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How modernisation deleted Bhariati dialect

In a report published recently, it has been found that India has lost around 250 languages in the last 50 years and 196 more have been declared endangered by UNESCO

How modernisation deleted Bhariati dialect

On a sweltering summer evening, Inder Chalthiya and the other members of his tribe were out in the wild, preparing for a ritual of sacrificing an animal to the village gods. Inder was responsible for handling the final moments of the goat. He was supposed to follow the instructions given by a tribe elder but could not understand properly what the elder said in the local tongue and the animal lying on its back moved. Inder is a college student and a member of Bharia tribe, a Primitive Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG). He was home to take part in the rituals of a wedding in his family but he faltered at the last moment as he couldn't understand the Bhariati dialect, which is used by members of his tribe.

On the decline

The members of the group are confined to the Patalkot region in the Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh. They inhabit 12 villages spread across the foothills of the Satpura mountain range in Tamia block of the district. Inder belongs to the modern generation of the Bharia tribe who have never spoken the native Bhariati dialect, even at home as the conversations have shifted to Hindi.

While there are 3,300 Bharias, only about 20-30 can speak and understand the dialect without a script.

As per the People's Linguistic Survey of India 2013, as many as 780 different languages are spoken and 86 different scripts are used in the country. Also, India has lost around 250 languages in the last 50 years, and 196 more have been declared endangered by UNESCO.

Ever-increasing penetration in a connected world dominated by a globalised and homogenised community, the languages spoken in remote places like Patalkot are no longer safe from the dominating languages of the commercial world.

English wins

The competition of Hindi and English in the form of modern education against Bhariati has reached almost every household where not even Hindi but English is winning the fight. The evidence is quite visible in almost every house of the Gaildubba village. The wall around the main entrance of every other house displays "Welcome" and "Come Again" carved with clay and names of the family head head written in English.

Ashok Mishra, the curator of Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum, said the Bharias encourage the young generation to move to cities for better education and in turn distance themselves from the dialect of their ancestors. The loss of indigenous language has resulted in the loss of culture, which as a result, has drastically changed the lives of these tribesmen to whom the culture belonged, he said.

Historically, races and languages died when the entire race was eliminated, but in a case where culture and language wane due to the cultural subsumption, the loss is far more tragic. An elderly villager, Kanerilal, who only goes by his first name, said the routine life is governed by the norms laid down in the community and only rare interference of police or court is seen. Village elders solve disputes by citing old stories and organising long meetings, he noted.

These stories have, however, waned over the years as the new generation has been seduced away by Hindi in education and English on mobile phones and TV, he added.

The elders who are fluent in Bhariati live far apart and don't converse with each other, which automatically causes a degradation of the language in the speaker's mind, experts pointed out.

Saving Bhariati

The government of Madhya Pradesh had set up a special government body, Bharia Abhikaran, apart from the tribal welfare department to work for the development and preservation of the Bharia culture.

The Abhikaran is without a department head for several years now. In Tamia, where it is located, one can only find a clerk handling the office affairs. It is not only Bhariati dialect that is on the verge of extinction. Kol, Korku, Baiga and Saharia tribes are losing their respective dialects do due to the market-based livelihood.

To save them, Mishra added, livelihood support needs to be created for the native speakers so that they don't have to adopt a different language.

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