By Eduardo Faleiro
India is home to extraordinary diversity- cultural, religious, ethnic and linguistic. All such differences ought to be harmonized in a spirit of mutual accommodation rather than through coercive methods of homogenization which may only lead to agitations and revolt. I make this comment in the context of the present language controversy in Goa regarding Marathi and Konkani languages and their scripts.
At the time of the conquest of Goa by the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century Konkani and Marathi were the languages prevailing in this area. Authors differ on their opinion as to whether both languages were written or Marathi alone was the literary language and Konkani, the spoken language.
Noted Goan historian Panduranga Pisurlenkar observes: "If the language spoken in Goa is Konkani, the literary language of the Goan Hindus is traditionally Marathi. Cunha Rivara and Mons. Sebastiao Rodolfo Dalgado believed that there was literature in Konkani language and that it was destroyed by the Portuguese due to religious intolerance. We may, however, note that the Portuguese territory of Goa before 1763 consisted only of the Old Conquests namely Tiswadi, Salcete and Bardez; the rest of the same territory was not under the Portuguese rule. It is therefore logical that had there been any book or document written in this language it would have been found in the New Conquests. The truth is that there are no vestiges whatsoever of the existence of a Konkani literature before the conquest of Goa by the Portuguese. There was certainly literature in Goa but written in Marathi and Sanskrit."
Fr. Antonio Pereira remarks "Marathi was the hieratic language of Goa though not understood by the masses for whom Konkani was more familiar and homely: ‘lingua da terra vulgar’, the popular language of the place." After the Portuguese conquest, foreign missionaries wrote Konkani in the roman script. "As a rule the majority of the books of the Jesuits and Franciscans, in prose are in Konkani and those in poetry are in Marathi" says Fr. Pereira.
Other writers hold a different view. According to Prof. Lourdino Rodrigues "today we know with incontestable evidence that Goa had a Konkani version of the Ramayana and Mahabharata in the 16th century and Konkani was so highly a developed language that its vocabulary was richer than Portuguese and Marathi."
Konkani in roman script was kept alive by Goan Catholics who migrated to Bombay and other parts of India and who had studied the script in the Portuguese primary schools at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
The reason, according to Mons. Sebastiao Dalgado was that whilst the Portuguese were intolerant towards the local languages, the British administration would encourage them. "Look at the Goan community in Bombay; it has for the last several years, periodicals in the mother tongue, literary publications, mostly translations or adaptations as it always happens in the initial stages and even dramatic productions which are appreciated by those who do not know or know only superficially European languages."
Konkani literature in Devanagari script was promoted by Vaman Varde Valaulikar (Shenoi Goenbab) in the early Twentieth Century. It gained impetus after Goa’s Independence and more so after the enactment of the Official Language Act.
The Goa Official Language Act was enacted in 1987. It is intended to achieve greater unity and harmony among our people and to strengthen our common cultural heritage. If in the process of implementing the Official Language Act any section of the population feels aggrieved, such complaints should be examined sympathetically.
The language controversy has involved a debate on the medium of education as well. School education is intended mainly to provide a suitable career, economic and social status and better prospects in life. India is today among the fastest growing economies in the world. Economic success of a nation leads to cultural assertion. In emerging India it will be necessary to be fluent in at least two Indian languages including Hindi, for success in the mainstream economy and society. English is at present the main international language. In this globalised world, proficiency in English is also very important.
There is no reason for any language controversy. If differences do arise the protagonists of different languages and scripts should together find a solution. They should approach the Government whenever necessary. Institutions such as the Central Institute of Indian Languages are also available for advice. The present Government in Goa as well as the Union Government is responsive and sympathetic to any proposal that strengthens national unity and enhances our linguistic and cultural solidarity.
Eduardo Faleiro: The writer is a former Union Minister and presently Commissioner for NRI Affairs with a Cabinet Minister rank in the Government of Goa.