Photo Credit: Telangana Tourism & Mohit R. Juturu

The Telugu World Column# 01

Is Telugu Dying, as UN says?

Telugu people forget their mother-tongue most. Of the 22 Indian languages, Telugu, the language of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states, is the one most forgotten by those who claim it to be their mother-tongue: most of them speak or understand it, but can’t read/write it and prefer to speak to each other in English, Hindi or some local language.

Millions of Telugu people live outside the two Telugu states. They become so integrated with the local people that they never pose a problem of integration, identify themselves with the locals and even join their movements. Two districts of Maharashtra, Gadchiroli and Chandrapur, two in Karnataka, Bellary and Kolar and two towns of Odisha, Jeypore and Barampuram, are full of people who remember their mother tongue only once in 10 years — during the population census.

One of India’s oldest railways was the Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR), from Kolkata and passing though Visakhapatnam and other parts of Andhra besides Odisha,Bihar and parts of Vidarbha area of Maharashtra. Because of this all these areas have people from Andhra and Bengal who settled there generations ago as railway employees. 

Once, in 1960s to be precise, many shops in Jamshedpur then in Bihar and now is Jharkhand) had their name boards in Telugu and Bengali. Most shopkeepers there also spoke those languages.

Jamshedpur also had a magazine for Telugus settled outside, called ‘Pravasi’.  I found Telugu type cases (in the era of metal types) in a printing press in Nagpur. A Gyanpith awardees for Kannada, D.V. Gundappa, was of Andhra origin.  Most people in Karnataka understand Telugu as many of them, claiming to be Kannadigas, migrated from Andhra. In most Indian cities people of all Indian languages live in peace. And yet, politicians in India play dirty politics over language.

Purely for political reasons and due to agitation against exploitation by people of coastal Andhra, the Congress Party split AP into two states – Andhra and Telangana, The latter was a part of the state of the Nizam who, being a Muslim, tried to join Pakistan during communal partition of India. The Nizam, backed by Razakar militants (now MIM party), was opposed by many including a young journalist Shoebullah Khan, brutally murdered and his hands severed by the Razakars. This led to police action by Sardar Patel.

(The centenary of Shoeb is a few months away in 2020, but my proposal to observe it and use it to regulate the sorry state of mass communication studies in India had no takers as few even in Telangana know about him. Some in BJP are averse as he was a Muslim and TRS, the Telangana ruling party, ignores him as MIM is its ally. Some allege Telangana has separated from AP because its culture and language are influenced by the Islamic rule and the Nizam.)

A Telugu scholar, Dr Balaji Utla, chairman of Centre for Environment Concerns (an NGO) and ex-CEO of many companies, asks: “If we speak to our children and grandchildren in English (or Hindi) how will they learn (Telugu)?”  It is NOT possible, he says, to study in Telugu medium till 5th or 7th class and then switch over to English medium (necessary for the global ambitions of Telugu people, as most Indians in New Jersey are Telugus.) Every second house in the two states has a student studying in the USA. Telugus, says United Nations Organization, is the second largest foreign language group in the USA.

Dr Balaji says the populations of both the Telugu states are shrinking as their growth rates are 1.68 and 1.78 and the replacement rate 2.1. Will all this lead to the death of Telugu as predicted by the UN?

To answer the question, we must understand the history of the language, which I will deal with in coming weeks.


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