Of language and identity: What is the future of Khasi language?


By Ibankyntiew Mawrie | Shillong, June 22, 2018:


Hundred and seventy seven years ago, one of the major tribes of Meghalaya – the Khasis were without a written script, without a lingual identity and without a literary history. However, all of that changed with the arrival of Reverend Thomas Jones, also popularly known as the Founding Father of Khasi alphabets and literature.

Thomas Jones (1810 – 16 September 1849) was a Welsh Christian missionary, who worked among the Khasi people of Meghalaya and Assam in India and of Bangladesh. He arrived in Meghalaya 177 years ago on this day. After living, interacting and breaking breads with the locals of this region, Jones became aware of the absence of a written script and hence, recorded the Khasi language in Roman script.

This advancement had swiftly enabled laureates like U Soso Tham to pen down his thoughts and opened the gates to the golden literary era of the indigenous community of Meghalaya.

Having spoken about the arrival and introduction of the Khasi alphabets and literature, it is however, disheartening to point out that even after 177 years, the Khasi language is yet to be recognised in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India.

Like U Soso Tham, Rev Thomas Jones must be rolling from his grave had he known the bitter reality, the inability of the government and the civil societies to ensure that the language is included in the 8th Schedule despite 46 years of statehood.

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Much has been discussed about the need to get the language recognized and committees were also set up by the government to look into this matter by involving all stakeholders. But years have gone by and nothing concrete has come out. It looks like the day, the Khasis will find their language enlisted amongst the 22 recognized languages in the country, is still very far away.

Five years ago, a four members Sub Committee was set up by the then government to study into the matter, but till date, the reports and outcome of the committee is still unknown despite assurances being given. Again in 2017, the then government constituted an Advisory Committee to seriously take up the matter to ensure that the demand for inclusion of the Khasi language into the Eight Schedule of the Constitution becomes a reality. But what was delivered was only mere assurances.

Many present laureates of the state have harped on the need for a mass movement to see their aspirations turn into a reality but more or less, this suggestion, however, has not yielded any positive results, or maybe it has, indirectly (that is left to be known).

Lest we forget, last year, linguist Ganesh N Devy said that the Garo and Khasi languages are showing an upward trend because educated people in these communities have started using these languages for writing. This is a good sign, given the 'imitating the English gentleman' trend in the state. The realization factor has kicked in particularly amongst the intellectuals and academicians and scholars and poets are now publishing their poems, writings in the local language.

RELATED NEWS | Khasi & Garo amongst flourishing languages in India

Academician and Principal of St Edmund's College, Dr Sylvannus Lamare has expressed disappointment over the delay on getting the language recognized. "We don't see the importance of the language and the benefits the locals can derive if the language is included in the 8th Schedule," said Lamare adding that lack of political will is one factor which is slowly pushing the identity through a language, to a precipice.

Lamare, who is also one of the champions of this cause, has questioned the public representatives for their 'lack of seriousness' in taking this matter forward. "They have done brilliantly by starting the discussion on the second day of the Budget Session recently, in Khasi (only for a day) but what happened next? Nothing…. It started in the Assembly and ended in the Assembly" rued the academician.

Highlighting the advantages an indigenous community can derive from the inclusion of the language in the 8th Schedule, Lamare pointed out that there are many jobs in the government sector (both state and central) where a local language is preferred but because our language is yet to be recognized, we stand to lose from all the benefits. "People need to get their priority straight. It is not only about preserving our identity but also opening doors of opportunities for our people," he added.

Lamare also sarcastically commented on the formation of many committees to look into this matter stating that committees are set up every now and then, but what came out of those sittings and meetings, are nothing but mere assurances.

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When asked about the future of the Khasi language, Lamare said "Unless our political, social and academical leaders work together to push this forward, nothing will happen. We need to take up this matter seriously, otherwise our language will just vanish without a trace."

Echoing similar views, President of the Khasi Students' Union, Lambok Marngar said that this has always been their aspiration and time and again, they have been reminding the state government on the need to push this forward and get it done. "On May this year, we had yet again submitted a memorandum to the chief minister, Conrad Sangma, asking him to personally take up this matter with the Centre and we hope that this government will deal with this issue seriously," said Marngar.

When asked about the dangers revolving around the non-recognition of the language, Marngar said besides losing out on various opportunities, "we, as Khasis, will slowly lose our language and Rev Thomas Jones' gift to the Khasis will be a mere memento and nothing else."

Commenting on committees being formed in this regard, the KSU president said that on every issue, the government forms a committee, "So there is nothing new about this also. We have come to learn that what comes out of those committees are not very helpful, in fact, nothing comes out of those meetings. So, it is best for all our 60 legislators particularly those representing the constituencies in Khasi, Jaintia and Ri Bhoi, to start turning their words into actions," he added.

Earlier today, the Khasi Author's Society (KAS) have stated that they are ready to the extend of meeting Prime Minister to ensure that the Khasi language is included in the Eight Scheduled of the Constitution.

"We are ready to meet the Prime Minister since we understand that it is the Centre who would take a final call on this,"  KAS president, D.R.L. Nonglait said after laying the wreaths at the memorial stone of Rev Thomas Jones situated at Synod College today.

He observed that the State Government has not been able to impressed upon the Centre on the need to include the Khasi language in the Eight Scheduled even though this demand has been there for the past many years.

According to Dr Nonglait, the Khasi language has evolved over the years adding that the language is one in the forefront compared to other languages in the region. "But the language needs to be protected by the constitution," he said.

It may be mentioned that this is the first time that the Meghalaya Government has declared this day as a State holiday.


(The writer can be reached at mawrie.iban@gmail.com and iban@thenortheasttoday.com)