The case of Bhojpuri and Hindi in Mauritius

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Preamble In its coverage of the 2007 edition of Bharatiya Pravasi Divas, Webindia123?s on-line news edition of January 08, 2007 begged the question: ?Can Bihar, one of the most backward states in India, be transformed into Mauritius, a fascinating island nation in the Indian Ocean??, before adding: ?This is precisely the task Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has in mind for the large number of Biharis settled in Mauritius.? The Press Trust of India (January 07, 2007) puts it more forcefully: ?Go to Bihar and inspire people there to make a Mauritius out of Bihar.? This is the message of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) in Mauritius having roots in Bihar.? The Delhi Divas was followed by the Bihar Global Meet, during which the Mauritian High Commissioner, ?speaking in excellent Bhojpuri?, recalled how his ancestors came to Mauritius from Ara. He also met with Bihar?s Chief Minister and ?discussed ways to develop Bihar on Mauritius model?, while assuring his host that ?the Mauritius government was keen on setting up a sugarcane research institute in the state? (, January 21, 2007). A cabinet decision of the Mauritian Government, dated 9th February 2007, confirmed this. The almost umbilical link with India, celebrated at the Diaspora meeting, sets Mauritius apart for a number of reasons, the most significant being the achievement and status of Mauritians of Indian origin, in terms of political power and state control, educational and socio-economic progress, maintenance of cultural and religious identity. The present focus on India, Bihar in particular, may be seen as a logical outcome of Indo-Mauritian history. The indentured labourers who migrated to Mauritius in the 19th century originated massively though not exclusively from the central province of India. Similarly, even though labour constituted the bulk of Indian migration to Mauritius, trade was also part of it. While the coolie was mostly from Bihar, the trader came from Gujrat and sometimes from the South. Thus Indian languages in Mauritius meant not only Bhojpuri and Khari Boli Hindi, but also Gujrati, Bengali, Tamil and other provincial ones. When Gandhi transited in Mauritius in 1901, he addressed the local Indian business community in Gujrati. Manilall Doctor?s newspaper, The Hindusthani, launched in March 1909 with the financial support of local Indian traders, was a bilingual English-Gujrati paper. In its 2nd March 1913 issue, the language of Mauritian Indians is described as a ?pedgin-Hindustani, interlarded with Franco-Mauritian or French-Creole words?. While keeping in view the broader multilingual context of Mauritius, the present article will focus on Bhojpuri and Hindi, with due attention to Urdu, all three being languages inherited from Bihar. ■ Mauritian Bhojpuri and Hindi The linguistic diversity brought by the Indians into 19th century Mauritius and their recourse to Bhojpuri as a lingua franca are known features of Indian settlement in Mauritius. Its role as a factor of group cohesion and protection against the acculturation process has nevertheless not been adequately researched. The pioneering work of Ramessur Ory, author of the first PhD study on Mauritian Bhojpuri in 1970, has yet to be unearthed. Until then, the credit for being one of the first to acknowledge the contribution of Bhojpuri goes to Jaynarain Roy (1970) when he writes: ?It is due to this language that we have been able to survive culturally during the past 150 years or so amidst immense sufferings and hardships.? The socio-historical context of the transplantation of Bhojpuri and of its emergence as a lingua franca has been outlined by S. Gambhir (1986) who describes the formation of Mauritian Bhojpuri in a three-stage process: 1. Bihari-and Hindi-based multi-dialectalism; 2. Linguistic adjustment and dialect levelling; 3. A common linguistic system: Mauritian Bhojpuri. ?At one point, Bhojpuri was the dominant single language throughout the island in opposition to Creole. But then the tragedy of Bhojpuri is that it was made an orphan by its own living parents.? The first scholarly attempt to reconstruct the social history of Hindi-Bhojpuri in Mauritius goes that of L. P. Ramyead. While discussing the problems of Indian languages and schooling in the 19th century, Ramyead (1985: 32) writes: ?In fact, literacy and vernacular education presented a problem to Bhojpuri speakers because Bhojpuri was not a written language nor was it regarded as being suitable to be so and formal education thus, of necessity, had to be in KHB (Khari Boli Hindi), the language perceived to have both literary and cultural prestige, whether as Hindi or Urdu. It was towards KHB, therefore, that they looked for their educated and cultured modes of expression; there was no hope of Bhojpuri achieving this for them.? Already in the early baitkas it was the language used as medium of instruction, according to Sarita Boodhoo (2000:26). ?Bhojpuri mixed with some Hindi, developing at that time in India as Khadi Boli (language spoken while standing).? With the establishment of Khadi Boli/Hindi as the prestigious variety of bhasha, literally refined speech or language, Bhojpuri was progressively confined to the limited sphere of folk language and pejoratively referred to as motya bhasa. At that level, Creole was already well established as the main link-language within the broader Mauritian context, as a result of which the decline of Bhojpuri as an inter-group lingua franca was inevitable. More seriously, its primary function as mother tongue and home language was at stake. The situation of Bhojpuri at the turn of the last century is aptly summarised by P. Sooriah (1977). At one point, Bhojpuri was the dominant single language throughout the island in opposition to Creole. But then the tragedy of Bhojpuri is that it was made an orphan by its own living parents. The decline of Bhojpuri as a rival to Creole began early in the 20th century with the arrival on the scene of the Arya Samaj. Firstly, they advocated the use of Khari Boli Hindi as the prestigious language as opposed to the ?Motiya? Bhojpuri that led many Bhojpuri Hindus to disown Bhojpuri in favour of Hindi. Secondly, the emphasis on a not too familiar Hindi had driven the minority Indian communities away from the main pan-Indian solidarity. Thirdly, a pro- Hindu attitude of Arya Samaj coupled with the political developments on the mainland, particularly the Hindu-Muslim divide, cast their evil shadows on the Mauritian Indian community driving Muslims away from the mainstream. As a result, Bhojpuri Muslims disowned Bhojpuri in favour of Urdu. The growing shift to Creole resulted in a Creole-Bhojpuri diglossia, which was superposed to Hindi-Bhojpuri. According to S. Bhuckory (1967: 108), in society ?people knowing Hindi have started making use of it in their conversation in preference to Bhojpuri?, and in urban areas ?there is a tendency to use more and more Creole at home with the result that Bhojpuri is very often not known by the younger generation?. To counter this, S. Bhuckory suggests that ?social workers and priests, teachers and parents have all to strive to make Bhojpuri, if not Hindi, the language of the home?. ■ Hindi with, or without, Bhojpuri? The Hindi-Bhojpuri-Creole issue gave rise to heated debates in the late 1970s and early 1980s on the strategies to be adopted in favour of Hindi and/or Bhojpuri. These can be summarized as follows: Bhojpuri being condemned to an irreversible decline, all the efforts should be concentrated on Hindi. Resources being limited, instead of wasting them on Bhojpuri, it would be wiser to focus on the prestige variety. Bhojpuri should be promoted for its own sake, on the model of Creole, as a distinct language. This option was viewed with suspicion, as a move to dissociate it from Hindi to do away with it more easily for the benefit of Creole. Sarita Boodhoo (1999: 141), promoter of the short-lived Mauritius Bhojpuri Institute in 1982, addresses the Bhojpuri-Hindi issue with tact when she writes: ?Bhojpuri has no quarrel with Hindi, which language it precedes in linguistic history and which it nurtures culturally and emotionally.? Bhojpuri should be maintained and encouraged for the sake of Hindi. This option seems to have prevailed and oriented Bhojuri-Hindi language policy. The most explicit and coherent proposal for Bhojpuri as an indispensable support for Hindi is found in Barz (1980: 25): The relationship between standard Hindi and Mauritian Bhojpuri in Mauritius is a symbiotic one. Neither standard Hindi nor Urdu will ever become household or native languages in Mauritius. On the one hand, it is unlikely that Mauritian Bhojpuri will develop a written literature since, as matters now stand, Mauritian Bhojpuri speakers who write in an Indian language write in standard Hindi and almost nothing has been published in Mauritian Bhojpuri (?) However, if there were to be a drastic reduction in the number of people using Mauritian Bhojpuri in daily life, it is unlikely that enough cultural impetus would remain for the survival of standard Hindi in the island. The two languages must move along together and the fate of one will determine that of the other. The role of Bhojpuri as the ?necessary living roots? for the survival of Hindi depends on the fulfilment of two important conditions: the maintenance of a large and ?linguistically healthy? body of speakers of Mauritian Bhojpuri; the recognition and promotion of Bhojpuri (linguistic description, study in schools, role in nation-building, literary publications, etc.). What Barz understands by a ?linguistically healthy? body of speakers is not clear. It could be interpreted to mean that norms and standards should be prescribed for a healthy ?non-contaminated? use of Bhojpuri. Engineering the social use of a language is a fairly complex issue, especially in a contact situation like Mauritius, where the ?Bhojpuri-Hindi symbiosis? at the cultural and symbolic level is matched by a close and constant interaction between Bhojpuri and Creole in everyday communication at societal level. Actions which could lead to the fulfilment of the second condition mentioned by Barz were initiated. Agencies were set up, projects elaborated and some concrete results were obtained. The Department of Bhojpuri at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute produced cassettes and L-P records of Bhojpuri folksongs; it also started work on a Bhojpuri dictionary project. As mentioned earlier, a Mauritius Bhojpuri Institute was created in 1982, and its main objective was to revive Bhojpuri language and traditions. At the more scholarly level, a number of linguistic studies were undertaken, such as Domingue, N. (1971), Neerputh, N. (1986), Baker & Ramnah, P. (1985), Ramdin, S. (2006). But the vital recognition given to the language was its inclusion in the 1983 population census, which marked a clear departure from previous editions on various counts. The pre-selected list of languages was removed and the choice of the ancestral and the current language was left to the respondent. The 1990 census added another innovative feature with the option given to include two ancestral languages, expressed as follows: ?If the language of the paternal forefathers is different from the language of the maternal forefathers, write both.? ■ Hindi-Bhojpuri and gradual shift to Creole: what the census shows Census language data are not always reliable because of the numerous extra-linguistic considerations, which influence language choice. Their value therefore resides not so much in their statistical accuracy as in the relevance of the tendencies they exhibit. Table 1 presents post-1983 census data for the single languages that are relevant to the present study. The presence of Arabic as from 1983 is in relation to Urdu and will be discussed below. The most notable finding of the 1983 Census report is the emergence of Bhojpuri as a linguistic entity. It comes very close to Hindi as?ancestral language? and obtains a higher score as ?current language?. The figures for Hindi do not correspond to actual reality and can only be explained by reference to its prestige or to the fact that people tend to identify Hindi in the first sense used by Barz, that is, the Hindi family of Indian dialects and languages. This is confirmed by its drastic decline in 1990 and its almost non-existence in 2000. The displacement of Hindi by Bhojpuri in census returns illustrates a very significant change in language attitude. Hindi still functions as the language of reference but more as a cultural construct and identity marker, whereas Bhojpuri is re-established as a historical fact and a linguistic reality. The Hindi-Bhojpuri shift may also be attributed to the impact of modernity. Hindi and the values associated with it used to be transmitted through the traditional network of baithkas and socio-cultural organisations. The baithkas no longer exist or function as such, and school has taken over the function of transmitting Hindi. Urdu too has virtually disappeared, even though its case is somewhat different. Historically, the language of Bihari Muslims was Bhojpuri, but the linking of Bhojpuri with Hindi and Hinduism led to its replacement among Bihari Muslims by Urdu as the ancestral language, with Creole and Bhojpuri as spoken languages. Then in 1983, Arabic suddenly became their first ancestral language (6.8%, compared to 5.7% for Urdu), a radical shift explained by the then emerging new international context of Arab inspired pan-Islamic solidarity (Edun, 2007). However, in the subsequent censuses of 1990 and especially 2000, Arabic disappeared, thus confirming an artificial status based on religious ideology rather than historical consideration. ■ Literacy in Indian Languages Being literate in Indian languages only would mean traditional literacy acquired through non-formal modes and the community. That belongs to the past. The school has now taken over the function of teaching Oriental languages, with English and French. The figures in Table 2 show that literacy in European languages is on the rise, which is not the case for European and Oriental languages combined. Considering the general trend noted, it may be assumed that literacy in Oriental languages is on the decline. But this may change as a result of the new policy, which puts Oriental languages at par with European languages for examination, certification, and selection purposes at the end of primary schooling and for entry to the secondary level. Oriental Language enrolment in 2005 at primary level shows an almost perfect correlation, language wise and globally, with the demographic size of population of Asian origin. Another interesting feature of the primary OL enrolment is its even distribution from Year I to Year VI of primary schooling, thus reflecting the enhanced status of Indian languages. At secondary level, however, a sudden and significant fall in OL enrolment is noted: from 50% in Form I to only 13.8% in Form V for ?O? level examinations and a mere 10% for the terminal ?A? level examinations. (Source: Digest of Education Statistics, 2006, CSO). While being more in line with the social trend, the OL enrolment pattern at secondary level also reflects the lack of incentive to learn OL and the absence of perspective careerwise. In the same vein, it may be argued that the mission of the primary school is to lay the foundations in the various subjects considered necessary and important by society. In the case of OL, knowing the basics is sufficient for the purpose they serve. In summary, the various languages accounted for within the Mauritian context may be categorised into three domains, as follows: ? The home/private, non-formal/public domain of oral use occupied by Creole and Bhojpuri; ? The domain of symbolic reference and cultural identity covered by Oriental languages; ? The domain of formal education, career prospects and social advancement, the realm par excellence of English and French. But languages and their domains of use as well as the values attached to them are shifting categories evolving with time and social change. The socio-linguistic landscape of Mauritius has already undergone a sea of change since independence, as a result of ? and sometimes in spite of ? the politics of official linguistic and cultural pluralism. ■ End note In 1947, when the first modern constitutional reform extended voting rights to all adults literate in any of the languages in use in Mauritius, Hindi and Urdu played an important role as instruments of political change. Bhojpuri was left out in favour of Hindi, listed as ?Hindustani?. And yet that was the language in use among the majority of the people at home and in the sugarcane fields. They were the ones who later bought the parcels of barren land and, out of each ?little acre of love? produced green gold, as in Abhimanyu Unnuth?s Ek Bigha Pyar. Then one day the sugar-mill owners refused to crush the canes from their little acres of land, because their sugar content was too low. That was in 1937. On 13th August of that fateful year, thousands of small planters and labourers assembled on Union-Flacq estate of Rajcoomar Gujadhur and defied the armed employees, shouting ?mare salah? (Hazareesingh, 1976). The armed employees opened fire on the marchers, killing four of them and wounding several others. That single event triggered a series of historical developments, which culminated in the making of modern Mauritius, the Mauritius that India would like us to make of Bihar. The history of sugar and the small planters is known, though not fully. That of Mauritian Bhojpuri, historically the first language of protest and redress, has started to be written thanks to the work of Sarita Boodhoo and a handful of dedicated Mauritians. The present Bihar week celebrations in Mauritius, the first of its kind outside India, could be a historic opportunity for the launch of a Mauritius-Bihar Bhojpuri project. Vinesh Y. HOOKOOMSING
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