Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014

Scripting Their Stories

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj | Posted: February 23, 2014 12:22 am | Updated: February 22, 2014 10:48 pm

The first Gondi font developed by a Bhopal-based undergrad student seeks to empower the Gond tribals of central India.

If the struggle of the subaltern is essentially of memory against forgetting, its lone weapon is language. Not a fading, fumbling dialect, but words sealed in a well-defined script, expressed through love letters as well as academic discourse.

A father-son duo, belonging to the Gond tribe, is trying to take their language online by developing a font for Gondi script. This could fundamentally alter the Gondi-speaking zone and the conditions of tribals across the central Indian forests.

Guided by his father, Sangram Singh Markam, a 23-year-old mathematics undergraduate student, has developed the font. Having used it effectively on the computer, he is now devising its Unicode. Once done, anyone can type Gondi words using popular fonts, say Arial or Times New Roman, and it would get transliterated into the Gondi script. An online Gondi-Hindi/English dictionary follows next, where if you type, say, iggewara in Gondi, you will get its meaning, “come here” in English or “yahan aao” in Hindi.

The technological strides will enable Gond tribals to narrate first-hand the most authentic accounts of their lives, their fables and parables, the tragedies and dreams drowned in the din of the police-Naxal conflict in the last few decades.

The Markams have found a techno-social collaborator in former South Asia BBC producer Shubhranshu Chaudhary and his project, http://www.adivasiswara.org. It is the first-ever site to use the Gondi script and the font developed by Sangram. A Hindi translation accompanies the script.

“My father came up with the idea of developing this font. Almost all languages are on the computer today. We have already developed the beta version of the font, the bigger challenge is now to develop a Unicode font for Gondi. We hope to get it in a few months. It will then make Gondi accessible to all,” says Sangram.

Among the most prominent tribes of central India, Gonds live across Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Six MPs of adjoining tribal constituencies, cutting through these states, and forming a continuous belt — Nabrangpur, Koraput, Araku, Bastar, Gadchiroli-Chimur and Mandla — are Gond tribals. One of them, Araku MP KC Dev, is the Union cabinet minister for tribal affairs. Together, these constituencies form a geographical area bigger than several states, and this excludes several other adjoining reserved tribal constituencies like Kanker and Sundargarh represented by non-Gond tribes.

“There are 27 lakh people who speak Gondi, but the language is not recognised. Few know about our tradition and oral literature,” says Sangram’s father, Gulzar Singh Markam. While Sangram studies in a Bhopal college, Gulzar is a leader of Gondwana Gantantra Party, a party working for the rights of Gondi people, and works in BHEL, Bhopal.

Gonds have had a glorious past as local chieftains across central India. They fought several battles against invaders, be it medieval kings or the British, to protect their territory, from Bastar to Nagpur. They got caught between the Naxal conflict that dominated their zones and continued…

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