Monday, January 26, 2009



All Konkani speakers can converge on a common script, Devanagari, by 2050

By Uday Bhembre

The thousand and odd years of evolution of Konkani has been
quite a rough roller-coaster ride for this language of an
estimated fifty lakh people. Most scholars hold the view that
Konkani evolved as a language around the 10th century.

Till the end of the 15th century it did not receive any
patronage as non-Konkani kings and rulers ruled over Goa and
the rest of the Konkani region. Those kings and rulers
patronized, cultivated and used their own languages.

Konkani saw better days in the 16th century when
European missionaries embarked upon its systematic
study and created religious literature in it. The
establishment of the printing press in 1556 helped
to publish books in as well as about Konkani.

This good work continued for about five generations
of European missionaries, that is, from about 1550
to about 1675. And then began the dark period. At
the instance of the new generations of European
missionaries, the King of Portugal issued the
Decree of 1684, which abolished the use of Konkani
in education as well as other fields.

Even spoken language suffered and the Damocles sword hung
over the very existence of the Konkani language. The writing
and publication of books stopped and the printing press too
was closed down.

Inspite of this serious attempt to eliminate Konkani, it
lived to see better days. In my view two factors kept it

* In the Old Conquests it remained on the lips of the common
folk from where it could not be snatched away; and

* The New Conquests were acquired after 1770 by which time
the fervour of the Inquisition and the severity of
implementation of the Decree of 1684 had evaporated.

The dark period continued till the middle of the 19th
century. In 1858, Dr. Joaquim Heliodoro da Cunha Rivara
published his Historical Essay on Konkani Language and
appealed to the Goan youth to revive Konkani and to use it in
education. He also re-published earlier books with the object
of helping the revival. But his appeal fell on deaf years and
nothing changed.

The revival in the modern phase started only in the last
quarter of the 19th century.

In 1889 Eduardo Bruno de Souza started publication of Konkani
journal Udentechem Sallok in Roman script from Pune. In the
same year Tomaz Mourao, Barao de Cumbarjua published a
Konkani Primer in Devanagari script.

In 1892 Lucacino Rebeiro presented the first show of the
teatro in Mumbai paving the way for a popular form of

In 1893 Mgr. Sebastiao Rodolfo Dalgado published his
Konkani‑Portuguese dictionary.

The dawn of the 20th century added new dimensions
to that pioneering work. Vaman Raghunath Varde
Valaulikar or Shenoi Goembab laid the foundation of
modern Konkani literature. At the same time he
started a movement through his writings for revival
of Konkani and vigourously refuted the arguments of
pro-Marathi and anti-Konkani forces that wanted to
suppress Konkani calling it a mere dialect of

In the second decade of the 20th century Luis Mascarenhas
started publication of the journal Konkani Dirvem in
Mangalore and revival of Konkani began in that part of the
country too.

Then, in 1939 the first Konkani Parishad was held in Karwar.
The subsequent sessions of the Parishad held in different
parts of the Konkani region led to the awakening of the
Konkani people and inspired them to work in an organized
manner through institutions. Thus, Konkani Bhasha Mandals or
Sabhas were established in Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore and Kochi.

Goa's liberation gave a fillip to these efforts.

The three decades following the liberation of Goa are
particularly important in the history of Konkani language.
Education in Konkani began in 1963. The propaganda campaign
in 1966-67 preceding the Opinion Poll helped to spread the
message of Konkani in all the parts of Goa and among all
sections of Goans. It influenced the minds of the youth who
later joined the Konkani movement. In 1975 Sahitya Akademi
recognized Konkani as an independent literary language
effectively silencing those who despised it as a dialect of
Marathi. The fierce language agitation of 1986 led to the
attainment of three goals:

* The Official Language Act was enacted making
Konkani the official language establishing the
identity of Goans as a Konkani-speaking community;

* The passing of the Official Language Act led to
the conferring of statehood on Goa within four months;

* Konkani was included in the Eighth Schedule of
the Constitution in 1992.

Surely these are achievements, which we can legitimately be
proud of. But they are not ends in themselves. Through these
achievements the gates and doors, hitherto closed to us, were
opened. New avenues and a variety of opportunities for the
development of language, propagation of literature and
conservation of culture are thrown open to the
Konkani-speaking community.

And now facing us is the question of the 21st century: Where
do we go from here?

I propose to answer this question by traveling back into the
past, discussing the present and then traveling into the
future. This will help me lay before you the roadmap for
faster development and standardization of Konkani as the
travel along the proposed road began 66 years ago.

I have mentioned earlier that the first Konkani Parishad was
held in Karwar in 1939. That was the first gathering of the
representatives of Konkani-speaking people. The Parishad
passed several resolutions. One of them was to appeal to all
Konkani-speaking people to impart primary education to their
children in Konkani.

By another resolution, the Parishad appealed to the entire
Konkani‑speaking community to adopt Devanagari as the common
script for Konkani. There was a peculiar background to this
resolution. There were five scripts in which Konkani was
being written. They were Devanagari, Kannada, Malayalam,
Roman and Arabic.

I need hardly say that this happened partly due to migration
of people from Goa to the other parts of the country. This
multiplicity of scripts had resulted into five islands. They
were almost watertight compartments. One compartment would
not know what was happening in the other compartment as
regards language, literature and culture. There was no

Those visionary leaders, therefore, realized that
the multiplicity of scripts was a liability and in
order to eliminate it they appealed to ado0pt one
common script, Devanagari, as it was the natural
script of Konkani. This resolution was repeatedly
adopted in subsequent sessions of the Parishad to
emphasise its necessity and importance.

There is significant progress in that direction over the last
66 years. Education in Konkani that started in 1963 in
primary schools in Goa has reached the university level and
it is in Devanagari. The Official Language Act defines
Konkani language as the one written in Devanagari script.
Sahitya Akademi has accepted Devanagari script for its
programmes in Konkani.

Since the inclusion of Konkani in the 8th Schedule of the
Constitution other departments of Government of India where
language matters use Devanagari. For example, National Book
Trust publishes Konkani books in that script. The Home
Ministry has got the Constitution translated into Konkani in
Devanagari script. Reserve Bank prints the denomination on
currency notes in Konkani in that script. The UPSC
examination has an optional paper in Konkani in Devanagari

Over the years the use of Arabic script has diminished.
Except a small journal there is no publishing activity in
that script, so much so that a writer from Navait Muslim
community recently published his book of poems in Devanagari.

In Kerala, the Konkani-speaking community voluntarily made a
conscious effort to adopt Devanagari in place of Malayalam.
Today, they have replaced Malayalam to the extent of 90%.
Only the older generation writes in Malayalam in magazines.
All books are published in Devanagari.

Konkani is being taught in schools in Kochi as a part of the
curriculum. They use the same textbooks that we use in our
schools in Goa, which are in Devanagari.

Therefore, as of today in real terms, only three
scripts are: in use Devanagari, Kannada and Roman.
The five islands have been reduced to three. But
difficulties and disadvantages do persist in many
ways creating roadblocks and hardships in the
process of development and standardization of
Konkani language.

As we all know the Konkani-speaking community is fragmented
in a variety of ways. It is fragmented geographically,
historically, culturally, politically and script wise. We
cannot change either the history or geography. Due to
historical accidents, sub-cultures have developed within the
broad frame of Konkani culture.

It is neither imperative nor advisable to destroy them. They
may add to the richness of Konkani culture. There is no
possibility of a Konkani State as the Konkani-speaking region
is not a contiguous geographical area. It is in the matter of
multiplicity of scripts that the fragmentation can be and
should be overcome. The islands should be bridged,
communication should be smooth and interaction should be

As of today it is difficult to review Konkani literature,
because it is difficult to find critics or writers who know
all three scripts well. Even the knowledge about each other’s
literature is scanty. This situation is not conducive to the
propagation of Konkani literature at all.

The publishing activity suffers badly. Each of the three
scripts has a small market, say about 300,000 to 400,000. In
Maharashtra, where the Marathi-speaking population is about 70
million, the print order for the first edition of any Marathi
book is 1000. Similarly, in Karnataka, where the
Kannada-speaking population is about 5 crores, the print
order is 1000. One can imagine how many books or journals can
be sold in a small market of 3-400,000! For this reason
book publishing in Konkani has not been viable at all in some
cases whereas it is not as viable as it should be in some
other cases.

Impediments like these have hampered standardization too.
There is some standardization in Devanagari section, which
has come about mainly due to education. Consistency in the
textbooks had to be maintained.

Therefore, rules of orthography had to be framed and
followed. They are today followed by writers, editors,
publishers and teachers. In contrast, there are no commonly
acceptable rules of orthography either in the Kannada script
section or the Roman script section. Late Fr. Freddy J. da
Costa of ‘Gulab’ magazine and late Felicio Cardoso, whom we
lost in a tragic accident last year, had brought discipline
in writing in Roman script to quite an extent and that
tradition is followed by ‘Gulab’. But others write the way
they want.

This being the state of affairs today, it is imperative that
the entire Konkani-speaking community gradually converges on
Devanagari as common script. We have been proceeding in that
direction for quite some time and quite some ground has
already been covered.

Imagine the tremendous benefits for the language
and literature, which in turn are benefits for the
Konkani-speaking community if one script is
accepted by all from Mumbai in the North to Kochi
in the South. Communication becomes several times
easier, propagation of literature increases
manifold, publishing of books and periodicals
becomes economically viable as the market is
enlarged from 300,000-400,000 to 50 lakh (five
million), that is more than twelve times the
present size. Imagine the effects and the benefits
if a newspaper published in Goa or Mumbai or
Mangalore or Kochi is circulated throughout the
Konkani-speaking community. Such an atmosphere will
be conducive to an early and naturally evolved
standardization of Konkani.

In my view, given the will and the conscious united efforts,
the goal of converging on a common script can be achieved by
the year 2050 if the present direction is followed. In Goa
two generations have passed since education in Konkani was

Many young men and women from the Catholic society have
learnt Konkani through Devanagari script. There are, among
them, graduates and postgraduates. Some of them are teaching
in schools and colleges while some are journalists.

Average age of writers in Roman script is, say, 40. In
another 25 to 30 years they will be on the verge of
retirement and those who have learnt Konkani through
Devanagari script will take over. Writers, teachers,
journalists, editors will emerge from them. Therefore, by the
year 2035 or so Goans, whether Hindus or Catholics, will have
converged on one script.

As regards Kerala it is a matter of another decade or so. I
foresee that by the year 2015 the Konkani-speaking community
there will fully switch over to Devanagari.

Karnataka will take a little more time than Goa. There, so
far, there is no education in Konkani. But there are good
signs. The Karnataka Government is going to introduce Konkani
in education from the next academic year as an optional
subject from Standard VI. If this education is imparted in
Devanagari script, it will take about two generations to
switch over to Devanagari. It is not that Devanagari is
unknown or foreign to them. They learn it for Hindi. But
learning Konkani as a subject in Devanagari will give them
better grounding in that script. This transition may take
about 45 years to materialize.

Taking all these factors into consideration, I believe that
the entire Konkani‑speaking community is capable of
converging on a common script -- Devanagari -- by the year
2050. there is no harm even if it takes a little more time
because this transition has to be voluntary, smooth and
without any force or pressure. Kerala has shown the way.

Now every transition results in some inconvenience,
some hardship, some disadvantage. Even if a bus
stand is shifted from the centre of the city to a
less congested area, there will be people who will
resist, citing hardship. But if that hardship is
eliminated through city buses or in any other
manner the resistance abates.

In our case, the transition is from five scripts to one
script. Therefore, it is natural that inconveniences,
hardships, handicaps may occur. They need to be addressed and
they can be addressed successfully.

But that has to be done at the people’s level and at the
level of our own institutions. It will not be wise to ask
Sahitya Akademi to change its policy because that policy
conforms to the direction in which we are proceeding.
Likewise, it will not be wise to ask the Government of Goa to
amend the Official Language Act as that Act conforms to the
roadmap that I have discussed.

As I see, there are two major grievances of some of those who
write in Roman script. One is that books published in the
Roman script are not eligible for Sahitya Akademi Awards and
Kala Academy Awards.

There is a way to overcome this handicap. Some writers who
write in Kannada script have successfully done it. Poet J. B.
Moraes, Poet J. B. Sequera and late C. F. D'Costa have
received Sahitya Akademi Awards. Mr. Moraes and Mr. Sequera
published their collections of poems in Kannada as well as
Devanagari; whereas C. F. D'Costa’s book was transliterated
into Devanagari. This can be done in respect of books in
Roman script too.

Goa Konkani Akademi has a good scheme to assist the
transliteration. The scheme offers 75% of the printing cost
of the transliterated work. That assistance can be increased
to 100% so that there is no burden at all on the writer or
the publisher.

Kala Academy has effected necessary changes in its scheme to
make books in Roman script eligible for Kala Academy Awards.

Konkani Bhasha Mandal has been giving prizes for books
irrespective of the script.

The other grievance is that writers and publishers
of books in Roman script are not eligible for
benefits of some of the schemes of Goa Konkani
Akademi. The Akademi can amend its schemes and
eliminate this handicap. After all, these writers,
whatever the script, are Konkani writers and as
long as books are written and published in Roman
script they should be encouraged and assisted

In conclusion, it is my firm belief that conciliation and not
confrontation, unity and not division on communal or caste
lines, and pride abut Konkani and not conspiracy with
anti-Konkani elements will help the faster development of
Konkani language, smoother propagation of Konkani literature
and effective conservation of Konkani culture.

To borrow Dr. Cunha Rivara's words for the roadmap that I
have discussed, "Indeed, this enterprise is not easy, but it
is useful, it is honorable, it is glorious!"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Uday Bhembre is a lawyer, former legislator
and ex-editor. This is the text of his speech delivered at
the Xavier Centre of Historical Research, Alto Porvorim, on
Thursday October 20, 2005, in the History Hour series. He can
contacted via email dineshmatha at

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