India: Government officials ordered to learn local tribal languages

[The inability of government officials to communicate with millions of adivasi (tribal) people has long been a feature of the non-existent relations over the great divide in India.  The communication gap is rooted in the officials’ lack of language skills, and in their political disdain for the poor.  But growing attention to the powerless majority and their waves of rebellion and revolutionary struggle, has embarassed the government of the self-proclaimed “largest democracy” to announce new plans for communication with their oppressed peoples.  What they fail to mention is that Maoists, over several decades, developed the written form of the Gond language and others, thereby enabling literacy campaigns, educational programs, and publications which have become accessible to the people.  Now, some government officials, if they follow their directives, will be reading Gondi books published by Maoists, or using Maoist literation systems.  It remains to be seen if these officials will make somewhat friendly conversation, or will be only measure these verbal encounters in counter-insurgency terms — by how clearly government and military orders are barked at and understood by the victims of Operation Green Hunt and other attacks on tribal people.  — Frontlines ed.]

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Speak the same tongue

Suvojit Bagchi, The Hindu, April 25, 2013

Grassroots communication: Imperative for better problem solving. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury
[The Hindu Grassroots communication: Imperative for better problem solving. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury]

Now it is mandatory for IAS and IPS officials posted in Chhattisgarh to learn at least one local tribal language

The Communist Party of India (Maoist) had made local tribal language learning mandatory for its cadres in Chhattisgarh (erstwhile Madhya Pradesh) soon after they arrived from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh in the early Eighties. Hence, in the next decade, all its Bengali, Telugu or Marathi speaking cadres picked up at least two main languages of the Gond tribals in Dandakaranya — Halbi and Gondi.

Thirty years after the CPI (Maoist)’s dictum to learn tribal languages, the government has decided to coach its administrative officers in tribal languages of Chhattisgarh. IAS probationers now will have to learn at least one of the local languages to “communicate more effectively at the grassroots,” Sunil Kumar, Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh, told The Hindu.

Cultural sensitivity is mandatory to counter the guerrillas militarily or to introduce various welfare programmes in the rebel strongholds, especially if the State officials are ethnically alien to the local people. The fact is, the tribal languages of Chhattisgarh are alien to most of the IAS or IPS officers who would carry the State-sponsored schemes. In this context, the State government has decided to impart training in oral communication skills in all dialects of Chhattisgarh.

According to Mr. Kumar, the State Academy of Administration has already been advised to “strengthen necessary language laboratories with facility to impart” language training. However, it would be limited to oral communication. Continue reading