ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Konkani: The Script Controversy

Written in multiple scripts ‒Roman, Nagari, Kannada, Persian-Arabic and Malayalam‒ the Kokani language today finds itself at the centre of a debate where arguments are being proposed to establish the primacy of one script over the others. The script controversy in Konkani is deeply enmeshed with issues of belonging, dignity, access to resources and the idea of nation that one wishes to cherish.

Konkani is a unique language. It is probably the only language in India which is written in five scripts Roman, Nagari, Kannada, Persian-Arabic and Malayalam– with credible oral and written literature in each of them. The phenomenon of several languages embracing a common script is better known in India. The Nagari script, for instance, is employed for Sanskrit, Hindi, and Marathi, and now increasingly for adivasi languages across India. The script issue which was lying low in the assertions of the fledgling Konkani public sphere has erupted in its full fury in recent years, as different Konkani script communities are mounting their respective claims for pre-eminence. Many advantages are suggested to back these claims: Those who argue for the Roman script point out the advantage that it holds in store for the children of increasingly diasporic Konkani communities who would inevitably be exposed to education in English invariably in the Roman script. It would be easy, so the argument goes, to persuade them to learn Konkani, since these children do not have to learn a new script afresh to access the language. The advocates of the Nagari script point out the easy access it can facilitate to many Indian languages  with their rich resources, including Sanskrit. Those who pitch for Nagari overtly suggest that national integration would be served better through the option they recommend. Those who deny Nagari such a privilege think that the relation between languages and script on one hand and the nation on the other is much more complex. Apart from these weighty considerations, for many a writer in Konkani, script is an issue of priority, since most of the awards and recognitions today, particularly those conferred by Central Sahitya Academy, invariably require that the concerned writings are made available in the Nagari script. Some of them feel that such a demand is not merely unfair, but it challenges their very sense of belonging expressed through a script native to them. In other words, the script controversy in Konkani is deeply enmeshed with issues of belonging, dignity, access to resources and the idea of nation that one wishes to cherish.

Some of us came together in a seminar on “Scripts and Languages of Modern India with Special Reference to Konkani” organised by Jagotik Konkani SonghottonWorld Konkani Organisation (JKS), at Kalaangann, Mangalore, on March 10 and 11, 2012, to discuss  some of these questions. The participants present were linguist Anvita Abbi, litterateur Alok Rai, political scientist Asha Sarangi, linguist and writer Prathapananda Naik and several Konkani literary figures and activists, including Tomazinho Cardozo, the president of JKS and Eric Ozario, its general secretary.  The paper of the Konkani specialist, and an ardent advocate of the Nagari script,  Madhavi Sardesai  was read out in absentia. The arguments and conclusions presented in this note are shaped by the deliberations of this seminar.

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