Lost languages, severed histories
A survey by the Vadodara-based Bhasha Research and publication Centre has pointed out that almost 220 languages were lost forever since 1961, when the country had 1,100 spoken languages. But according to the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, carried out for over two years since 2011, only 880 languages have been actually sampled and verified to have been still used as medium of communication. The loss of 20 percent of tongues points towards an unimaginable apathy towards preserving our rich cultural and linguistic heritage as well as the sheer callousness on the part of the government and other public bodies to effectively recognise the danger faced by hundreds of vernacular tongues and dialects from the constant onslaught of urbanisation and rampant commercialisation of rural and tribal spaces.
Lack of recognition, large-scale displacement of entire communities, absence of a livelihood option for speakers of native tongues and the cultural taboo around speaking the unfashionable mother tongues have mostly resulted in the disappearance of the languages. Unfortunately, India still hasn’t devised a workable policy on language conservation, since there is hardly any awareness on this pressing issue of endangered languages and ways of life in various corners of the country. While the 1961 census had recorded 1,652 languages in all in the country, the 1971 census, thanks to a disastrous intervention by the central government to list only those with about 10,000 or more speakers, had enumerated only 108 languages, a terrible mistake whose consequences are being faced till date. The state policy, an extremely regressive one for sure, continues till date, and is the primary reason why there hasn’t been any official drive to preserve ancient languages that are spoken till the present times. It’s time we wake up to the urgency that is staring at us in the face. Besides categorising the languages as critically endangered, we must make efforts to widen their usage.