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Safeguarding future of Konkani

The Census of India recently released data about population divided by mother tongue as reflected in Census of 2011. Let us take a deeper look at the figures for Goa

Uday Bhembre


Figures of population by mother tongue as reflected in Census of 2011 have recently been released by the Census of India. They pertain to India as a whole as well as to the States, Union Territories and Centrally Administered Areas.

This article deals with figures pertaining to Goa State and the Konkani language. I have collected these figures from the Panaji office of the Census of India. They do not reflect fully the ground realities but in the absence of more reliable data one has to rely upon the statistics released by the authorities.

I do not blame the Census of India (COI) for an imperfect picture regarding mother tongues and the number of people speaking those languages for the simple reason that the data collected by the COI is based on the declarations made by the people. Enumerators who visit every house are not supposed to dispute, question or investigate for truth, the declarations made by the people. They record what the people say and are not expected t¬o be judgmental about that information. One glaring example is about Sanskrit. In Goa 1055 people have written Sanskrit as their mother tongue. We know for sure that this figure is wrong. The Enumerators too, may have known that this is not true; but they are helpless, they have to record what people state. Perhaps, for this reason, the COI uses the phrase “persons who returned the language as their mother tongue.”

Analysing the 2011 figures regarding mother tongues in Goa, as seen in Table I, we see that 9,64,305 persons (69.30 per cent) have declared Konkani as their mother tongue. Compared with the figures of the 2001 census, there is a rise of 1,94,417, which is natural  and on expected lines. In the case of Marathi, the figure in the 2011 census is 1,58,787 which is 11.36 per cent. Compared with the figures of the 2001 census which was 3,04,208, there is a drop of 1,45,421. Persons declaring Hindi as their mother tongue have almost doubled. In 2001 the number was 76,775 whereas in 2011 it rose to 1,50,017. One can easily infer that the number of Hindi speaking people is significantly growing in Goa.

As regards Goa, 24 mother tongues are recorded. The largest number (9,64,305) is of those who declared Konkani as their mother tongue and the smallest number (62) is of those who declared Bodo as their mother tongue. There is rise in the number of those who declared any of the following languages: Bengali, Manipuri, Odiya, Nepali, Punjabi, Assamese, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Santhali, Maithili, Dogri, Bodo and Tulu. In the case of Bengali, Manipuri, Odiya, Assamese, Sanskrit, Santhali, the rise is substantial, whereas in the case of other languages it is marginal.

The languages which have been declared as mother tongues by a lesser number of people in the 2011 census are: Marathi, Kannada, Urdu, Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati and Kashmiri.

In the case of English, there is a marginal rise. In the 2001 census, persons who declared English as their mother tongue numbered 8190; whereas in the 2011 census the number shows an increase of 1575. It stands at 9765 which is an increase of only 0.72 per cent. The policies of the Government of Goa in the matter of use of English for various purposes is likely to lead to further increase in the number of persons declaring English as their mother tongue. They will belong to a new class which could be named ‘Indo Anglicans”!

The countrywide scenario regarding Konkani is as shown in Table No 2. Konkani is returned as mother tongue in 35 areas all over the country. In 2011 while a single person has declared Konkani as her mother tongue, the highest number (9,64,305) is in Goa. In the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra, Konkani is the mother tongue of a significant number of people. As per the 2011 census, there is a marginal increase in the numbers pertaining to Karnataka and Kerala while in Maharashtra there is a steep drop for reasons that are not quite clear. In Gujarat too, there is drop which has contributed to a drop of 2,32,513 countrywide. In the 2001 census the figure for the country was 24,89,015 which in the 2011 census has been reduced to 22,56,502.

In Maharashtra the figure of 6,58,259 in 2001 census came down to 3,99,255 in 2011, the drop amounting to 2,59,004. In Gujarat there is reduction of 1,85,765. If the fall in numbers in these two states is to be added it comes to 4,44,769, much more than the countrywide drop in figure. Increase in other areas have offset this drop to the extent of 1,85,765. Therefore the countrywide drop is 2,59,004.

It is difficult to state with certainty, the factors that have led to the steep drop in Maharashtra. One factor could be that the new generation of Konkani speaking families that have settled in Maharashtra are not conversant with Konkani, use Marathi instead and have declared Marathi as their mother tongue. What supports this assumption is that worldwide, cultures of numerically smaller communities are absorbed by the dominant cultures. The other factor could be that the migration of the Konkani speaking people to the metropolitan city of Mumbai and the city like Pune in Maharashtra, for jobs, has almost stopped or is taking place on a negligible scale. But there may be other factors too because the drop is too steep to be justified by these two factors.

In Gujarat, most probably the factor that has led to a huge difference of 1,85,765, is the change of mind of the ‘Kukna’ tribe. That tribe, for some years prior to the 2011 census, believed that their speech was a dialect of Konkani and in the 2001 census declared Konkani as their mother tongue. It is not known what they did in the 2011 census, but it is certain that they did not declare Konkani as their mother tongue.

Whatever the reasons or the factors, they need to be investigated. One may not find remedies in all cases; but if errors are found efforts can be made to rectify them. This is necessary to safeguard the future of Konkani. UNESCO has frequently reported that 25 per cent languages die every year in the world and the biggest factor that leads to their death is the small number of speakers. Konkani is not facing that situation and is not among the endangered languages. As regards 2011 census, what is important is that, in Goa, where Konkani speakers are a majority, there is a rise and the drop is in one or two States, where Konkani speaking community is a small minority.


Konkani in the country

INDIA, STATES   Census Census

AND OTHER        2001       2011


INDIA    24,89,015             22,56,502

JAMMU & KASHMIR       90           79

HIMACHAL PRADESH      25           80

PUNJAB               76           165

CHANDIGARH    74           86

UTTARAKHAND                53           84

HARYANA            206         432

NCT OF DELHI    1,767     1,553

RAJASTHAN        16           255

UTTAR PRADESH              323         335

BIHAR   78           23

SIKKIM 17           27

ARUNACHAL PRADESH  25           55

NAGALAND        74           51

MANIPUR           14           32

MIZORAM           43           54

MEGHALAYA      66           68

ASSAM 156         413

WEST BENGAL   960         506

JHARKHAND       310         265

ODISHA                3,280     7,587

CHATTISGARH   182         173

MADHYA PRADESH         987         814

GUJARAT             1,90,857               5092

DAMAN & DIU  229         142

DADRA & NAGAR HAVELI             22,795   7756

MAHARASHTRA                6,582,59               3,99,255

ANDHRA PRADESH          3,129     2,729

KARNATAKA      7,68,039               7,88,294

GOA      7,69,888               9,64,305

LAKSHADWEEP 310         1

KERALA                61,376   69,449

TAMIL NADU     4,657     6,098

PUDUCHERRY    63           101

ANDAMAN &     44           99



Mother tongues declared in Goa

Mother tongue Census Census

2001       2011

Konkani                7,69,888               9,64,305

Marathi                3,04,208               1,58,787

Hindi      76,775   1,50,017

Kannada              74,615   67,923

Urdu      54,163   41,242

Malayalam          15,081   12,983

Telugu  11,926   11,116

Bengali 4,111     7,099

Tamil     7,903     6,947

Gujarati                9,273     6,846

Manipuri              49           5,830

Odiya    2,681     5,558

Nepali   2,135     2,600

Punjabi 1,815     1,959

Assamese           195         1,107

Sanskrit                46           1,055

Sindhi    527         656

Santhali                24           430

Kashmiri               472         372

Maithili 164         289

Dogri     93           105

Bodo     7              62

Tulu       796         929

English  8,190     9,765

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