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A Question Of Goan Identity

A private member resolution seeking to grant Marathi the status of official language alongside Konkani was passed by the state Assembly last week. The resolution, moved by Naresh Sawal, the independent MLA from Bicholim, who has been highly critical of the government, surprisingly received lavish favour from the treasury benches. Of course, this is not the first time the Assembly has passed such a resolution. Past resolutions have been gathering dust. The latest resolution calls for seeking the views of the public. This appears to be a clever move by the ruling BJP-MGP camp to gain support among Marathi protagonists and wean them away from Konkani protagonists in the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM), which has been threatening to spoil the BJP election party on the medium of instruction issue.

Though Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, while participating in the discussion on the resolution, criticized Sawal’s resolution as divisive “politics of language,” his party MLAs supported it. Only time will tell whether the government move in accepting the resolution was an election stunt or a shrewd move to divide the opposition camp and build support ahead of the elections. The passage of the resolution has also exposed lack of unanimity in Goa Forward as two of its main leaders, Sawal and Vijay Sardessai, took opposite stands on the issue. It remains to be seen that in an atmosphere in which the BBSM is set to pour emotional charge into the elections on ground of medium of instruction and now of official language, how the two leaders reconcile their stances on these issues. A divided stand on the issue of language could adversely impact support building by the new party, which is yet to take a proper shape.

Konkani has been the language of Goan identity. A vast majority of people use it for communication among themselves. Konkani has also been a uniting force among Goans and any move to dilute its status would also dilute the Goan identity. Though Marathi is spoken and used for all purposes, it yields space to Konkani as far as everyday communication is concerned. Most of the Marathi protagonists are equally versed in Konkani and communicate in Konkani to put forward their views. Any move to change the present status on the language issue at this juncture could revive the past animosity, which the state had seen during the language agitation, and lead to vertical crack in the Goan society. Though such a move might help political dispensations the society would have to bear the brunt for a long time. It is well accepted that both Konkani and Marathi are siblings, with Marathi being elder among the two. There is no doubt that Marathi has been spoken and used for various purposes in the state for centuries and it got prominence after Goa was liberated as scores of Marathi medium schools were opened throughout the state. The promotion of Konkani was almost nil at that time, as a result of which Marathi got promoted by default leading to it being studied by all and subsequently used for official purposes.

Marathi has been accorded its due status by allowing people to use it for all purposes.  Any attempt to make it official language along with Konkani will only lead to Konkani yielding space to its elder sibling. Since Konkani is identified with Goan identity it would be detrimental to have duality of official language. Periodical raising of such emotive issues for political purposes or otherwise would only lead to creation of bad blood and division in the society, which has the potential to derail the development of the state that should be priority for any ruling dispensation. Since Goan identity is linked to Konkani, it is time that the state authorities draw a long-term plan for development of the official language of the state. Though spoken and used for centuries Konkani is yet to develop as a full-fledged language with there being no appropriate words for scientific terms in the state’s official language. Konkani scholars need to develop terms for scientific and technological terms which could easily be grasped by Goan students and used for communication. Merely making Konkani the official language of the state has not helped in its promotion. Concerted efforts are needed to simplify Konkani by using colloquial words and expressions in order to make it easier and interesting for the younger generations to learn it. Words from other languages – Portuguese, English, Hindi and Marathi – that have come into common usage should be included in Konkani in order to make it cosmopolitan and contemporary.

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