Live and Let Languages Live

2nd Year No 72 — Friday – 23rd December 1955

– Jawaharlal Nehru

This time of the year is a most auspicious occasion to speak to men’s hearts. The dying year invariably makes mankind dwell on the true and human values of life. Strifes and bickering are stilled. In such an atmosphere, is it out of place to speak of tolerance?

Our island is like a cross-road of the East and the West. It is also a melting-pot of races, religions, customs and languages. Is it any wonder then that there are a thousand things to fight for and against? Everybody born over here is just a son or a daughter of the soil but that common motherland scarcely counts for anything when it comes to bring about unity and harmony in the midst of the prevailing diversity. By clamouring for their existence, development or diffusion, every race, every religion and every language, some time or other, seem to claim the whole stage for themselves.

It is quite natural that man should cling to things of his own. There should not be any quarrel about this partiality. What is the use then of belittling the qualities and virtues of what our neighbours hold as near and dear and of trying to sell them our own products? Instead of tolerance we find an irritating interference.

By aiming at harmony we don’t have monotony in mind. And far from us the idea of letting things drift. We want healthy disagreement and sound discussion. But above all we want the realisation of the legitimate wishes of every community.

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Our big family, the Mauritian Community, is denied a peaceful existence because inevitably it is divided into compartments – some watertight and others nebulous.

The population of Mauritius has been divided into many ways. One important classification is demographical: General (White and coloured), Chinese and Indo-Mauritian (Hindus and Muslims).

The white and coloured people have many things in common but there is one great, insurmountable barrier between them – the colour bar. There is also a gulf of prejudices. The Chinese are as much Asiatics or Asians or Indians but they have a small class of their own. The most is made of the fact that they belong to another race. When so much effort is made to separate Hindus and Muslims, it is heartening to find them under the same denomination. Perhaps people forget usually that Hindus and Muslims have so many common grounds to meet.

That is how our population is divided for the sake of statistics but in practice the value of this division is next to nothing. In practice we have three important divisions: political, religious and linguistic.

Politics drives us to think in terms of capital and labour, in terms of rich and poor. This division is as old as the hills and here as elsewhere men will have to go on striving to better the lot of their fellow brethren.

In the present context we need not say very much about religion because most fortunately all professed religions are on the way of being recognized by Government. We cannot help, however, paying our tribute to the people who made this possible.

We wish we could say as much about the language problem. But let us not despair. With sympathy and understanding, a solution will surely be found.

* * *

From whatever angle the language problem is viewed, the necessity of teaching children their mother-tongue cannot be overlooked.

We are all for a campaign of doing away with French as a compulsory subject in primary schools. The results of the primary scholarship examination have just been published. They show in what a disadvantageous position schools of rural areas are. They also reveal the sad plight of children whose mother-tongue is an oriental language.

We want to emphasize that we are not against the teaching of French. Nor are we against its learning? But we think that its inclusion in a competitive examination as a compulsory subject does not give equal opportunities to all children to compete. We want English only to be the compulsory language. All other languages must be on an equal footing.

Government has introduced the teaching of oriental languages in schools but much yet remains to be done in this respect. The teaching of oriental languages today is but a little more than an eye-wash. How long will this state of affair continue?

The teaching of oriental languages is largely a matter of social work today. It is on account of the work of selfless individuals and societies that the languages are not in a decaying state.

We expect that the respect that has been shown for all professed religions will be shown for all oriental languages. The language of every community has a right to exist and be recognized. Ours is not a policy to build on ruins. We want all languages to flourish side by side.

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