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Akademi nod to Odia status

- Evidence on classical claim well documented, says expert

Bhubaneswar/ New Delhi, July 23: Plea for a classical language status for Odia has reached the penultimate stage.

The linguistic committee of the Sahitya Akademi, which met state government officials in New Delhi today, has accepted the latter’s claims and forwarded the proposal to the Union culture ministry for final approval.

This was the first time a language has been recommended for classical tag in one sitting of the linguistic committee. The meeting, which began at 12noon, went on till 3pm today.

The five-member panel “unanimously praised” the content of the report submitted by the state government in support of its claims.

If accepted by the Union cabinet, Odia will become the first language from the Indo-Aryan linguistic group to accomplish the feat and will entail a one-time grant of Rs 100 crore for research and development of the language along with a Rs 5-crore subsequent grant every year.

Sanskrit and four Dravidian languages — Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam — already feature in the elite list.

After getting the cabinet approval, the culture ministry will notify the classical status.

The recommendations of the linguistic committee under Sahitya Akademi, however, are not binding on the government. “The evidence to support Odia’s claims was well documented. I would say that it has been one of the best documentations that we have seen till date,” said Anvita Abbi of the Centre for Linguistics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and a member of the committee.

“At a time when classical Sanskrit was being spoken by the Brahminical classes elsewhere in India, Odia was already being used as a language of the masses in Kalinga. I have a feeling that the language dates further back from 3rd century BC,’’ Abbi said.

According to the requirements, a language intending to have a classical tag should have high antiquity value of its early texts (recorded history over a period of 1,500 to 2,000 years), a body of ancient literature or texts which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers and an original literary tradition not borrowed from another language. Adhering to all the norms, the state culture department submitted its report to the Centre in June.

Quelling the widespread belief that Odia is related to Bengali and Assamese, experts said during the meeting that Odia did not fall in the same category.

“The language has a unique structure and cannot be called the sister language of Bengali or Assamese,” Abbi said.

Sources in the Sahitya Akademi said: “With the approval of the report by the language committee, getting the classical status remains only a formality.”

Noted linguist Debi Prasanna Pattanayak, who was the founder-director of the Mysore-based Central Institute of Indian Languages, joined as a special invitee of the Akademi at the meeting.

He said Odisha was the first province that was constituted on linguistic basis during the British rule on April 1, 1936.

“We have documented the genesis of the language from epigraphic sources to the modern literary traditions,” he said. Pattanayak, who was also the lead author of the report on the state’s claims for the status, said: “Odia is one of the most ancient languages of the country. Scholars such as John Beams, G.A. Grierson, L.S.S. O’Malley, Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Satya Narayan Rajguru, K.B. Tripathy, John Boulton and many others have time and again argued in favour of the antiquity of the language.”

Rajya Sabha member Ramachandra Khuntia was the crusader in bringing the classical status claim for Odia into focus by raising the issue in Parliament last year. He had also submitted a report to the culture ministry.

The second report by the state government was to supplement Khuntia’s claim.

On June 19, The Telegraph had published a report, Cry for Odia classical tag, which discussed in details the merits of the report and how there was a strong possibility of Odia getting the coveted status.

Minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanaswamy, while releasing a book on the classical status of the Odia language in New Delhi yesterday, said: “Once the linguistic committee forwards the proposal, the Centre will expedite the process to confer classical status to Odia.’’

Pattanayak, however, said: “We are not solely interested in the monetary gain. The new status, if conferred, would also help in popularising the language among the next generation, while the funds could be spent towards forming an university to carry out more research in Odia.”

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik expressed happiness over today’s developments. “This has been a longstanding demand of the people of Odisha. I hope the cabinet will accept the recommendations of the linguistic committee and confer the classical status on Odia language,” he said.