Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Jun 13 14:16:28 UTC 2007

13 June, 2007  VOL:24, No: 16


Prem Phyak, Department of English, TU

The indigenous janajati people have been agitating against the verdict
of Supreme Court-Nepal that has barred the use of mother tongue of
different janajatis in local governance and offices. They have been
calling Jestha-18 (June-1) a Linguistic Black Day. Demanding their
linguistic rights indigenous people called a one-day general strike on
that very day. World's linguists are worried about the alarming
decline of a large number of languages in the world. They have
estimated that the future of 90-95% of the world's spoken languages is
threatened/endangered only 10% or even 5% of today's languages may
exist in 2100 as vital, healthy languages which are being passed on to
children. In all parts of the world indigenous peoples (and
minorities) are trying to counteract this threat. In many if not most
cases, the initiatives and demands for linguistic human rights come
from the people themselves, not governments or even (outsider) NGOs.
So is the case of Nepal.

According to recent online version of Ethnologue- the record of world
languages, 126 languages have been identified in Nepal. But the
population census of Nepal-2001 has listed out only 92 languages
identified to be spoken. This shows the severe negligence of the
government towards preservation of minority languages. Thus majority
of languages are in the verge of extinction. In this context, the
demand of indigenous people is relevant. The demand of linguistic
rights is not only the case of Nepal. Being one of the fundamental
rights of people, it is the case of all multilingual countries.
Language is identity and power for all. One of the major identities of
janajatis is their language. Thus to ignore their language means to
ignore their identity. In Ian Martin's study which was carried out in
2000 in Nunavut, Canada, shows a fourteen-year-old high school student
writes that he feels ashamed not to be able to understand his
grandparents and other elders, and wonders why the school does nothing
to help. Not only Martin's study all studies carried out in language
planning policies show that linguistic rights of indigenous people
should be granted in education, mass media and so on.

We know linguistic pluralism is the identity of Nepal. But because of
unitary governance from the regime of Prithvi Narayan Shah to date no
minority languages other than Nepali have been given due respect for
their preservation and promotion. Thus majority of languages are
endangered and moribund which are in the verge of extinction. After
the restoration of democracy in 1990, indigenous nationalities have
been raising their voice for their linguistic rights although there is
no any commendable effort from the part of the government to address
the linguistic issues. Although janaandolan-II has established a
loktantrik government of eight parties, the government does not seem
to give priority to linguistic issue for discussion for New Nepal.
Even though all languages have been given the status of national
languages in interim constitution, in practice there is no linguistic
pluralism. Eight parties have just made political decision but they
have never consulted with other stakeholders of language planning like
linguists, economists, educationalists and native speakers of
different minority languages. The provision in interim constitution is
not functional at all.

The then verdict of Supreme Court was against the Universal
Declaration of Linguistic Rights-1996. According to Article-3 of the
declaration, people have right to the use of their own language both
in private and in public atmosphere. Similarly, Article-17 of the
declaration clearly asserts that all language communities are entitled
to have at their disposal and to obtain in their own language all
official documents pertaining to relations which affect the territory
to which the language is proper, whether such documents be in printed,
machine-readable or any other form. Furthermore, the declaration has
also made provision that all language communities are entitled to the
official use of their language within their territory and the language
and culture of all language communities must be the subject of study
and research at university level.

The verdict of Supreme Court is an example of violation of linguistic
rights of majority people in Nepal. Since the slogan of inclusive
democracy is proliferating in the nation, assurance of linguistic
rights to indigenous people is compulsory because language is the most
important variable for making democracy inclusive. Because of such
injustice over indigenous people, they have already called one day
strike and this is the right time to raise such issue for indigenous
people.  Although linguistic pluralism is the ground reality of Nepal,
language planning of the nation could not adopt multilingual policy
that has led languages to commit suicide that is called linguicide
(linguistic + suicide). Nation should broadly think that all languages
are equally important. At present to criticize voices of indigenous
nationalities, people superficially enunciate that linguistic
pluralism policy disintegrates the nation. They further amplify their
voice that nobody has stopped indigenous people to use their language.
These are irresponsible arguments. It is sure that if language
planning policy is not multilingual i.e. harmonious to ground reality
or social context, that will disintegrate the nation. Present
agitation of indigenous nationalities is the result of one language
policy that has suppressed majority of languages for more than 238

In fact there is no harm in giving official status to local languages
in different regions. For this, nation can work with linguists and
educationists along with the sentiment of people in the nation. We
have to learn lesson from India, Singapore, and many other African and
European countries which have adopted multilingual language policy.
This is the nation's responsibility to preserve and promote endangered
languages of nation and indigenous people should also be aware of such

(Mr. Phyak teaches at the Department of English Education at TU,
Kirtipur. He writes on current political issues and issues on social

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