Nathul Soren and Lalit Hembrom work together in a brick kiln on the banks of the Ganga on Patna-Bakhtiarpur Road. The two Jharkhand residents, who live in two separate shacks in my backyard, in Patna, somehow manage to converse to me for they understand the “passable” Hindi that I converse in.
But they can’t communicate with each other that well. For Soren belongs to a remote Santhal Paragana village and speaks only Santhali.
And Munda belongs to a Saranda village in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district and only speaks Ho. Though they are tribal languages, Ho and Santhali are so different in their linguistic roots and character that a Ho can’t understand Santhali and a Santhali can’t understand Ho. Unfortunately, Soren and Hembrom, born and brought up in two different and distant places in Jharkhand, are yet to learn Hindi that could enable them to converse with each other more easily.
In fact, Soren and Hembrom are not the only Jharkhand tribals, who suffer from the pangs of communication gap.
“Jharkhand is a small state. But in terms of languages, there are many states in Jharkhand,” said A.N. Mishra, political secretary to former chief minister Arjun Munda.
Mishra, who himself belongs to Gopalganj district of north Bihar, is quite right in his observation. “I have been working in Jharkhand for quite sometime now. One of the biggest impediments in the way of developing of the state is the language gap among people. People here speak Ho, Santhali, Mundari and other languages in their respective areas. But these languages are so different in their roots that people from different regions can’t communicate with each other. And the villagers in Jharkhand haven’t yet developed Hindi, Bengali or English as a common medium of communication,” he argued.
“It’s hard for anyone to emerge as an all acceptable mass leader in the whole of Jharkhand, divided into many linguistic groups, for a Santhal can’t understand Ho and vice -versa. Unless there emerges a leader, who will be able to identify himself with the aspirations of all the people here, from Koderma to Saranda, and from Chatra to Dumka, it’s hard to think of developing the state in a sustained manner,” Mishra said. Mishra was talking to me just before the victory of a Santhal, Babulal Marandi, in Koderma.
Contrary to the vast linguistic diversity in the relatively small state of Jharkhand, the people from Kishenganj to Gopalganj in north Bihar and Durgawati to Rajauli in central and south Bihar can speak in the same language. Bihar, too, has many linguistic variations. For instance, the people belonging to Mithila region in north Bihar speak Maithili, whereas those belonging to Champaran, Siwan, Chapra and Gopalganj districts speak Bhojpuri. Similarly, the people in Arra, Buxar and Kaimur districts speak Bhojpuri while the residents of Patna, Nalanda and Gaya speak Magahi and the same of Munger and Bhagalpur speak Angika. But all these regional languages have strong similarity with Hindi, which is the state’s common language.
Mishra feels that the state must develop a common language of communication to ensure cohesiveness of action. Though Hindi is the state’s official language, a vast majority of tribals living in remote parts don’t understand it. They rather loath it, for they describe it as a language of dikus, who exploited them for years. Ironically, Jharkhand has now more dikus, who came from Bihar in united Bihar days and many other states. In fact, the dikus enjoy more control over the economic, industrial, educational and market structure of the state.
Though the Jharkhand movement initially began with a tribal war to drive out money lender dikus, it is a harsh reality today that the dikus are in control of the affairs in the state, which celebrated its sixth anniversary on November 15. The tribals at war against the dikus for centuries will have to develop the art of living in harmony with “outsiders” who are as “bona fide insiders” today as the tribals .
“For harmonious existence, particularly the tribals speaking different languages, should develop a common language for communication,” Mishra said.
BJP leader Saryu Rai, too, said the state must take measures for development of a common language to ensure “more cohesiveness” in society.