The State of Bundeli Language: Interview with Shri Madhukar Shah Joo Deo by ​Dipak Barkhade

Interview of Shri Madhukar Shah Joo Deo by ​Dipak Barkhade :

The State of Bundeli Language: an Interview with Madhukar Shah Joo Deo 

Dipak Barkhade:I would like to discuss, including you, your support to the progress of Bundeli language.
Madhukar Shah: What do you want to know about me? I am one retired man of 76 years old. So, what is there to know? 

[Kailash Madbaiya, the President of Akhil Bharatiya Bundelkhand Sahitya and Sanskriti Parishad, addressing Bundeli Bhasha kau Rashtriya Sammelan (BBRS) held at Orchha, Tikamgarh (MP) and Madhukar Shah Joo Deo sitting at fifth from the left side with the former Cabinet Minister of Labour, Aditya Jain of Jhansi constituency, UP and other senior personalities]


Sir, I found a significant difference in your position when you had mentioned two important points during BBRS held in Orchha, on 9th-10th January 2016: (a) you had cited the incidence of ethnic violence occurred in France; (b) your uncle had registered hatred for Hindi language with the slogan, “Hindi down, down” on the door of his home in the 1960s.  I learnt that we have to be very cautious with the idea that the politics of Bundeli language may not cause any violence in the discourse of Bundeli language underway.  How do you explain the events of violence in the present and the past in relation to an imagined linguistic identity further?

I see the reality on contrary to what you expect ought not to occur in the case of politics of Bundeli language and identity. What violence may happen in the case of a suppressed language? In Hindi world, all the smaller languages will slowly get extinct. They do not have any future. The Hindi language will devour them. This is an unfortunate matter. There is no escape from it. Braj, Bundeli and Avadhi will extinct. Only Hindi will survive in the sub-regions of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Madhya Pradesh (MP). In Bihar, Magahi (Magadhi), Maithili and Bhojpuri will extinct. All these languages do not have a script and they are spoken by the local people. If you draw them on a linguistic graph in terms of their status, you can see their degradation. In Rajasthan, Dhundari, Marwari, Mewati, Hadoti etc. are dying and Hindi is becoming powerful. In MP, Nimadi, Malawi, Bagheli, Bundeli etc. have almost died. Bangaru in Haryana, Pahari languages in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have almost extinguished. So, what battle will these smaller languages fight back against the hegemony of Hindi? The Hindi language suppressed them. I don’t see any hope for them in the future. Therefore, you are showing the struggle opposite to the real condition of Bundeli language in particular and many of these endangered languages in general. We people keep holding sammelan (conference) for the well-being of Bundeli language. Again, this year we are organizing it. You contact Mr Kailash Madbaiya. I offered him dates to fix the conference on 4th or 6th January 2017 . If he is willing, I can arrange the facilities in my hotel like I did it the last year for two days. But I do not keep any special hopes for the protection of the smaller languages personally. State patronage is zero. The new generation does not like to speak their home-languages. Languages live when they are spoken. By writing one poetry or some pieces of prose, how can Bundeli and other languages be protected?

I agree with your views. But there are some attempts made, for example, of teaching the students in Bundeli as well. 

No effective efforts are made. I don’t feel anything. I see that if the new generation of Bundelkhand is spoken something in Bundeli, they reply in Hindi. The people of old generation like me, who has crossed the seventies, know Bundeli and speak it but other people of young and intermediate age don’t speak it. What can we do now? Seth Govind Das (1896-1974), a freedom fighter, a distinguished parliamentarian and a Gandhian who supported Hindi ‘as a national language,’ had desired that Hindi become powerful language once upon a time. It has become the reality now. 44 per cent influence is of Hindi language in India, which is high. Punjabi escaped from the influence of Hindi language because its supporters adopted Gurumukhi script. Otherwise, it might have been extinguished as well. 

Is there any possibility to save Bundeli by claiming any suitable script for it? For instance, Prof. V Krishna worked on Gondi script with his team at the Centre for Dalit and Adivasi Studies, University of Hyderabad. He argues that it is inappropriate to attribute smaller languages the fate of ‘endangered’ languages. If the scripts of the smaller languages are introduced, it is possible to protect them.

But the script of Bundeli language does not exist at all unlike the experts in Pakistan who have resurrected their own Punjabi script named Shahmukhi now. Punjabi was written in Shahmukhi script in Nastaleeq calligraphic style. They made some efforts in Pakistan. I was reading about it. I found that some newspapers are printed in 2000 copies. It is amazing to know that there is something called Shahmukhi which the experts found in their research and used to protect Punjabi in Pakistan like the experts of India who saved their Punjabi language by using Gurumukhi script. Now onwards, I don’t have any idea how much they can succeed in their efforts to protect it. I have never been there and seen anything. 

It is alright to see academician like Prof. V Krishna making an attempt to protect Gondi but where is the Gondi script being used? It is not being used at all. In fact, the most serious damage has been caused upon the lives of the Adivasi people. We elites seized their land, language and script and kept them at the bottom level of development. After all, the Gond Adivasi members were the raj-Gonds, the kings from the historical point of view.  

Yes, they are called the Pradhan-Gonds. 

Sadly, the identity of Adivasi is equated with the Naxalite movement now.  They were at the upper strata of life. But they have been pushed under at the strata of very proletariat class. What can we do now? There is no awareness and sensitization happening to deal with their issues and solve their problems in India. 

What I am receiving from you is a narrative of pessimism pertaining to the dark state in which the smaller languages are living today.  It is undeniable. But what is the alternative in terms of a solution possible in this process? 
I have been making endeavours for years by sponsoring and providing facilities to the elite member like Mr Madbaiya ji who organizes the events for the development of Bundeli language yearly. But I do feel that it a losing battle; it is not a winning battle. 

Do you know others who are trying like you and him for the development of Bundeli language? 
There are some but in small numbers. They try. But what can they do? There is no official policy; all the newspaper and media are published in the Hindi language except one called Khabar Lahariya; cinema is also produced in Hindi; even the state is against Bundeli. The novel and other writings are coming up in Hindi only. How can they win? It is too difficult.

We drafted a letter to Rajnath Singh, the Home Minister of India, during the BBRS, demanding in it the recognition for Bundeli in the Eight Schedule (ES) of Indian constitution. Didn’t we?  
What can Rajnath Singh do? What interest does he have? He has no interest! He belongs to Banaras. If he saves Bhojpuri alone, which is his mother tongue, it would be a big deal. He can’t save his mother-tongue, what possibility is there that he will protect our Bundeli language?

Do you think we have some representatives in the cabinet or parliament who can propose the idea of Bundeli language? 
There are many. They are trying. But even if Bundeli language is recognized in the ES, what change will that produce? It will be a small change. But the rest of thing is stuck against. So, nothing is going to change any further.

Like others, Sadhna Saxena argues that the recognition conferred on languages in the ES is marked by an illusion and a deception though there is a promise of linguistic uniformity in their inclusion from the side of the Indian state. For example, she notes, the per cent of Hindi speakers were around 30 per cent in 1971 but they increased to 40 per cent in next decade . What is your view?  

What the Indian state define uniformity is the opposite of diversity. I have two young servants from Orchha.  They speak Hindi. They do not speak Bundeli. I speak with them in Bundeli. They may not answer me in Bundeli; if they speak at home, I don’t know.  But I don’t see any of them speaking with me in Bundeli.   

Against the sense of crisis in our current exchange, it is significant to see a population of Dalit community of Bundeli speakers in south Gujarat and north Maharashtra from where I come and join the political endeavours of the elites of Bundelkhand. How do you appreciate that? 

I am amazed indeed. I tell you one another real story.  There was a Mirza Nasim Ahmed. He lived in Lahore. He corresponded with me till about thirty years. He informed me that brother of Imam Baksha, Gama Pehalwan (1878-1960), the first World Heavyweight Champion and the people of some ten houses spoke Bundeli in the street of Lahore city. I asked him how it had happened. He informed me that they had migrated there from Datiya, Orchha and Tikamgarh of Bundelkhand. But I think that generation must be dead long ago. And Nasim Ahmed migrated to Canada from Pakistan. Now, I do not know where his children are while Gama Pehalwan, of course, was dead long ago. 

In this case, I would like to know from you about your early life. Where did you spend your childhood? What times did you pass through?
I was born on 8th December in 1944 before the independence of India. I spent my childhood in Bundelkhand of MP. I completed my school at Doon’s School of Dehra Dun. I joined Saint Stephens’s College in Delhi and later completed my Bachelors and Masters in history in 1964.  Later, I was admitted by Prof. Stanely Wallfort at the University of Cambridge in Los Angeles for my PhD in history. I lived in America for four years.  Prof. Wallfort informed me that there were very fewer students left in India to learn Persian. He suggested me that, particularly, those who were Hindus should learn Persian. So, I studied Persian too. But I could not complete my PhD since my father and grandmother both had passed away. I had to return back my home in India to look after my business and property. I was the only child of my parents. 

You shared a memory of your uncle, who lived in the Telugu region, in reference to his hatred for the Hindi language. How did that connection take place? 
It was my younger mamaji (mother’s brother). I used to visit his house in Madras during vacations then. My uncle was a businessman. He did not have any special attachment to the Hindi language. He did not even belong to Hindi region. He spoke English, Telugu and Tamil. Likewise, there must be many who spoke Marathi, Kannada but did not show any emotion for the Hindi language.

Your uncle was not a political figure. He disliked Hindi as a social figure. What is your view on the linguistic conflict which took place at that time in south India? 
Hindustan is not a monolithic nation. It does not belong to one language but many languages. Hindi devoured the powerless languages; whereas, Hindi could not swallow the powerful languages like Bangla, Urdu, Tamil, Marathi and Gujarati. There was so much effort behind it but it could not succeed.

Coming back to the implication of migration, there are some lakhs of people in Tamil Nadu who speak Bundeli. It is called Bondeli. Some communities migrated in past with the legacy of Bundeli language. Did you know about such migrant community before? 
You can find the connection of such migrant community in the book which I had given you in the BBRS . Until you informed me about your ethno-linguistic minority which migrated from Bundelkhand and subsequently settled in north Maharashtra and south Gujarat and until I read the book I have given you, I did not have any idea that such large numbers of Bundeli speakers live other than the territory of Bundelkhand. I thought there might be some ten houses; for example, I talked about Gama Pehalwan who was from Datiya of Bundelkhand but later lived with his people in Lahore city and continued to speak Bundeli there. But I did not know about the sizeable population. It is you who enlightened me about it. 

The Dalits of the ethno-linguistic minority settled in south Gujarat and north Maharashtra are aware of the legend warriors, Aalha and Udal popular in Bundelkhand. They have continued to celebrate the festival of Bhujariya popular as Kajali festival in Bundelkhand. As you mentioned during BBRS, it is true that Dalit and Adivasi have preserved Bundeli language and culture.  Don’t you think Bundeli and other co-existing languages are spoken by Dalits and Adivasi may become subject to erasures in the current process of standardization of Bundeli? 

Dalit and Adivasi have been crushed totally. They have not been given any importance at all.  It is happening completely because Bundeli is an Indo-Aryan language while Gondi, for example, is a local language of Bundelkhand. But Gondi language was more erased, unlike Bundeli which is spoken to some extent and promoted by a few numbers of elites and literates. The languages of Bhil or Gond communities do not exist at all.

I share my experience with you in this regard. I sent Mr Madbaiya a script of ekanki (one-act play) in Bundeli language to participate in BBRS. He called my ‘written’ script a boli (dialect) and asked me to transform it into the bhasha (language). I found great difficulties in rewriting the script in the expected standard form. I am pointing out the limitations inherent in expecting a standard form of Bundeli. What is your take on that?

But we invited you finally and supported you with money. We honoured you to the extent possible. What could we do more than that? Nothing can be done more than that! Your Bundeli language is a little different while the Bundeli intellectuals expect a standardized Bundeli from you in writing which is not possible.

Yes, that’s the point. So, we aim to contribute the linguistic differences in the development of Bundeli language which is emerging in the print culture of Bundelkhand. 
I have hope from the young generation like you. I am an old man. I am not sure of the future as I am a diabetes patient and my health is deteriorating. What can I do? To the extent possible, I help to organize the conference each year to promote Bundeli language. Mr Madbaiya works harder than me of course.

You had mentioned at the BBRS that you were proposed a seat in the cabinet ministry, weren’t you?
Rajiv Gandhi had suggested me to take the ticket and fight election for Ministry of Parliament. He proposed me that idea because he thought that I had inherited wealth holding a princely legacy but it was not the case. The election demanded a large amount of money to win it and interest as well. I lacked both.

Mr Madbaiya brought out some collections of essays in standard form and created the discourse of linguistic and cultural identity of Bundelkhand in the 1990s. His efforts are relentless. He continues to write, edit and publish prose literature in Bundeli. Do you find any background, in this case, say, the demand for the separate state of Bundelkhand? 

I do not think that there was any hope arose in public for the separate state of Bundelkhand in the 1990s. Nothing remarkable happened in the 1990s. We have six ministers (MPs) of Bundelkhand. These ministers are from BJP. They are from the districts of Damoh, Sagar, Panna, Chhatarpur and Tikamgarh. However, none of them speaks on behalf of Bundelkhand in terms of language and culture. Vitthalbhai Patel  (1936-2013) was the last political figure from Sagar who was the minister of the state and continued to promote Bundeli language. He is no more now.

Lastly, what do you think about the future of Bundeli language
I don’t think anything positive will happen as far as the future of Bundeli language is concerned. May I take your permission now? 

Yes, please. Thank you for sharing the important details on the state of smaller languages in general and Bundeli in particular. 

[Dipak Barkhade is a PhD candidate at University of Hyderabad.]

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