Monday, January 26, 2009



PANJIM, May 15: Some 17-years after Konkani got 'official language' status
in the western Indian coastal state of Goa, mainly-Christian writers of
Konkani in Goa increasingly feel their variant and script is coming under
increasing pressure and gaining step-motherly treatment.

Turning pro-active, a meeting held in mid-May drew some 70 writers to
state-capital Panjim, where they decided to relaunch the Dalgado Konkani
Academy -- an institution started in the 1980s to promote Konkani in the
Roman-script but which fell into inactivity.

They also demanded government support to preserve and promote Konkani in
this script, which, they said, is an age-old tradition of the Christian
community in Goa.

Goa's Christian minority, forming a little under 30% in this state of 1.4
million, has strongly lobbied for Konkani in the backdrop of linguistic
controversies in this state.

But this community has historically used the Roman-script over centuries for
Konkani, while since 1987, the Konkani is in the Devanagari script has been
officially recognised.

Devanagari script Konkani has been used by a smaller number, but it gained
weightage because of arguments such as it being a more-suited script for an
Indian language, and the claim that it would bridge gaps between different
community and caste groups in this state.

"The perception that Devanagari script for Konkani would unite all Goans has
failed," Fr Freddy J Da Costa, editor of the Roman-script popular monthly
magazine 'Gulab' was quoted as saying in a statement released after the

Speakers at the meet also voiced angry protests over the lack of official
support to the Roman (or 'Romi', as it is locally called), the allocation of
prizes only to Devaganari writers, and called for support from priests and
the Church -- who are among the active promoters of Roman-script Konkani --
to support a renaissance of the same.

"They have taken us for granted. In Goa, there is a large section of the
community which doesn't understand Devanagari," said Tomazinho Cardozo, a
Konkani writer, dramatist and former politician, an organiser behind the
mid-week meeting on this issue. Cardozo was a former Speaker of the Goa
assembly in the early 'nineties.

"Today there are many readers and writers who use the Roman-script Konkani,
but there are few to guide them," said Fr Costa, whom many point to as one
of the few successful editor-publishers of a Konkani journal in Goa. The
other well-read Konkani journal is the weekly 'Ixtt', brought out by the
Pilar Society of SFX priests, also in the Roman script.

Premanand Lotlikar, a dramatist from the coastal South Goa village of Colva
who has also used the Roman script for Konkani, recalls times in the
not-so-distant past when readers would keenly await the publication of local
novels in that script -- locally called "romanz".

Dr Olivinho Gomes, a former IAS officer and ex-acting vice chancellor of the
Goa University, argued in favour of a church publication in Roman Konkani
and said resources could be shared among the seven regions in western and
southern India which have Konkani -- though in different scripts, including
Kannada -- as a prominent language in church affairs.

"We apologise for the long slumber that the Dalgado Academy went into after
the 'eighties," said Fr Costa. The academy, meant specifically to promote
Roman script Konkani was named after a priest Mons. Sebastiao R Dalgado from
Goa who spent long years promoting the small language which has an estimated
2 to 5 million speakers all put together.

"We have accepted Devanagari (as the official script of Goa). Our children
study that language. But still, we have a (living) tradition which needs to
be sustained. Our writers have got neglected," said former Speaker Cardozo.

But speakers stressed that their campaign was not meant at targeting any
other script -- including the currently-dominant Devanagari. They questioned
the view that a decline in the Roman script would lead to an increase in
Devanagari, pointing out that neglecting the former could lead to people
getting alienated entirely from Konkani and instead shifting over to larger
languages like English, as seems to be happening in Goa itself.

"We have to learn to call a spade a spade," argued Wilson Mazarello, a
popular local dramatist who goes by the stage-name of 'Wilmix'. He was more
blunt in critiquing the attitude of Devanagari Konkani writers, whom he said
were responsible for cornering off prizes and official support meant for the
language which was written in many scripts.

Some speakers decried those who insinuate that Roman Konkani writing lacks
writing. "They often say so without even reading it," argued Cardozo. Others
also made the point that this form of writing allowed the commonman to
express his thoughts, and arguments of quality should not be used to block
the same.

Speakers pointed to the inability of Devanagari Konkani publications to find
a market, and rued that writers in the Roman script were not getting
support. "In histories (of the language) the name of those who have
contributed in the Roman script never come out," said Cosma Fernandes, a
writer and teacher. Added Mathew D'Souza of Merces: "My father struggled
(with humble jobs) and managed to publish a Konkani paper."

Bonaventura D'Pietro, another writer, stressed that Roman-Konkani books
should be published by the government in that script itself, rather than
rendering it into the Devaganari script, since this would mean a limited

But there were different views from others like Pratap Naik sj, a priest who
heads the Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr, a language promotion centre run by
the Jesuits and named after a member of the same order who came from England
centuries ago and wrote in Konkani.

"Take any language in the world. It is people who have built a language. Did
the British government promote English worldwide? Our brothers who use the
Kannada script for Konkani, who gave them awards? Why do we want to go to
the government with the begging bowl? Let's prepare a master plan and go
ahead," argued Fr Naik.

But he said such a task required a full-time commitment. He suggested the
idea of a major culture-fest by the year-end, and the promotion of a
federation of institution using Roman-script Konkani.

Goa's language issue boiled over with unexpected fury, particularly between
1985-87, when it errupted as a bitter Konkani-versus-Marathi battle. Marathi
is the language of the neighbouring state of Maharashtra, but the issue is
more complex than what it seems, given its caste and communal implications

In the mid-eighties, the then Pratapsing Rane-led Congress government
brought about a complex law, as the proposed solution. It grants official
language status for Konkani, with the proviso that Marathi can also be
recognised for official purpose. But each 'official' purpose for either
language has to be independently declared to be accepted, and the till-then
little-utilised Devanagari-script Konkani was the accepted variant.

Earlier too, TSKK director father Pratap Naik has argued that adopting Roman
script for Konkani would be more practical and viable for the
standardisation of Konkani.

He has been quoted saying that the present Roman Konkani script writings
were more or less orthographically correct, but a few changes would have to
be introduced in order to standardise and make it acceptable script to the
international community.

Peter Raposo, the young priest-editor of the seven-decades old 'Ixtt'
publication, aruges that almost a hundred Roman Konkani newspapers or
periodicals were published at different point of time since the year 1889
(rpt 1889). These included around nine dailies, the rest being periodicals.

"Why did not a single Roman Konkani daily survive is one question that will
haunt its readers and those who started these papers. Most of these papers
had common pitfalls. They were either a one-man show or were not managed
professionally. And in fact the 'lack of funds' followed from these reasons
and vice versa," argues Raposo. He disagrees with the view that there have
been insufficient readers.

Raposo suggests a Roman Konkani daily, arguing that "it will bring the two
communities together, as it will keep a large section of people (in this
case the Christians) who are alienating themselves totally from the Konkani

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