Padma Shri Dr Ganesh Devy, literary critic, activist and one of the writers who returned their Sahitya Akademi Awards, is leaving Vadodara, his home of 36 years, to Dharwad in Karnataka.
Devy, founder and former director of the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre and the Adivasi Academy in Tejgadh, Gujarat, had spearheaded a first-of-its-kind study of tribal communities and led the research of 800 Indian languages through People’s Linguistic Survey of India in 2010. In this interview, he talks of his plans and a movement he has launched, Dakshinayan, and a conclave in Dandi on January 30. Excerpts:
Why this forum
“My anxiety is also born out of the study of diminishing languages, not only made of words, but also diminishing understanding among people, societies, villages, cities, genders and those asking for rights and prosperity. For how long can we go on quarreling? There has to be a dialogue, a multilogue, a polyphony and this movement is a modest attempt. It will help understand one’s literary identity and that of being a citizen, within a pluralistic society. I am happy if that understanding develops.”
Bridge between writers
“All over the country there is a sharp divide between those who think that they are brilliant and those who think that they are not as brilliant. I am trying to go beyond this divide and bridge it. Thus, I had sent out an open appeal to writers to volunteer to join us. I reached out wherever I could reach.”
“If somebody looks at it as mainly or only an anti-government activity, which it is not, then it is difficult to imagine its future. But if it is seen as a larger literary and a social movement, which it actually is, then it will last. The Sarv Bhasha Samvad (the conclave) brought together rational people, who are promoting harmony among social identities. It also has elements that seek to protect the fundamental rights of expression and dignity of human life and so it has a long future. I am steering this movement and, for one, am absolutely clear that it shall not become a small political movement, but a large cultural and social movement. Some speakers may have spoken against political parties, but this forum is not a politically oriented forum and is not run by a political party or its affiliates. It is not a leftist or a rightist forum but it is a forum for dialogue. So Dandi was chosen…”
How it works
Devy said writers from across the country have organised meetings in their respective states to promote the ideas of co-existence and exchange of ideas. A meeting in Aurangabad on February 6 will get together Marathi writers, while Goa’s writers and dramatists will support the movement with a public event. Devy said:
“These are writers from Goa who have been seeking a Konkani identity. They have decided to be more sensitive to Marathi and Kannada, their neighboring languages. That is a change in their dynamics. Similarly, Kannada has seen literature conflicts between the Lingayats and the Jains. But on February 8 and 9, a meeting in Dharwad will bring these literary schools of thought together. In Gujarat there will be several meetings. In every state the writers will hold meetings — they will talk to other creative persons in their states and develop an idea of what it means in Sarv Bhasha Samvad.”
“This is the first time that Gujarati writers met other writers from Karnataka and other states. They have realised they need to open up.” Devy said the biggest contingent of writers was from Gujarat with 176 registered participants, followed by 161 writers from Maharashtra, 19 from Goa and 97 from Karnataka, plus writers from Delhi, Bengal, Assam, Rajasthan, Andhra and other states.
“I came to Vadodara in 1980 because my PhD was on Aurobindo’s poetry and he used to teach here. I had been greatly admiring the works done for Indian languages by Sir Sayajirao Gaekwad and artists in Vadodara… The question of languages took me to the tribals. I explored tribal languages and then decided to go to the rest of the country through the Linguistic Survery of India, but by remaining in Gujarat. This time, the Tribal Academy is well set and is recognised in the country, I have the satisfaction of having it running and the team is efficient. I have the time to turn to something that attracts me.”
“I propose to work on two projects to study the future of languages of the world. In 2015, we had a conference on Global Language Status Report, trying to create an international group of linguists and technology persons and community organisations to initiate this in different countries that are war-free… The second project takes into account all countries that have a tribal population and requires a anthropology and linguistics backup.”