"IF you talk to a person in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." — Nelson Mandela.
Fiji- Hindi has long been categorised and subjected to various beliefs that suggest that it is not a developed or real language, it has no depth for creativity and has a limiting cultural and emotional range.
Much of the arguments lack archival research and most are often derived from a limited world view of linguistic changes in the process of globalisation. There are some 460,000 first language speakers of Fiji-Hindi out of which about 160,000 reside in Australia, New Zealand, US and Canada. The Fiji-Indian diaspora is vibrant and alive today because of Fiji- Hindi being interwined in their global identities.
Fiji-Hindi is the mother tongue of this diaspora and is the language of communication, socialisation, creativity and often a multicultural tool in linking with other communities in their homelands.
Fiji-Hindi is rooted in history like all other colonial languages. Its genesis is embedded in the Indenture period and the Girmit — bonded labour that people from India went through during the British colonial rule in Fiji. The descendants of these labourers who toiled and lived an enslaved existence mostly have had a marginalised existence and identity ever since.
Fiji-Indians have had to forge an identity amidst all the conflict and chaos that the indenture period inflicted on the labourers. The colonisation process initially marginalised the labourers from their own cultural heritage and their local languages like Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, different varieties of northern languages like Awadhi, Bhojpuri etc.
For the sake of survival, a new dialect was developed to ease communication between the different ethnic groups and was encouraged by the British colonisers initially. This was "Fiji Baat". The linguistic effects of contact are often lexical, semantic and phonological. In such circumstances, what is known as a koine often develops, through a process known as koineisation. Each dialect contributes some elements and the resultant koine is a blend of the original dialects. Fiji-Hindi, a survivor's language is more than just Fiji baat (Fiji talk) now. It has taken the shape of a vibrant Koine language for the community of Fijians of Indian descent.
Fiji-Hindi has been doubly marginalised. Firstly in colonial terms and secondly by the cultural elite of the Indian community themselves who in their zeal to safeguard the "Indian" identity often identify Fiji-Hindi as a linguistic threat and therefore continue to suppress it from taking a more official status. Standard Hindi in Devnagri script is often given priority at the expense of Fiji-Hindi.
Official status has always been awarded to Standard Hindi and from its genesis till now, Fiji-Hindi has taken the backstage. From media to educational curriculum and right down to cultural and religious functions in Fiji-Indian communities, Standard Hindi has been nominated as the language of communication for all public and official duties.
As a consequence, Fiji-Hindi has suffered in this linguistic castration and lacks the dignity and pride that should be associated with a mother tongue. Societal forces which includes the cultural elite often become self-regulatory bodies and a voice unto themselves. They represent the various cultural and religious organisations who in their eagerness to promote a certain ideology often degrade and downplay other voices such as that of Fiji-Hindi. In denying a linguistic platform to Fiji-Hindi, they are depriving a whole community of its voice.
They are often seen canvassing the support of the government and of foreign agencies to assist them in establishing a standard linguistic identity for Fiji-Indians which at times is not a fair representation of who they really are. Academics, scholars, public officials and all concerned individuals must acknowledge that Fiji-Indians are enriched by two languages i.e. Standard Hindi and their mother tongue Fiji-Hindi which needs national recognition by all. The linguistic misnomer that by focusing on the mother tongue would ultimately result in the erosion of all Indian values, ethics and cultural archtypes are falsified truths that have been encouraged by these very cultural elites and have no archival basis.
These half-baked truths have become so prevalent and perennial that most Fiji-Indians have taken it to be a historical fact and the lack of critical inquiry has resulted in the subversion of one language at the expense of another. This should not be encouraged. Instead both languages of the Fiji-Indian community must be protected and treated equally. International research is pointing strongly to the argument that if a community loses its mother tongue, the younger generation i.e. youths would revert to the coloniser's language; English in Fiji's case. Empirical research is pointing in the same direction in the community of Fijians of Indian descenttoday.
Another concern that is of importance is the fact that despite being the mother tongue and lingua franca of the Fiji-Indian community today, Fiji-Hindi has an overtly oral or spoken status. Because of this, it is not taken seriously and no official status is being provided to boost its use in the written script. Until recently, Rajend Prasad, a scholar at the University of the South Pacific is now conducting a grammar sketch of Fiji-Hindi.
This means that very soon a phonetic system based on the Roman alphabet would now be available to all Fiji-Indians who want to write or read in their own language. This is a landmark point in our history since most Fiji-Indians do not use the Devnagri Script used for the Hindi language.
A certain amount of reluctance, intellectual indifference and linguistic prejudice has resulted in this subaltern language losing ground to Standard Hindi and English.
Although majority of the Fiji-Indians continue to use their mother tongue in various modes and as well as in multi- cultural contexts, they often refuse to lend credibility to their first language i.e. step-motherly treatment of their mother tongue. In addition Fiji-Hindi is often relegated a lower status as a result of class consciousness. The cultural elite in the Fiji-Indian community often use class as a measuring tool and this snobbery inhibits the Fiji-Hindi speakers to use their language more creatively and in the long-term a sense of shame and feelings of inferiority has settled in them.
This sense of superiority stems from the colonial era when local vernaculars were not encouraged and the English language was considered the best language to reason in. Today the linguistic controversy is a spill on effect of colonial policies and the standard vernacular is being imposed on the mother tongue and the small percentage of elites who do use it often perceive Fiji-Hindi as inferior.
Writing and artistic works can only come through when the people themselves feel a sense of belonging and pride in their own language. The Fiji-Hindi literary project will go a step further to foster nation building. Development of new literature means development of the national consciousness. Major literary works by international writers, artists, scholars, academics, public office holders, theologians and spiritual gurus give testimony to the fact that works compiled in one's mother tongue have become cornerstones of literary advances and repositories of epistemological knowledge.
In 2001, the first Fiji-Hindi novel, Dauka Puraan in Devnagri script written by Prof Subramani was published. This is itself a ground-breaking historical reality for the Fiji-Indian community and for all the rest of Fiji and the Fiji diaspora. It will become the forerunner to the other pieces of literary production that will come from this language. As Lal B states in Contemporary Pacific (2003): The publication of Dauka Puran is an important event in the literary and cultural history of the Indo-Fijian community in particular and of Fiji in general. The novel may also be the longest piece of sustained prose in a vernacular language in the entire written literature of the Pacific islands. This is no mean achievement.
Chronicalisation of one's memories either historical or fictional accounts in one's mother tongue will lead on to that becoming archival knowledge which in turn will spur more research and promote greater creativity in multi-sectoral dimensions. The Pacific region and international support for the development of a local language will also boost the image and use of Fiji-Hindi. There is a lot of scope for Fiji-Hindi in different forms of mass media today.
The use of modern technology can be harnessed to develop television serials, music videos, multi-lingual advertisements, online chat shows and development of local social networking sites, sports, women and gardening programs and radio programs for all types of audiences. The future has immense potential and Fiji-Hindi has the dynamism to incorporate different forms of ideologies and still sustain itself. Another feat of Fiji-Hindi would be to develop educational curriculum at tertiary level to foster better relations in our multicultural society. This is essential in Fiji's context since a lack of stability has shown that different ethnic groups have not been able to understand each other because of the lack of linguistic compatibility and tolerance.
Some developments recently include the panel on Fiji-Hindi in USP and the intense debates that followed reflect succinctly that Fiji-Hindi is a Pacific language. Blogs and electronic sources show that there is immense interest in this language. The youths are leading the way by penning lyrics, Fiji-Hindi rap, Fiji-Hindi radio stations in the diaspora, our own Navtarang has been bold enough to host a one-hour program in the afternoon drive daily which has turned out to be quite popular for the audience since it is in their mother tongue. Kudos to them!
Then one also notes the fact that Sadasivan Naicker, the president of Then India Sanmarga Ikya (TISI) SANGAM organisation in The Girmit Centre, Lautoka this month announced that a new institute for art, culture and language was being planned in the Western Division and that Tamil, Telegu and Malayam would be taught. This is an attempt to revamp the use of those southern languages that had been suppressed by the north Indian language — Hindi — in the indenture period. This itself is evidence that Hindi was not the mother tongue of so many girmitya. Most Indians need to become aware of their own history to understand better the language dynamics in this nation today.
The Fiji- Hindi literary project needs to be given an official status. It is part of the "Fijian Made" campaign now. More writings in Fiji- Hindi in Devnagri and Roman script would lend it more credibility and pride and should be encouraged. Varieties of Fiji-Hindi must be developed both in oral forums as well as in the written script. Archival research is crucial for Fiji-Hindi to expand its creative aspects and open it to more critical inquiry.
* Regina Naidu is a lecturer at the Fiji
National University's Nadi campus. Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily that of The Fiji Times.