Bhasha Research & Publication Centre: Devy, linguist who gave voice to tribal languages, calls it quits

Among his audience were hundred-odd full-time members of Bhasha who assembled under the same tree to share their collective responsibility for the organisation that could guide.

Written by Kumar Anand | Vadodara | Published:September 8, 2015 2:28 am
Ganesh Devy sits atop a rock at the Academy. Bhupendra Rana Ganesh Devy sits atop a rock at the Academy. Bhupendra Rana

Noted linguist, tribal activist and Sahitya Akademi award winning author Ganesh Devy has decided to no longer involve himself in the activities of the Bhasha Research & Publication Centre, a Vadodara-based organisation that he founded around two decades ago primarily for the study, documentation and conservation of marginalised languages.

On August 25, sitting atop a rock under the mahuda tree in the Adivasi Academy situated in Tejgadh in Chhota Udepur district, 65-year-old Devy told his audience: “I had come to Tejgadh empty-handed, and I have not taken anything except learning. I’m going back as an enriched person.” This was the place where he had started out, when he set up the academy.

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Among his audience were hundred-odd full-time members of Bhasha who assembled under the same tree to share their collective responsibility for the organisation that could guide and take it to a new high.

“After establishing something that has worked so well, I decided to pull myself out of it. As a founder member of the Bhasha Trust, I had already resigned in 2011 as a trustee but continued to work as an advisor. Now, I have decided to completely distance myself from the activities of Bhasha, and will only be available once or twice in a year,” Devy told The Indian Express.

“I’d like to be forgotten and not remembered, because I believe that an individual doesn’t matter much even as the world around him continues. I had to do this work for the society, and I did it to my satisfaction,” he added.

Devy said that when he started the Bhasha Centre in 1996, the annual budget for the first year was Rs 70,000, the money that he pooled in from the provident fund that he received after resigning as professor of English literature from the MS University of Baroda. “Today, our annual budget is around Rs 5 crore. We have got the support of the central government and have made good name all across the country and internationally because of the People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI),” he said.

When he first thought of setting up Bhasha two decades ago, he had three aims in mind, the first being to encourage understanding and preservation of tribal languages, the second to reverse migration of Adivasi from cities through introduction of micro credit and food banks, and the third to explore and learn from the tribals about their rituals, traditions, and arts in order to enrich his understanding of Indian literary criticism and aesthetics.

While he now wants to involve himself more intensely towards “intellectual activities such as writing,” Bhasha as an organisation has many plans lined up for another 10 years, he said.

“Bhasha is working on a digital hand-held dictionary of Indian languages which can translate one language into another, using our own database of 780 languages that we recorded as part of PLSI, our pan-India language survey.

It is also working on compiling oral literature of nearly 400 languages. A status report, or lok patra, of tribal constituencies has also been planned. There are plans to bring our pictorial glossary of 700 Indian languages. Bhasha will continue to support its multilingual school programmes and strengthen and enrich the PLSI volumes,” he said while discussing the future plans of the organisation.

Bhasha’s own towering achievement, the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, or PLSI, was initiated by Ganesh Devy around a decade ago but was formally launched in 2010 and a majority of the work was done by December 2012. The 780 languages that have been collected as part of the survey are being published in more than 50 volumes in both English and Hindi.

The world’s largest language survey became the first comprehensive survey of language in the country ever since an Irish linguist George Grierson came up with the compilation of 364 languages that existed in India between 1894 and 1928. Devy was also awarded Padma Shri in 2014.

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