Manipuri language in the 8th Schedule
a brief recollection and the challenges ahead

Jeet Akoijam *

 Approved Meitei/Meetei Mayek :: Per Manipur Govt Gazette No 33 - April 22, 1980
Approved Meetei Mayek , Per Manipur Govt Gazette No 33 - April 22, 1980 :: Pix - Michael Meiraba Khumancha

Manipuri Language Demand Coordinating Committee was formed under the Sahitya Parishad Manipur to intensify demand for inclusion of Manipuri Language in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution as Sahitya Parishad is the only Govt recognized body working for the development and recognition of Manipuri language at that time.

As part of the ongoing efforts, exhibitions of the Puya (sacred ancient Manipuri scriptures) were held at Delhi and presentations made to central ministers by intellectuals and even the MP from the state to impress upon the rich and ancient traditions of the Manipuris but without much success or desired attention.

Meanwhile, Teachers' Forum comprising of around 300 teachers from schools, colleges and even the university was formed and functioning mainly in the present Thongju Kendra area in the early eighties.

The forum slowly started mobilizing other teachers as well as students and create awareness for the need to develop and support the demand for inclusion of Manipuri in the 8th schedule besides publishing articles and suggestions/opinions on the school textbooks prescribed and used in the schools, with regular meetings and discussions being held in the schools every weekend which led to a large annual gathering at Manipur University Canchipur.

This group drew the attention of the language demand committee who announced a statewide bandh at that time to press their demand which was later dropped after a compromise with the state government, but a large number of supporters took to the streets and carried out the bandh, even torching vehicles where a driver died in the ensuing mob frenzy, all because of the utter lack of coordination which resulted in a change of office bearers of the language movement due to public backlash.

The committee then approached Professor Dr MS Ningomba of Linguistics Department, Manipur University who was the president of Teachers Forum to head the Coordinating Committee who accepted the proposal and soon started mass mobilization throughout the state spreading awareness about the need and benefits of including Manipuri language in the 8th schedule.

The movement for inclusion of Manipuri language in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution took a dramatic turn in the beginning of the nineties when various other modes of demand was taken up including public rallies and hunger strike which was carried for the first time at the footpath near Johnstone Higher Secondary School and from there various organizations and individuals started coming forward in support of the movement and thus hunger strikes and rallies were held concurrently in different places of the state.

Feeling the need to take the movement to the centre, funds were mobilized and a few members and volunteers headed by Professor Dr MS Ningomba went to Delhi in April of 1991 after entrusting the continuity of the movement in the state which have, at this point of time, garnered the support of even a number of state government employees' associations.

The efforts of the committee hit a major roadblock when the state's elected representatives to the centre refused to lend support to the demand and even tried persuading the team from Manipur to give up the plan for staging the hunger strike at India Gate, fearing repercussions and reprimands from the centre, but nevertheless the plan was carried out after due formalities were completed including obtaining permission from Delhi Police.

Prof. Dr MS Ningomba and his associate who were undergoing the Hunger strike were arrested by Delhi Police into a week of the planned 15-day event and were forcibly admitted into a hospital while the remaining volunteers including manipuris from other states such as Assam, Tripura etcetera continued with the Hunger strike.

All throughout these happenings, the MPs from Manipur continued trying to persuade the team to wind up what they perceive as unnecessary intimidation on the central government. There were however some very encouraging incidents from unexpected quarters when the MP from Sikkim expressed her support of the demand to the volunteers and an MP from Silchar actually went out of his way to secure a written communication from the home secretary to the team stating that the issue for which they were staging the hunger strike merits discussion and will definitely be put up for deliberation during the next winter session of the parliament.

Having secured a written surety of the demand being discussed in the parliament, the hunger strike was called off and the team returned to Imphal, and true to their words and much joy for everyone who supported the movement, the Government of India included Manipuri language in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution on 20th August 1992 by 71st Constitutional Amendment Act.

Inclusion of Manipuri in the list of languages of the 8th Schedule meant that the language was entitled to representation on the Official Languages Commission, and that the language would be one of the bases that would be drawn upon to enrich Hindi, the official language of the Union The list has since, however, acquired further significance.

The Government of India is now under an obligation to take measures for the development of these languages, such that "they grow rapidly in richness and become effective means of communicating modern knowledge. In addition, a candidate appearing in an examination conducted for public service is entitled to use any of these languages as the medium in which he or she answers the paper.

This landmark achievement has however lost its flavor and significance as the state government have so far failed to take proactive interest in the development and awareness of the language other than setting up of Directorate of Language Planning and Implementation whose vision and mission as appears in its official website is still in future tense with activities report from that of the previous government.

According to Professor Dr MS Ningomba who retired as Head of Department (Linguistics) of Manipur University, it would be futile and pointless to spell out suggestions and personal opinion on ways and means to develop the Manipuri language, or any other language for that matter. If the state government is sincere in its intent to develop the language, it must approach the intellectuals and persons who have dedicated so much to bring the Manipuri language to the present level so that serious and positive discussions and deliberations can be conducted to achieve the desired result.

Mere translations and printing of textbooks will not prove adequate to popularize and develop the language. People should be made to feel proud of the rich cultural heritage and understand the beauty of the language. It would take much more than setting up directorates and departments to achieve such complex and vital objectives, especially when there is a perceptible shift towards English as the preferred means of communication amongst the children as well as the burgeoning 'elite' class.

* Jeet Akoijam wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was posted on August 21, 2020 .

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