LINGUISTIC HUMAN RIGHTS IN TRIBAL EDUCATION IN ORISSA
Smita Sinha, Ph.D.
LINGUISTIC RIGHTS AND MINORITY LANGUAGES
Language rights help maintain other human rights. Linguistic human rights
in education enable the maintenance of diversity in the world (Kangas,
1999). However, it is also necessary for the children of the linguistic
minorities to be high level multilinguals, to obtain the basic necessities
needed for their survival. Accordingly, the linguistic human rights for
the minority include also unrestricted access to the learning and use
of other languages.
Linguistic human right includes the right for a minority to exist, and
this presupposes learning both first and second languages fully. It is
a linguistic human right to learn one's mother tongue fully and also to
learn an official language fully.
If the minority language is not used as the main medium of education
and childcare, the use of minority language is indirectly prohibited in
daily intercourse or in school, which is an issue of linguistic genocide.
Linguistic genocide is defined as prohibiting the use of the language
of the group in daily intercourse or in schools or for the printing and
circulation of publications in the language of the group. Prohibition
can, of course, be overt and direct, or covert and indirect, accomplished
via ideological and structural means (Capotorti, 1979).
The term linguistic genocide first appeared
in the preparatory work for International Convention for the prevention
and punishment of crime of genocide by UN in 1948. Linguistically argued
racism or linguicism is more sophisticated but equally efficient weapons
as biological racism is, in committing ethnocide (ethnic genocide, the
destruction of the ethnic sociocultural identity of a group) and linguistic
Linguistic and cultural human rights are necessary to prevent ethnic
and linguistic genocide (Kangas, 1999). Lack of these rights results in
the absence of these languages from school curricula, and thus the minority
languages are made unimportant, insignificant, morbid and invisible. Sometimes,
when the minority mother tongues are construed as non-resources and the
majority language as the only valued linguistic resources, the minority
language is abandoned on the plea that it is in the interest of the minority
children. The children in such cases acquire the majority language, sacrificing
their human rights to preserve, maintain and develop their mother tongue.
RIGHTS OF THE TRIBAL CHILDREN IN INDIA
The Constitution of India defines the scheduled tribe
tribes or tribal communities or parts or groups within such tribes or
tribal communities as are deemed under article 342 to be scheduled tribes
for the purposes of the constitution. Articles 15, 16 and 17 guarantee
the rights to equality as the fundamental right. Under cultural and educational
rights, article 29 protects the interests of the minorities. The article
reads as follows:
- Any section of the citizen residing in the territory or any part thereof
having a distinct language, scripts or culture of its own shall have
the right to conserve the same.
- No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the state or receiving aid out of state funds on ground only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.
Article 46, Part IV of Directive Principles of State policy speaks about
the promotion of educational and economic interests of the Scheduled Castes,
Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections. It reads, "the state shall
promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the
weaker sections of the people and in particular of the scheduled castes
and the scheduled tribes and shall protect them from social injustice
and all form of exploitation."
The National Policy of Education was approved by the
Indian Parliament in 1986. The policy gives special place to the education
of the Scheduled Tribes. Besides the general policy enunciating measures
and directives for the rejuvenation of education in general, it states
some special measures for the education of the Scheduled Tribes.
4.6. The following measures will be taken urgently to bring the scheduled
tribes (STs) on par with others.
I. Priority will be accorded to opening primary schools in tribal areas.
II. The socio-cultural milieu of the STs has its distinctive characteristics
including in many cases their own spoken language. This underlines the
need to develop the curricula and devise instructional materials in
tribal languages at the initial stages with arrangements for switching
over to the regional language.
III. Educated and promising scheduled tribes youth will be encouraged
and trained to take up teaching in tribal areas.
IV. Residential schools, including Ashram schools, will be established
in large scale.
V. Incentive schemes will be formulated for the scheduled tribes,
keeping in view their special needs and life styles. Scholarships for
higher education will emphasize technical, professional and para professional
courses. Special remedial courses and other programmes to remove psycho-social
impediments will be provided to improve their performance in various
VI. Anganwadis, non-formal adult education centres, will be opened
on a priority basis in areas predominantly inhabited by the scheduled
The policy has very explicitly stated that there is a need to develop
curriculum and instructional materials in tribal languages at the initial
stages. The distinctive characteristics of the scheduled tribes will be
the basis for the development of such materials. This definitely endorses
the need for making education relevant to the community. Cultural orientation
of the curriculum has been a long felt need (Ambasht 1971, 2001).
THE SITUATION IN ORISSA
Orissa has a substantial tribal population. According to the 1991 census,
there are 90,32,214 tribals staying in Orissa, which constitutes 22.21%
of the total population of the state. There are sixty two tribal groups
speaking more than forty languages belonging to the Indo-Aryan, Dravidian,
and Munda families of languages. Scripts were developed for the Santal,
Sora, Ho and Kui tribal communities. Some of the tribal languages died
totally, a case of linguistic genocide, as these languages could not be
maintained and developed.
Some of the factors for the death or loss of a number of tribal languages
Dialectization or quick fragmentation of a tribal language
into dialects and subdialects mainly due to the lack of writing systems
in these languages. These languages were confined to spoken form, which
is liable to quick changes.
Language loss - Some of the tribal language are losing
out to other dominant languages of the state or becoming creolized Oriya.
Language death- Many tribal languages are dead now due
to non-maintenance. The surviving languages can be prevented from death
or loss only if they are used in education and in administration.
THE IMPACT OF THE ROLES ASSIGNED TO MAJOR INDIAN LANGUAGES ON
THE TRIBAL LANGUAGES OF INDIA
The new roles of the major Indian languages in administration and education
have necessitated the development of their corpus and these dominant languages
have received greater attention and support for this kind of development.
They got the major share from the resources of the state.
Language development tends to emphasize the distinctiveness and purity
of languages and language distinctions are drawn categorically. The emergence
of standard dialects and the social and economic values attached to them
have made other dialects low and dispensable (Annamalai, 2001). The dominance
of Oriya has given a low status to the other tribal languages.
THE TRIBAL EDUCATION SYSTEM IN ORISSA
The tribal educational system in Orissa is the same as the non-tribal
educational system with the provision for the three language formula (Oriya,
English and Hindi/Sanskrit) pursued in all secondary schools. Books in
Ol Chikki scripts in twenty-nine Santali dominated tribal schools of Mayurbhanj,
Sundargah and Keonjhar districts were introduced in primary schools in
late 1990s. Santali speaking native teachers were posted initially who,
however, got themselves transferred after their confirmation as tenure
teachers. Non-Santali speaking teachers replaced them and the project
became a failure subsequently.
Although the Constitution guarantees to preserve the minority languages,
the tribals do not make use of the constitutional provisions. The State
must provide a place for education in minority languages as a principle
of pedagogy or preservation of linguistic human rights. As many tribals
are not aware of their rights, the demand to use minority mother tongue
as a medium in school education is largely to get the mother tongue a
statutory status symbolically and not to make use of it for the education
of the minority children (Annamalai, 2001). The Indian constitution gives
minorities, including linguistic minorities, the right to establish and
manage educational institutions for their advantage including the preservation
of their culture.
THE SCHOOLS FOR THE TRIBAL POPULATION IN ORISSA
The Government of Orissa has set up tribal schools in all tribal dominated
areas. Besides, there are tribal schools at the state capital. But the
school dropout rates, especially in the age group of 11-14 years, are
alarmingly high. Among the enrolled scheduled tribe school going population
(1999-2000) between 6-11 years, a total of 10,18,000, and between 11-14
years 1,99,000 attended school (Source-Indian Child).
At the college and University levels, most of the seats reserved for tribal
students are lying vacant.
LANGUAGE AS A CRUCIAL FACTOR
The present system of language curriculum is one of the major reasons
for low educational achievements of the tribals. The dominant language
of the state, i.e., Oriya, is presented as the norm or standard, value
based, culturally superior, powerful and resourceful. It is also emphasized
in so many ways that the tribal child must master this language in order
to assimilate with the mainstream. This ultimately generates among the
tribal children a feeling of inferiority towards themselves, their language,
culture and their own parents and family. Lack of school-related parental
support, family pattern, gender roles, family insistence on the tribal
child for active involvement as a labor force in the agricultural work
also contribute to school dropout rate.
Tribal children who go to non-tribal schools face the language problem
more severely as in most cases the non-tribal classmates and teachers
make fun of their mother tongue and assign low status to it. These children
are forced to sit in the same class with high status Oriya children. Usually,
the teachers do not understand their language. The majority dominant Oriya
language becomes a threat to the tribal children's mother tongue. It runs
the risk of being displaced or replaced - a subtractive language learning
situation. As a consequence, the mother tongue is not learned at all,
sometimes it is forgotten and does not develop because the children are
forbidden to use it, or are made to feel ashamed of it. When this happens
it becomes a disastrous means of violation of linguistic human rights
of the tribal children.
The tribal children in a tribal school do feel unmotivated to learn new non-tribal languages primarily due to cultural differences in learning. Tribal ways of learning is through cooperation and not through modern concept of competition. Tribal culture is oral culture and not written culture.
THE RESTRICTED DOMAINS OF USE FOR THE TRIBAL LANGUAGES
Although the Constitution guarantees the tribals right to preserve or
develop their language, such guarantees cannot become a reality until
these languages are used in education, administration and in mass media.
In order to protect their linguistic rights, all the tribal languages
of the state need to be developed. Their script, dictionary, and other
study materials need to be developed. New planning must be made to make
the tribals well versed in their native language (both orally and in written
form), while enabling them at the same time to learn the other languages,
namely, Oriya, English and Hindi to be at par with the mainstream.
It has now become imperative to preserve these indigenous tribal languages
to prevent further linguistic genocide.
1. Ambasht, N.K. (1971). The policy of tribal education, Vanyajati,
Vol. XVIII, No. 1, 1971.
2. Ambasht, N.K. (2001). Tribal education, problems and issues.
Delhi: Venkatesh Prakashan
3. Annamalai, E. (2001). Managing multilingualism in India:
Political and Linguistic manifestation. New Delhi: Sage
4. Capotorti, F. (1979). Study of the Rights of persons belonging
to ethnic, Religious and Linguistic minorities. New York:
5. Census of India (1991)
6. Kangas, T.S. (1999) Education of the minorities in J. Fishman (ed.)
Handbook of language and ethnic identity. OUP:
7. The Indian Child: A profile (2002), Department
of Women and Child Development, Ministry of HRD.
An earlier draft of this paper was presented in the International Conference on South Asian Languages, Osmania University, Hyderabad, January, 2005.
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Smita Sinha, Ph.D.
Department of Linguistics
Berhampur 760 007