Tulu's Fight For Recognition Is Fifty Years Old Now, Will It Ever End?

Tulu's Fight For Recognition Is Fifty Years Old Now, Will It Ever End?‘Tulu’ in Tulu script
  • Tulu has a large number of speakers on India's south-western coast. It has a history and literary tradition.

    Yet, why has it not yet obtained the constitutional recognition enjoyed by other Dravidian languages?

A Twitter campaign with the hashtag #TuluOfficialinKA_KL on Sunday (13 June) rekindled the demand for official language status to Tulu.

The language is spoken in the whole of coastal Karnataka upto Kasaragod in Kerala. It is also spoken by natives of the region living all over the world, predominantly in Bengaluru and Mumbai in India, and the Gulf countries.

But this plea isn't new and all the more why it has turned into an aggressive one, with a lot of angst directed against the elected representatives of the region, who across party lines have been assuring people of action in this direction.

The online campaign that took off at 6 am went past midnight. This was perhaps because most leaders had to be seen vouching support for the cause.

Twitter users tagged all prominent personalities from the region from all walks of life - from Kannada cinema to politics, urging them to rally for the cause that resulted in over 4 lakh organic tweets by the end of the day.

A similar campaign with the same hashtag had been run by Jai Tulunad, one of the many organisations that have been working for the cause.

Similar ‘support’ had been displayed by all elected representatives back then, but not much changed except for a submission of a request by all MLAs from the region to the Chief Minister.

Tulu, spoken by nearly 20 lakh people (2011 Census), is classified as a vulnerable language by UNESCO.

The number of actual speakers are likely to be higher than the official tally as the region sees a considerable number of migrants whose mother tongue may be Konkani, Beary, Kodava or Kannada. But by virtue of inhabiting the Tulu speaking 'Tulunadu' region they are quite fluent in Tulu.

Despite all this the language has not had the recognition it merits.

Tulu has a rich oral tradition that has been documented and studied by scholars across the world. It has representation at all levels of governance and political leadership. Despite this the language is still seeking validation of its entity as an official language of the state, and thereby a place in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India.

The first appeal for the same was made to prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1971. As Tulu Sahitya Academy chairman Dayananda Kattalsar informs us the language was the forerunner in seeking inclusion in the Eighth Schedule. However, it has been pushed to the 35th position owing to the alphabetic arrangement of languages seeking the same.

The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution consists of the following 22 languages — Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Bodo, Santhali, Maithili and Dogri.

Of these languages, 14 were initially included in the Constitution, while Sindhi was added in 1967, Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali in 1992 and Bodo, Dogri, Maithili and Santhali in 2004.

With a total of 38 languages seeking inclusion in the Eighth Schedule, and efforts to fix a criteria for the same having not been very productive, currently, the “government is conscious of the sentiments and requirements for inclusion of other languages in the Eighth Schedule and will examine the requests keeping in mind these sentiments, and other considerations such as evolution of dialects into language, widespread use of a language, etc”.

There was a Tulu Sammelana held in 1974 that intensified the demand but to no avail.

With an intention to keep the flame on, activists and organisations, fighting for Tulu conducted the Akhila Bharata Tulu Sammelana in 1989. They submitted a plea in 1994 at the Vishwa Tulu Sammelana to the then chief minister Veerappa Moily, who hails from the region, the latter then announced the forming of the Tulu Sahitya Academy.

“It is sad that in the same year, Manipuri whose native speakers were much lesser found a place in the Eighth Schedule, but Tulu didn't,” laments a young Tulu scholar and activist Mahi Mulki, as he narrates the journey of recognition battle in a piece titled "Tulu Bhasheya Horatada Duranta Kathe".

Successive governments have been "assuring" the people of this region but none of it has manifested into any productive action in this regard.

Member of Parliament (MP) from Dakshina Kannada Nalin Kumar Kateel, who also joined the Twitter campaign, said the delay in according the official language status was owing to a ‘technical flaw’ which would be fixed by the end of his tenure.

Udupi MP Shobha Karandlaje tweeted out a copy of the letter she wrote to Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa in January 2020 seeking official language status for Tulu.

“There are more than 1.5 crore Tulu speakers across the world, has its own script in which poetry was written since 14th century. Numerous stone inscriptions, copper plates, palm leaf manuscripts have been found,” wrote Karandlaje, asking Yediyurappa to take the opportunity to "create history by according this status to this language".

But ironically, this comment came in the form of a tweet quoting an old tweet by the Karandlaje from way back in September 2019.

"Caste, religion and political ideologies have united people here but language hasn’t. Which is why all the agitations have not been very productive. But change has begun and we are positive about productive action,” says Kattalsar, who prompted many organisations to take up the task of "learning and teaching the Tulu script and indulging in productive activism since he took over as chairman".

While all MLAs from the region vouched their support for the campaign, netizens were quick in dismissing it as being tokenistic, with most of them asking why the party in power was yet to make things happen, when Yediyurappa himself had in his earlier term assured that the government was committed to recognise Tulu as the state’s official language.

A year from then, the state had finally ensured the efforts of the Tulu Academy to take Tulu to the academic setup and introduced it in schools across the two districts as a third language.

But 12 years since, the pleas for official language stay the same, the reasons too do, while governments have changed and all vouched and agreed that Tuluvas deserve to have their language recognised constitutionally.

What ails Tulu’s rightful place in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution?

Considering similar language movements across the world, Tulu is an unusual case of a language‘s fight for identity — for unlike other ‘endangered’ ones, this one isn’t a ‘migrant’ or ‘displaced‘ version but an indigenous one that has a large extent of land to call its own.

It has rich literary and oral folk tradition, speakers have both linguistic pride as well as socio-economic power, is a prestige variety, and isn’t marred by communal issues or the like. It has a rich cultural representation with Tulu cinema to complete 50 years this year, and its art forms like Yakshagana having audiences across the world.

Its domain of usage is largely domestic, with Kannada and English being the languages of education and administration. The region has accommodated speakers of a variety of languages whose association with Tulu is only in informal setups. It has had to battle controversies over its script, and the visual landscape thereby doesn’t in any manner reflect its stature in the region.

But language policy nuances aside, the reason this struggle has gone on for decades is that the speakers aren’t political capital. Language in this region isn’t a political identity marker as yet. Hence "lack of political will" has unfortunately been able to render this demand dormant.

Harsha is a staff writer at Swarajya.


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