Recently, a video clip of the present Education minister trying to communicate in English the entire gamut of his political career and achievements went viral in the social media. While the questions were asked in Hindi by the interviewer, the minister was answering in English language and he was trying very hard to communicate even sometimes with eyes shut and one is left wondering why the minister chose to communicate in English while his mother-tongue is Manipuri, a language included in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution. The said minister is a very good orator and he knows how to communicate with the people while he gives speeches, well of course in Manipuri, in public functions. In many functions the chief minister makes it a point to take him along and even some of colleagues want him to speak at their functions.
As to the video clip which went viral, the minister was publicly ridiculed and even comments were passed as to how a person who cannot speak proper English be the minister in-charge of Education. Our problem is not whether he can speak English fluently, but was he able to communicate or make himself understood howsoever broken his English be. Thounaojam Chaoba Singh chose to speak in Manipuri in the Lok Sabha and it was during his time that an interpreter from Manipur was recruited for the first time in the Parliament, now there are several. There is no shame in speaking in one’s own mother-tongue and it is the job of interpreters to pass it on.
It is said, whiskey or for that matter the local brew oils the tied tongue and even an urge to speak in English language develops among certain persons, after a few pegs. There is also a class of people who always make it a point to insert an English word or two every now and then while speaking to others or in a discussion. Well, there is the popular phrase ‘Walking Chatpa’ meaning morning walk. There is also a rare breed of Manipuri newsreaders in the local cable channels who render Manipuri news with an English intonation. Yet, there is another class of people who choose to converse and respond in English instead of the state lingua franca, even when they can perfectly understand and speak. They are those who feel they are resisting the dominance of Manipuri language over other languages in the state. On the other hand, there is a general lack of eagerness among the Meiteis who speak Manipuri to learn a few words or phrases of the various tribal languages.
There is a general notion in certain sections of the society that English is the language of the educated class, and anyone who cannot speak properly or fluently in the said language is considered to be of the less educated variety. Which is why even parents with little means prefer English medium schools for their children and mushrooming growth of such schools in the state happened. This has led to loss of respect for the mother tongue and a wrong notion that its vocabulary is not enough for modern education and understanding. This is but a reflection of how little the Manipuris knew of their language and the treasure trove of words and phrases hidden in the ancient Puyas.
The Manipuri Language Day is celebrated every August 20 to mark the occasion of inclusion in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. But, it was deferred this year due to the ongoing total lockdown. After inclusion in the said schedule, a Language Cell was established under the Education Department for promotion and development of Manipuri Language and all other tribal languages of the state. It later became the Department of Language Planning and Implementation. It was also basically established to coordinate language planning and development for all the languages of Manipur and to implement all the language policies, acts and rules of the Union and state government as well.