Exclusive | Thomas Jones Day – Journey of Khasi Language: Then & Now; where are we?
A Welsh missionary who escaped ‘colonialism’ in Wales in the early 1800s came to the Khasi Hills in India, another British colony, with a mission to enlighten and empower the populace and later became (arguably) known as the “Founding Father of Khasi Alphabet.” His name is Reverend Thomas Jones.
Every year on June 22, Meghalaya observes Thomas Jones Day, marking his arrival in Sohra (then capital of Undivided Assam) 180 years ago. He is known for his contribution towards codifying and refining the Khasi Alphabet.
On this day, the Khasi Author Society (KAS) pledged to ensure that Thomas Jones’ vision reaches greater heights, one being the inclusion of the Khasi language in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
A webinar was held on Tuesday to discuss the life and contribution of Rev Thomas Jones to the Khasi community. The virtual event was attended by Shillong MP Vincent H Pala, NEHU professor and KAS president, Dr DRL Nonglait, members of the society, researchers and students.
In his speech, Dr Nonglait explained the relationship Jones had with the Khasis back in the days. According to him, Jones was no stranger to colonial rule and poverty. He too, like many other Welsh, was subjected to many forms of English oppression.
“He understood the pulse of the Khasis back then because he was no stranger to oppression. Unlike many English military and administrative officers, Jones was inclined towards empowering the Khasis with education and codified the Khasi alphabets, which helped foster the growth of literature amongst the Khasis,” Dr Nonglait said.
FROM BRITISH COLONISATION TO SETTLERS' COLONISATION
The NEHU professor, however, lamented that despite having attained independence, the Khasi community is plagued with yet another form of colonialism–Settlers colonialism.
“We were too slow in understanding the colonial and post-colonial complexities. We are yet to free ourselves from the colonial mindset. Currently, we are going through the second colonisation and, that is the settlers colonialism. We could not tackle the influx of immigrants, who came to the Hills to stay,” Dr Nonglait said.
KHASI LANGUAGE: JOURNEY SO FAR
A language, being another parameter to identify a group of people or community, helps a community protect its identity in a world where minority groups face an identity crisis.
Over the years, the Khasi language has seen many changes. It became an associate official language of some districts within Meghalaya in 2005. As of May 2012, it was no longer considered endangered by UNESCO. But unfortunately, the language is yet to find a place in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
Listing out some reasons, the president of the Khasi Authors’ Society said the delay of the state government in raising the issue with the central government was one reason for the non-inclusion of the language in the 8th Schedule.
KAS has been spearheading the movement to include the language since 1979. With its effort, in 2018, the Meghalaya Government announced that the date of Jones’ arrival at Sohra would be celebrated as “Thomas Jones Day” every year in the state.
In the same year, the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly adopted a resolution to petition the Centre to include the Khasi language in the 8th Schedule, but it was only in 2019 when the matter was taken up by Delhi.
“We had met the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi on January 05, 2019, who gave us an assurance to look into the matter,” Dr Nonglait said.
The state government received a response from the Centre in March 2019 that they would consider the inclusion of the Khasi language as one of the 38 pending cases. However, the matter is has seen no progress since then because of various agitations in the country like Citizenship Amendment Bill (now Citizenship Amendment Act) agitation and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Academicians and researchers have observed that going forward, the district authorities including the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) and Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC) need to use the Khasi language, both written and spoken, in disseminating information to the public, especially in the rural areas.
They emphasised the need to publish the rules and official notifications in the Gazette both in Khasi and English.
“Going forward, we need to draw inspiration from Thomas Jones and theorise his mission. This way, we can contribute to ensuring that policies are drafted in the Khasi language,” Dr Nonglait added.
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