Language of Odisha – A Brief History

 The creation of separate province of Orissa in 1936 has a checked history of its own, the very basis of which was the language and the problems concerning it. But the origin or such a perplexing problem lay much deeper and hidden in the process of conquest of Orissa by the Britishers in peace-meal. 

Being parcelled out into different units for administrative convenience the interest of the Oriyas were completely neglected. But the western impact and attachment of different parts of Orissa into different units led to the rise of two important movements:(i) movements for linguistic identity and (ii) movement for a separate province on linguistic basis. British takeover and condition of Oriya speaking people under different administrative segments were prime causes of such a movement which began in the 19thcentury and entitled here as “Language politics and Orissa” with detail information in this dissertation.

          It was after occupying Orissa in 1803 A.D. the Britishers parcelled out it in to many political segments for the sake of administrative convenience. There after Ganjam and Koraput were annexed with Madras Presidency, Sambalpur region was amalgamated with central province and Cuttack, Puri and Balasore were merged with Bengal Presidency. 

As a consequence Orissa lost its identity and her name was reduced to merely a geographical expression. It’s people were meted out as minorities and there legitimate interest was ignored. In such a situation no self respecting patriots can sit idle before the fierce light of mother’s grievances. 

Therefore some noted dignitaries unfurled the banner of agitation and championed a movement for the introduction of Oriya and creation of a province on the linguistic basis.

          The first phase of the above political drama was opened with the issue of introduction of native language in the law courts.1It was considered as the first phase of language crisis in Odisha. 

It was in the year of 1835 A.D. the British Government decided to introduce vernacular language in place of Parsian. But some British officers tried to introduce Bengali in place of Oriya as the British offers were not well versed with Oriya language and secondly the dearth of Oriya educated people to expedite the work. Thus a controversy was sprang up which continued for some years in the political sinerio of Orissa.

          The above problem grew from shriller to frenzied, when Rickett the member of Sadar Board of Revenue and mills suggested the use of Hindustani instead of Oriya in the province. 

The controversy ended in favour of the latter. Secondly the problem was began when a number of schools were established in the province in the sixties of the 19th century. Text-books in Oriya were not available because of the lack of local initiative and also due to apathy of the government in the matter. By that time most of the teacher’s in the English schools were from Bengal. 

The children of Bengali officials in different departments in the province also constituted the bulk of student strength in different schools of Orissa and the development of the Oriya language was utterly neglected.

          The situation was aggravated by some unfortunate remarks of the famous indologist R.L. Mitra, the author of the ‘Antiquities of Orissa’.2 On 9th December 1868, K.C. Ghosh an advocated of the Calcutta High Court, read a paper on “Patriotism” at Cuttack Debating Club. R.L.Mitra on that occasion spoke of false patriotism of the Oriyas. 

He gave an example that the Oriyas were retarding the progress of Education by their attachment to the Oriya language, which in his opinion, was derived from Bengali. He believed that Oriya spoken by only 20 lakhs of people in the coastal region, would not develop into a full-fledged language such a remark by a learned scholar, led to the bitter language controversy. In fact though Orissa was under three separate administration at that time, that was the main reason for the deplorable condition of the language. 

The government of Bengal had not taken any specific measure to improve the language and literature of the province in connection with the vernacular education in the province. But fortunately T.E. Revenshaw,3the than commissioner strongly opposed the above suggestion. Hence the matter was dropped for the time being.

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