So much has changed in the design of the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes. When it comes to iconography, notice the inclusion of the Swachh Bharat symbol (the Gandhi glasses), as well as the Mangalyaan (the Mars orbiter) and the Red Fort. Also, in addition to an English version, the numerals spelling out the note’s denomination are also written in Hindi.
Those are big changes in design, and some argue about the motive behind them. This is the first time in generations that we are seeing Hindu-Arabic numerals on the notes, something that The Wire magazine describes as being in direct ‘contravention of the constitution’. And while the article dives into the current government’s self-appointed role as defender of the Hindi language, we wonder, who will stand up for, and preserve our country’s other languages?
According to a survey by the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, there are far more than the 122 languages that have an ‘official status’ stamp of approval. As people, we easily speak in up to 780, and the study team suspects it can add another 100 to that list. It also places 220 on the extinct list, and 150 on the endangered list. For example, have you heard of Chaimal? No? It’s because, it’s spoken by people belonging to the smallest of tribes of Tripura, which the survey pegs as being spoken by just four or five people.
Have you heard of Mehali? Or Abahatta? No, you will not have, because unlike Chaimal, which is in its death throes, these are already dead languages. As are the ones below:
A sister system of the Devnagari script, it was primarily used by the kayasthas – administrators and accountants – from the Mughal and early Raj period in Indian history. A precursor to Bhojpuri, Urdu, Awadhi, Maithili and certain Bengali dialects among others, it was widely used until the early 20th century. In fact, during the Raj, the script was used as the official language of Bihar’s courts.
A precursor to Bengali, Maithili, Assamese and Oriya, Abahatta was a language of poets that was used between the 6th – 14th centuries. Derived from Prakrit, it was popular with the Charyapada poets who wrote dohas, it was also used extensively by the influential 13th century poet and writer Vidyapati.
Derived from Swahili, Sidi is a Bantu language from India that was spoken by the Sidis, a small, small community of Indians of African descent. The progeny of slaves, soldiers and traders, they first came to India in the 9th century; a second wave was brought in by the Portuguese. Over centuries, the language of the Sidis, who have settled in Gujarat and Karnataka, has become as Indian as their customs.
The mother tongue of the Majhi tribe of Sikkim, it is only spoken by four people in one valley. And according to an article by the Independent, only simple words such as mother, father and simple lines, including a prayer for the departed are remembered.
An ancient language spoken on the Andaman Islands, Bo passed into extinction when it’s last speaker, Boa Senior, died in 2010. One of a group of languages that originated in Africa, it was known only to Boa for the last 30-40 years. It’s one of two local languages that have been lost over time, and is considered a blow for anthropological research because several Andamanese languages date back to pre-Neolithic times (or about 7,000 years).
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