanity as it segregates the larger community, as well as in the context of the environment causes massive destruction of natural resources and millions of inhabitants get evicted from their lands. The development of the Himalayan geographical region is of vital importance to the entire country and the sub-continent. The region has abundant natural resources, and these resources can lead to equitable prosperity and wellbeing, however, they must be used sustainably. Thus, there should be Himalayan-specific development policies in India as the conventional model of development of the plains is unsustainable for the mountainous areas.

Livestock of pastoral communities                                                        (Source: Discover Himachal with Surjeet)

Nonetheless, more autonomy should be given to the region and a decentralized approach should be preferred. Though, an attempt was made to decentralize forest management by enacting the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, and the previously stated Forest Rights Act, 2006. Both these acts give supremacy to the inhabitants by empowering the Gram Sabhas to determine the forest rights, protect and preserve natural resources, and other individual or community rights. Even the authorities are required to take a nod from the Gram Sabha for any development works like road construction or acquisition of the forest lands. In this context, another point which emerges is that the Forest Rights Act is being opposed by corporate conservationists, a few retired bureaucrats, and pseudo-environmentalists. The monopoly of the forest bureaucracy on forest management, as well as compensation and rehabilitation for resettlement, are among the major causes for opposition to this legislation. The moment Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers are declared as illegal inhabitants or encroachers, it becomes much easier to evict them from their native lands. So, this legislation is becoming an obstacle in their respective agendas.  Although as stated above the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 are progressive, but the ground implementation is missing and Gram Sabhas are typically bypassed, and bureaucrats, as well as the forest department, take precedence over them. Moreover, claims filed by the people are being rejected without valid reasons.

In conclusion, forests are inseparable from forest dwellers and thus have the best chance of survival if communities are actively engaged in their conservation and regeneration. Conservation, in the genuine sense, is impossible if local communities are tagged as ‘encroachers’ and further excluded. Ecological balance or biodiversity is not disrupted by forest dwellers. Indeed, the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who depend upon forests maintain biodiversity and the ecological equilibrium by protecting and preserving such areas. Finally, I would like to point out that in the Himalayan geographical region agricultural land is scarce and inhabitants of the region are dependent upon the primary production of the forests. Giving them certain exclusive rights will help in protecting the environment and preserving biodiversity. They are not threats to biodiversity; rather, they are the protectors.

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

 

 

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Opinion

Nij Path Ka Avichal Panthi by Shanta Kumar, Review – The Uncompromising Idealist from Himachal Pradesh

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shanta Kumar autobiography review

By – Shashwat Kapoor, MBA from INSEEC Business School, Paris, France. He currently works for the Bhartiya Janata Party

From Palampur to New Delhi, the journey of Shanta Kumar has been inspirational. His journey is hard to sum up, but he is definitely an uncompromising idealist from Himachal Pradesh who always stood up against the two evils of corruption and communalism which have always marred Indian society.

It was a usual winter afternoon at the Constitution Club of India in New Delhi, but the ongoing event was a rather special one. The prestigious club whose membership was only reserved for parliamentarians was sort of cheerful that afternoon.  The venue was not new to renowned faces of Indian politics, but that day had a somewhat odd gathering. Interestingly, Veteran journalist Prabhu Chawla was attending a BJP event and former BJP MP and current Congress member Shatrughan Sinha was also present in the hall. Veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi concluded the event in a speech celebrating the remnants of a long-forgotten ideology of the BJP, talking about the values that shaped the political organization during its early days. That day marked the launch of the autobiography of Sh. Shanta Kumar, the veteran politician from Himachal Pradesh who stood up for everything ideals represented.

“Nij Path Ka Avichal Panthi” the title of the book which literally translates to “the unmoving traveler of an individual path” is paradoxical in nature, the book’s title itself stands for an uncompromising, unwavering spirit fighting for its ideals. Kumar’s journey from a rather humble household to the top of Indian politics and the struggles in between has been covered. The book as a whole is not only about the journey of Shanta Kumar but also about the rise of the Bhartiya Janata Party over the years. From the post-independence Shyama Prasad Mukherjee’s Kashmir Andolan to the JP Narayan’s Emergency Andolan and the Ram Rath Yatra, he provides a first-hand experience as an agitator and an organizer working from the right side of the political spectrum.

I had the opportunity to attend the book launch event and later also had the honor of meeting him.

Sharing a part of the conversation I had with him:

“What is the message that you want to give by writing this book?”

– “There is no message to be given, this book serves as a historical document to my life’s experience as I’ve lived it, as an uncompromising idealist.”

“But don’t you feel that sometimes we have to compromise on our ideals?”

– “No that is not the case, we do not have to compromise ever, but we end up compromising because it’s easy.”

 

Shashwat Kapoor with shanta Kumar

Shashwat Kapoor with Shanta Kumar

I came to realize that like his real-life Shanta Kumar was unapologetically truthful in his autobiography also. Throughout the book, he talks about his life’s journey, from humble beginnings to rise to the apex of Indian politics. The book is a sacrament to the ideology and his life’s principles. It sheds light on the experiences of a young teenager Kumar, a revolutionary dedicating his life to the ideals of the RSS, jumping in Shyama Prasad Mukherjee’s Kashmir Andolan and fasting for his rights as a political prisoner in a post-independence India. It talks about the journey of modern India and the shifting principles of the various political ideologies with time. How the independence that millions of Indians laid their life for, was not much different from colonial slavery is also an important point he raises.

Kumar unhesitantly also talks about love, a rather strange and rare trait seen amongst Indian politicians. In a country going head over heels over the mahatamization of politicians, Kumar talks about the importance of family and his love for his wife. He very openly accepts the importance of his life’s partner in shaping up his career. Shanta Kumar is a romantic and his feelings on love can be read in this document.

His rise in the RSS, moving out of his peaceful hill state to the capital of India, and then his plunge into the politics of the local Panchayat after returning, Kumar has climbed every step of the political ladder right from the bottom. However, his time in politics was always at the cost of his personal endeavors. The book talks deeply and greatly about his time in jails and how impactful they have been as a turning point in his life. JP Narayan’s Andolan and Indra Gandhi’s emergency landed Kumar in jail for a long time, and he states that the time spent in jail was rather transitional as he devoted it to exercise and extensive reading.  In fact, from my understanding, he went inside the jail as a revolutionary, and came out, as a statesman.

As after coming out of jail, he toured extensively and drew large crowds, larger than any other politician of the state. The post-emergency elections made him sit from state prison to the highest administrative position of the same state. Now, was his time to pay back to the teachings of his Guru, Swami Vivekananda. An able administrator, the decisions taken by him shocked the sleepish administrative machinery of the state.

He was in fact, the youngest non-Congress Chief Minister of the state. Shanta Kumar’s ability to feel so deeply set him on a journey for the upliftment of the underprivileged. His tenure became historical, he provided taps to every household at a time when most of the general public walked kilometers to the nearby handpumps to collect water. He also started the Antyodaya Yojna providing cheap groceries for the impoverished, inspired by Deen Dyal Upadhyay’s Antyodaya concept meaning “rise of the last person”. But his government was short lived, and Shanta Kumar had to resign with the fall of the Janata Party. But as stated in his book instead of luring legislators with power and money, he chose to let his government fall. Uncompromising once again with his ideals, Kumar resigned as Chief Minister.

Then, he also talks about how with the formation of the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Ram Rath Andolan, he once again got a chance to head the state in 1990, and he like his earlier tenure continued his work for the poor, although with a new focus on generating state revenue. He added on greatly to Himachal’s earnings by privatizing hydroelectricity and tapping the untapped potential. But this led to widespread strikes, in retaliation to which he imposed “No Work No Pay”. With a single stroke, Kumar had the entire government machinery and employees under his control, the strikes died down, but it gave birth to the employee’s dissent against Kumar.

Although, even after all this he continued to work towards his vision for the hill state, to create a utopia of principles where Antyodaya was a reality and the community worked for each other. It was during the tenure of Kumar when Himachal Pradesh became the first province in the country to get a royalty on its waters, and his public policy approaches were reaping a lot of benefits. But fate had other plans for Kumar as with the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Kumar’s government was demolished too, even after he categorically stated that he was against the unfortunate incident of demolition of the masjid. Such was his fate that although having been the CM twice, not once could he complete the full tenure.

But he got another chance to pursue his dream of Antyodaya, when he was made the Union Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government in 1999, his policies were praised by many but due to his firm stand against corruption, communalism and petty politics, this time people from within his own party and ideological circle crushed him and forced him to resign in early 2003.

But even after all this he remained an uncompromising idealist and has always stood up for what he felt is right, even if that means going against his own party or its leaders.

“You know if god makes a list of the happiest people on earth, my name will be the first one. I lived and did whatever I could on my own terms, never did I compromise my ideals, and such is fate.” His final words to me during our conversation concerning this matter.

Shanta Kumar Statements against bjp government

Lastly, his autobiography is proof of how a man of principles fares in the game of politics. An extremely interesting and gripping book, it sheds light and puts perspective on the in-between stories of the government. He talks openly about political leaders and his experiences and private conversations with them. For anyone interested in the politics of the state and the BJP, the book gives a holistic view of the events that have shaped our present. It also provides deep insights on the administrative machinery and policy making techniques that Kumar used in taking historical decisions. Accordingly, the book touches upon the most personal and intimate aspects of Shanta Kumar, the writer’s personality, his unconditional and unbounded love for the people of his state and the sole companion of his journey, his wife.

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

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Opinion

Language and Scripts: With Special Focus on Western Pahari and Tankri

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Western Pahari and Tankri

By – Nirmal Joseph and Megha Manju Promodu.

Nirmal is a Research Scholar at the Central University of Karnataka and Megha is a researcher based in Kerala who previously worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, New Delhi.

The piece deals with the importance of a script for a language. It attempts to understand the following concerns: Why every language should possess its own script? What are the advantages languages with script have over those who lack it? How is the survival of a language complemented by its written form? Special emphasis is given to the Tankri script of the Western Pahari dialects which is at the verge of extinction. The attempts of linguists, especially Yatin Sharma from Himachal Pradesh, is outlined at the end. This piece is a call to authorities and language enthusiasts to fully recognize the need to preserve minority and scattered linguistic entities.

Emergence of Languages

Communication with the use of a complex system of language is a defining feature that distinguishes humans from other organisms. The same has also kept scientists, linguistics and even historians interested in studying languages and how it shapes the world around us. Initially, language developed as a communication tool and the primary objective was to pass on information in daily life. As man settled down in river valleys and ended the life of hunter-gatherers to farmers it was required that simply passing on information directly to a person was not enough, there was now a demand to retell the information from one person to another. If man wanted to survive, gather, and spread the information he learned of agriculture to his peers then a more complex way that could accommodate retelling of information was required. Slowly it evolved to be an expression of self and humans required more complex ways to express themselves hence language also evolved to meet the demands. Storytelling was an important aspect of language development. It was an act of self-expression as well as storing information for posterity through simple connected bits of information sewed together in the manner of a story. Folklores for children are an example of this.

Language developed in different parts of the world in completely different ways with different sets of rules as people hardly had any chance to mingle and travel. Though it is difficult to pinpoint, but many linguists from around the world accept six major language families and three language groups. The six language families are Indo-European (used in most parts of Europe, Iran, Pakistan, Northern India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka), Sino-Tibetan (Used in China, Tibet, Thailand, Myanmar), Dravidian (Southern India and even some parts of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iran), Semito-Hametic (includes languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, Libyan, Somali, Ethiopia’s Amharic), Ural-Altaic (Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish, Mongolian, Manchurian and even Japanese and Korean are included by some linguists in this group) and Austric (includes languages such as Malaya, Indonesian, Tagalog of Philippines, Malagasy of the pacific ocean and even Santali of India spoken by more than 30 lakh people belong to this family). The three language groups are the African family (Swahili, Bantu, Sudanese), American family (Mayan, Quechua of Peru), and minor language families of old continents (Georgian family, Caucasian family, and some more). Also, according to the national mission for manuscripts 30% of the languages share Dravidian scripts while the rest 70% consist of Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, and Austric language scripts.

Why a script for a language?

The discussion above majorly consisted of oral language and its history and now we delve into written language and its necessities. Scripts are understood as a symbolic representation of sounds of a particular language according to the national mission of manuscripts. To simply put it, scripts are representations of spoken language in a text format. No one is certain as to how or when written languages originated but the possibility and need for an efficient method of collecting and storing information cannot be overlooked.

Scripts are important components of language and play a major role in preserving it. Language cannot be undermined as simply a tool of communication rather it functions as the guardian of culture, history, and life histories of the people who use it or used it. It even contributes to a sense of solidarity and brotherhood among the users. The use of English to cultivate an English sensibility among the colonised subjects as suggested by Macaulay in his minutes and the subversion of Dravidian languages as layman’s language and replacing it with Sanskrit centuries back in certain areas illustrates how powerful a tool language is to establish or subvert a culture. Another example of this is the introduction of Latin in England whilst it was still part of the Roman Empire. Often the introduction of another language to a culture does not necessarily mean a negative aspect. At times this works to enhance the original language in terms of vocabulary, grammar, and complexity. But it also poses a threat of the original language being overpowered by the imposed language. One such example in this context can be that of Malayalam which as a language did not get overwhelmed by Sanskrit imposition but rather it adapted, forming a mixed language called Manipravalam from existing Tamil, Kerala bhasha (the language used in Kerala during the time), and Sanskrit. Thus, vastly improving upon its vocabulary and grammar. On the other hand, languages like Western Pahari, Santali and other minority languages are under serious threat due to Hindi imposition and various other political reasons. In short, it can work as a double-edged sword.

Another point in this context can be that of how languages began to fade without their scripts. Ganesh N. Devy, an educator, writer, and activist in the field of language study and preservation stated in an interview given to Hindustan Times that the division of British India in 1926 on the basis of languages was the turning point. During that time scripted languages were counted and non-scripted languages without any literature were completely neglected, thus no status was given to the non-scripted language speaking people. This also meant that educational institutions did not recognize these languages further alienating the people who spoke these languages. To get an education and a better chance at life students had to learn any of the already established languages and thus this paved the way for these languages to be further downgraded. While many argue the loss of a minority language may mean nothing to humanity, but Devy points out that by losing a language we lose the repository of a traditional knowledge unique to that area or community.

Consequences of the absence of a script: The Case of Tankri and its revival

There are several reasons behind the demise of many languages. Among them, as stated earlier, the lack of a script or the written form is one of the biggest reasons. The written form of a language is in a way the repository of the cultural capital of the same, whereas the spoken form, if undocumented, has a greater probability of a faster death. Also, the meaning of words in a language is susceptible to alteration in the course of time. Therefore, every word that we use today has a historical background attached to it. Only in scripted languages, this history is identifiable, owing to the presence of a paper trail that sheds light on the past of that language. The example of Latin can be drawn here. With no active speakers for the past few centuries, Latin is considered a dead language. But the language will never be forgotten due to its well-documented nature. There will be thousands of other languages that originated along with or after Latin, but have long disappeared from the face of earth, simply because they lacked their written form. The reasons for the marginalization of a language are many. It may be politically motivated, spatially relegated or culturally side-lined. But whatever be the cause, the mightiest form of resistance is through proper documentation of the language. Documentation will help the language to be etched in the realm of public memory and it will become part of the knowledge stream. Language is closely connected with the individual and collective identity of its speakers. Its flourishment is a source of pride while its decimation is a loss of cultural capital accumulated over a course of several years or even centuries. The loss of a script has irreparable consequences. When a script dies the knowledge system, associated with it also succumbs to its end. Like every other matter, language is also power-centric. Its dominance and subordinance are directly consequential to its closeness to the power structure. It is for the same reason that most of the Tribal Languages are on the verge of extinction in this urban-centric visualization of the world.

In South Asia one such script or written form which can be included in this category is Tankri, the script was used to write Western Pahari dialects prior to the 19th century. The dialects are still spoken in majorly the Western Pahari Belt, which includes parts of present-day Himachal Pradesh, erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir princely state, and some areas of Pakistan. The dialects of the language are also spoken by a large number of people in the United Kingdom. The script originated from Sharda which is one of the oldest writing forms of South Asia. But such is the status of the script that it is almost at the brink of extinction as is no longer being used in official spaces. Simultaneously, the same has also put in danger the future of Western Pahari in especially the state of Himachal Pradesh in which Western Pahari dialects are spoken by majority people (according to the 2011 Census).

At the same time, many individuals and organizations in the state are also working on reviving the script through various means, and in this context, we had the opportunity to speak to one such individual named Yatin Sharma who belongs to the Sultanpur area of District Kullu. He is a young linguist who understands the importance of the Tankri script in the context of Himachal Pradesh and the entire Western Pahari region. He is currently working towards formulating a nuclear Tankri script for Himachal Pradesh and believes that Tankri as a script is very easy to learn but due to it having many forms based on the area and dialect it gets difficult to share and spread it.

yatin sharma linguist in himacal pradesh

Yatin Sharma

The same also, “fails to weave the Western Pahari dialects of the province and the entire belt in a single thread”. Thus, he says “Considering this, I am trying to form a script in which Western Pahari dialects of the state could be fully written. I have worked on a few figures and am currently working on others. I am even taking help of digital methods to give this script a permanent appearance. Also, I am seeking help of persons who are experts in script formation for this purpose.” Further, he says “his primary aim is to work on a nuclear script to aid the Western Pahari, though I know it is a lengthy task but nothing is impossible and with the collective effort of all like-minded individuals I believe this can be achieved”. When asked about whether he would be happy to work on a nuclear script for the entire Western Pahari Belt which would also be helpful for the United Kingdom diaspora he said that “the whole Western Pahari Belt concept is very interesting, I recently explored it after reading the works of Dr. Serena Hussain and Vishal Sharma who are currently researching on this issue at Coventry University, England”. Further, in this relation, he says “a common script for the whole Western Pahari Belt is very fascinating, but to bring it into existence is a real challenge but it is not impossible either. The most important thing in this connection is that there are area variants of vowels and their uses in the dialects which need to be dealt with and that would take a huge amount of time and resources. But I do believe that it would be better if we have a nuclear script for this whole region which would not only be beneficial for Western Pahari but would also be important to establish more linkages in between the region as well as the diaspora. At the right time if given the opportunity I would love to work on a nuclear script for the whole Western Pahari Belt”. Then, when asked upon as to whether revising these scripts would help the languages associated with them, he says “Scripts keep revising, take Tankri for example, from Sharda to Devshesha and then finally to Tankri, the script has undergone numerous amendments as per the requirement from time to time. Not only Tankri but other scripts have also been amended multiple times to reach its current form. It is not wrong to revise a script if it is the need of the hour. But amendments should only be to the extent to which it is required. Unnecessary amendments are not right.” “I think it’s the right time to revise the Tankri script”, he says lastly.

Conclusion

Thus, without a doubt, we can concur that scripts are important for languages, particularly when the speaking population keeps dwindling. To revive a script that is hardly in use and has lost its currency is a behemoth task. It requires the collective intervention of administration, academia, experts, and linguistic enthusiasts. Furthermore, it is of paramount importance to create a sense of pride among the original speakers of the language to assert their linguistic identity. Also if possible a Western Pahari institute should be made to boost studies and research on the language group and its script. Only when the learning of a language gets rewarded occupationally or financially people get encouraged to accumulate it. We can’t overlook the role of literature in the furtherance and development of a language. Therefore the creation of literary awards with respectable emoluments to be distributed annually to the best literary outputs will have far-reaching effects. Besides, thoughts can also be directed at making Western Pahari with Tankri script as an optional subject at schools – optional because no language should be imposed. Print and visual media can enhance a language and widen its reach to the common masses. Additionally, to give the language the visibility it requires, space can be accorded for it in signboards, hoardings, advertisements, etc. along with the official language of the region. Above all, a language survives the test of time through its power to accommodate changes. English became one of the most vibrant languages in the world because of its adaptability and accommodative nature. It imbibed words and phrases from almost all other languages it ever came into contact with. English language dictionaries get replenished with a multitude of novel words every year. Regional and minority languages should also learn from these more vibrant and lively languages of the globe. It is only when a language is receptive to everyday changes happening around it, it has better odds at survival.

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

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