Korku dialect is more than a linguistic identity for many

Bhopal, Feb 6 (ANI): "Aye Korku Modin Dhyan Bati Jiv Taso Korku odi Saeeva." This, in Korku dialect means Korku will die out for want of immediate attention. Korku is a dialect spoken down the generations in Khargon, Khadwa, Betul, Hoshangabad districts in Madhya Pradesh.

Words like Ado Nadi or 'speak truth', Tee Ruru or 'clapping', Thunthun Uthajom or 'pauper', Kon 'son', Konjai or 'daughter' may no longer be heard.

The UNESCO Atlas of disappearing languages, which has placed Korku in vulnerable category, has raised the alarm, which concerned locals have been feeling for years.

Poonamchand Marko, Assistant Commercial Tax Officer in the area, a Korku himself says he grew up speaking the dialect but now apart from conversing with his father, he does not speak it within the family. "The new generation who have access to free school education feel an inferiority complex speaking a language or dialect seen as a symbol of backwardness. Hindi words dominate their vocabulary. Originality is being lost" , he laments.

Laxminarayan Payodhi, a research scholar with Tribal Research Institute of Madhya Pradesh corroborates this view based on statistics of Korku tribal population and is deeply concerned about its diminishing number of speakers. The 1981 census counts Korku speakers as 65,275 against the population of 66,700. In the 1991 census however it dipped alarmingly. While the population was 4.52 lakh , the number of Korku speakers was 28,000.

Korku literally means an assembly of humans - 'Kor' means human while 'ku' means plural of 'Kor'. They can be identified easily by their physical features and the use of Korku dialect. Dark complexion, black eyes, flat nose, thick lips, round face, well built body, curly hair distinguish them from another large tribal group the 'Gonds'.

Korku families are sensitive about their linguistic identity. Tibu Kosde, the Head Master in the Post Matric Tribal Boys School in Chhanera in Khandwa district has continuous interaction with students from the community and has discerned this concern among these youngsters. According to him, the only solution would be to document words that fall in a category of 'non-usage', which could be on the verge of extinction.

There is another problem. The Korku script is Hindi and functional literacy is low among the Korku community. Thus a robust practice of reading and writing the language is bound to be missing.

Tibu remains passionately devoted to the survival of the language. Two years ago, he designed textbooks in Korku for Class I, II and III and was delighted with an enthusiastic response from the children.

This showed that learning takes place much faster and indeed 'seamlessly' in one's own dialect but unfortunately the current system of education does not factor in such undoubtedly valuable inputs into planning a curriculum. The text-books prescribed and the medium of examination would remain Hindi.

Tibu is not alone in this crusade. 60 year old Maujalal who lives in Malhargarh village in Khalwa block of Harsood tehsil in Khandwa district echoes the same concern. As early as the 70's, he founded the Shri Sant Gulab Baba Tribal Dance Troupe, which holds cultural performances of Korku dance forms. It is his tribute to the cultural and linguistic heritage.

The Madhya Pradesh Government has responded to this and uses his troupe to raise awareness on health and hygiene issues and development programmes like MNREGA. That however need not translate into the protection of the classic form of dance or the language.

Maujalal is still a worried man especially seeing how the youth in the community are turning away from traditional music like 'Dhols' and Flutes to modern brass bands on occasions like weddings. He rues "The main cause threatening the existence of Korku is the eroding enthusiasm about customs and rituals."

There are others who in small ways keep alive the heritage. Rajaram also from Malhargarh village says that Korku speaking families in the area tend to speak a popular form, the 'Nimari' dialect.

New words are added to the traditional Korku, gradually brought in by labourers returning from their migratory paths. Rajaram feels that publishing text books in Korku written in Hindi script becomes difficult to read. Short social messages however in Hindi could however be used amongst the community. For instance "Namo Pala Jule Do Chikni Ku Ke Sarku" which translates into "kill the mosquitoes by burning Neem leaves".

Laxminarayan Payodhi, who is penning the Korku grammar, has a different opinion. "Extensive documentation of the community's socio- culture rituals and customs, idioms and phrases is a must". He is of the firm opinion that the onus for conserving linguistic heritage lies with the community.

Unless they feel strongly and are driven by a sense of identity and the need to preserve it, support from outside can do very little. Says Payodhi, "I strongly feel that there is a communication gap between government functionaries and tribal communities due to absence of contact language. Functional literacy of tribal dialects would help remove linguistic blockage."

Meanwhile the state government has made some moves, perhaps in response to the situation on the ground and the concerns that the community has been airing. The Director of Culture, Shri Ram Tiwari says "We have proposed the setting up of an Academy for conservation of tribal dialects in the state". According to him, the Academy would preserve the available literature written in dialects.

There is also a move to develop community radio programmes scripted in Korku according to the Charkha Development Communications. For Tibu Kodse, Maujalal and others, this is bound to bring cheer as their lives and that of the preceeding and future generations would be scripted in this little known dialect. By Awanish Somkuwar (ANI)

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