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HO language is part of Austro-Asiatic language family and is spoken by 14,21,418 speakers according to 2011 census. However according to community, there are more than 25 lakh speakers of HO language. HO language even has it’s own script called, Warang Chiti Script. Lako Bodra (1919-1986) is revered with high respect among people as he invented Warangchiti Script for HO language around 1985. In recent times, HO language has gained significance in educational field, as UGC has also recognized HO as a language and literature and it is also conducting NET examination in HO language under Tribal and Regional Language/Literature group.
To pursue the dream of HO’s language being recognized in Indian Constitution, All India HO Language Action Committee (AIHLAC) was formed. According to Gabar Singh Hembrom, a young HO speaker present at the event, “All India HO Language Action Committee, formed in 2000, is a conglomeration of 26 grassroots organizations that are fighting for the rights of HO language to be included in 8th schedule. The demand has existed at several regional levels, but this time the idea is to force government to introduce a bill for HO language’s recognition in winter session of parliament.” About 500 members of HO tribe from five states – Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and Assam had come to the protest event at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on 3rd December 2018. There has also been similar demands in respective states. It is important to note that, state government of Jharkhand has already started a program in which Adivasi students of class 1 and 2 are learning books in tribal languages like – Santhali, HO, Mundari, Khariya and Kuruk. Moreover, last year, Kurukh language was given official status and recognized by West Bengal government. Similar demand has also risen from large tribal groups like Gonds for recognition of their language in Central India.
Anil Bodra, a young HO adivasi from Jamshedpur has traveled all the way to Delhi to take part in protest rally for future of HO language. He tells, “we have come here for two days protest to demand our language to be recognized in the schedule list of Indian constitution. We want development of our language. Since our language is not recognized we are not able to acquire higher positions in jobs, however if our language gets included in 8th schedule then we will have better opportunities. If HO language gets recognized, then all schools, colleges, even poorest of the poor would be able to acquire education in their own language.”
On being asked what it means to have one’s language script, Anil says, “a language without script can not progress. We already had a script but it was lost, and so were our histories. The script is meant for asserting of our own identity. We have come to give memorandum to the Central government. If government doesn’t listen to our demands, then we won’t elect them in next elections.”
It is indeed questionable how languages with such large number of speakers are still kept away from 8th schedule. As one of the young student from Jharkhand at Jantar Mantar asked, “if sanskrit, spoken by merely thousand speakers can get recognition, then why can’t HO language with 25 lakhs speakers get recognition?”. “We have to keep our mother tongue alive. Without our language our society and our culture won’t exist.” He further adds.
Recognition of language also means the flourishing of popular culture. Songs albums and movies are the latest trend among many tribal language speakers. It is one of the popular and blooming sector within many communities whose languages have been sidelined by all governments consistently. Sawan Soy, a director of Sarna Films also present at the event argues that, “Odisha and Jharkhand has the largest population of HO language speakers. Our demand of including HO language in 8th schedule is not a new one, but an old demand. I have seen that, some HO people in urban areas are not able to teach the language to their children. However, songs are a popular medium through which children can be taught their mother tongue. I have been part of this movement and therefore I started making HO music albums. In Jamshedpur, I have noticed, even non tribals dance in the tune of HO songs, therefore with the help of songs, we want to assert our language and demand it’s recognition.”
Gurupada Purti, from East Madinpur and Sadu Munda Bodra from Alipur Duar, had come from West Bengal to participate in the event. According to them, about 200 years ago, HO people began migrating towards west, while they are original inhabitants of West Bengal. Gurupada claims that Kolkata once used to be land of Kol people and there are about 8-9 lakh HO speakers in West Bengal itself. “Similar to HO language action committee, in West Bengal we have Kol Samaj Hayang Sanagum Society formed in 2005, to protect HO language and its literature.” says Sadu Munda.
In the existing dominant nationalist political atmosphere, it is Hindi and other regional languages that are becoming medium of communication, as they are also propagated by the state. As languages carry cultures and histories, endangerment of tribal languages is also endangerment of tribal identity and their distinct culture. To protect and recognize tribal languages would only be a step ahead for a more democratic society.
ALL INDIA HO LANGUAGE ACTION COMMITTEE
Under the banner of All India HO Language Action Committee ( AIHLAC), the HO language speakers of Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha gathered at Jantar Mantar to demand inclusion of ‘HO’ language into 8th schedule of Indian Constitution.
“HO” language which belongs to Austro-Asiatic Munda language family is spoken by more than 35 lakh native speakers mostly tribes in India. It has its own script called “warang chiti” to write it. It has rich literature written in Waran Chiti, Devnagri, Oriya and Bengali script.
In the year 2003, the government of Jharkhand recommended central govt for inclusion vide letter no. 129 (date 18/9/2003). Similarly in the year 2011, after careful examination through expert committee, Odisha Government recommended for constitutional status of HO language. Since then Central Government has been delaying the inclusion for reasons best known to them.
To maintain the linguistic diversity of India, to protect and promote tribal languages, to ensure overall socio economic development of one of the largest tribal groups of Inida knows as HO, Munda, Kol, Kolha in different parts of India.
“The HO language speakers under the banner of AIHLAC have been conducting series of protest demonstration from the villages to state level. Now, the committee has organized one day protest at Jantar Mantar on 3rd December 2018. Inspite of series of demands if Government doesn’t listen to the grievances of HO’ people than people will be forced to go for more vibrant mode of protest” said Lacmidhar Singh, the General Secretary of AIHLAC.
The committee would submit memorandum to president of India, Prime Minister and Home Minister. This protest was attended by more than 400 people from Assam, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
Following the protest event, a memorandum was also submitted to the Prime Minister. Below is a copy of memorandum:
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