File image of the movement in the early 90s which led to the recognition of Nepali as an official language of India.

GANGTOK: On August 20, 1992, Nepali was recognised as one of the official languages of India with its inclusion in the eighth schedule of the Indian constitution. Three decades on, the day is recognised as ‘Bhasha Manayata Diwas’, celebrated mostly in Sikkim due to the efforts of former MP Dil Kumari Bhandari and her husband, the then Chief Minister Lt. Nar Bahadur Bhandari.

But beyond days marking the momentous occasion, how much does Nepali, a language spoken by close to 16 million people as per Census 2011, matter? Where does the language stand in Sikkim, where 62.61% of people have the Nepali language as their mother tongue but almost 90 per cent or above speak the language? What is the difference between the spoken language and the written language?

Balaram Pandey, assistant professor, Nepali language, University of Sikkim, says the Nepali language needs status planning.

“We also have language policy and planning….the standard form of Nepali language and how it should be written is important. For writing, it needs common ground as what I write must make sense to a person in Assam or other states where the Nepali language is used. The writing of books needs to have access for all to understand. In writing we need unity. Even a simple letter in Nepali changes from place to place, some letters come with a dot along with them to give it the right pronunciation. The same will lose its efficacy or will be different from how or what was taught in the elementary level to a University level. That is a new change, the grammar is not a book but more of how it is used in a word or a sentence. The grammar was written based on experts who defined and the same has changed. That is a human change brought to language, which brings confusion. Hence, how it must be common, as what is written in newspapers and what is given in grammar or university education or even literature differs. The purpose of planning needs to happen here.”

In digital space, the use of language is different. Hence on a national or international level, Pandey shares, “We need an organisation where there will be writers, publishing houses, faculties and even students. Sahitya Akademi in New Delhi must have or welcome such an organisation.”

Economics of Language

A language is learned only when it gives them a job or ensures a means of livelihood. Today, English excels because it is there in the digital world, it is there in terminologies for science, technology and even computer application terminology. The Sikkim University faculty, “We struggle in translation. Words like computers or RAM cannot be translated to Nepali, and a new word in Nepali will not work as it is better used in English. The global market welcomes the English language. International news is in English, national news is predominantly in Hindi but regional news channels also do not have such an impact in the local language. Hence, students opt not to take up language as a subject as it fails to generate livelihood for them or a job in the future. There is a digital divide in Nepali.”

Language loyalty

This is the part where we decide how much one is inclined to their mother tongue. “Nepali is learned and spoken everywhere, but language teaching is just one domain, so is film, writing and media as different domains, which must all come together. Some domains are being lost. There was a time when official letters or applications could be written to the government in Nepali, now that stands lost. The practice has been lost since the late 1990s, a few years after the Nepali language was recognised. The usage of language is lost on an official level. The loyalty is lost to English. A doctor or engineer can recite Shakespeare’s literature. But for Nepali literature, people feel that it is only for students or the faculty of the Nepali language. The protection is a responsibility only for them, not for administrators or others, when we speak Nepali so abundantly,” Pandey adds.

Birth of linguistic sub-nationalism

Pandey also shared how language is diminishing as it depends on power. “Sanskrit was a powerful language, then came other languages in India, then came Urdu and soon, English influence dictated us. These are different generations but even now English dictates. In Sikkim, with the Namgyal Dynasty, Bhutia and Tibetan languages found prominence. Hence, those who rule will dictate the language. We are colonized in our language in that manner, and colonial language still overrules us. It still proves that English is elite, it is an educated language and that it keeps colonising despite the loss of colonial power upon us,” he says.

What ails the language?

“The practice of reading is not there in Nepali… conversational Nepali has been broken down even for English language and in that process, Nepali gets lost. The same gets precedence from school, which gets changed in University level. It becomes difficult…elementary level or schools do not have a syllabus designed by our people, they come from NCERT which becomes different as it fails to connect with the students,” says Professor Pushpa Sharma of Sikkim University.

“Nepali language is seen as a responsibility of language and literature enthusiasts along with faculties rather than the people who are using the language every day. The celebration of the day is everyone’s responsibility. If the department doesn’t, others won’t recognise the day,” Professor Kabita Lama of Nepali Department, SU, adds.

The solution

To develop interest, Nepali is far more scientific in its writing than in English. Future and furniture will have different pronunciations, same goes for conduct as a noun and conduct as a verb, the stressing power differentiates. The same pronunciation gets different, the context differs the language. “Same goes for Nepali when spoken and written, the pronunciation is where our students suffer the most for simple grammar. But we indeed need to simplify the Nepali language to make it more accessible for all, the rules need to be simplified,” adds Balaram Pandey.

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