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Speak the same tongue

Suvojit Bagchi
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Now it is mandatory for IAS and IPS officials posted in Chhattisgarh to learn at least onelocal tribal language

Grassroots communication:Imperative for better problem solving.Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury
Grassroots communication:Imperative for better problem solving.Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

 The Communist Part of India (Maoist) had made local tribal language learning mandatory for its cadres in Chhattisgarh (erstwhile Madhya Pradesh) soon after they arrived from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh in the early Eighties. Hence, in the next decade, all its Bengali, Telugu or Marathi speaking cadres picked up at least two main languages of the Gond tribals in Dandakaranya — Halbi and Gondi.

Thirty years after the CPI (Maoist)’s dictum to learn tribal languages, the government has decided to coach its administrative officers in tribal languages of Chhattisgarh. IAS probationers now will have to learn at least one of the local languages to “communicate more effectively at the grassroots,” Sunil Kumar, Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh, told  The Hindu .

Cultural sensitivity is mandatory to counter the guerrillas militarily or to introduce various welfare programmes in the rebel strongholds, especially if the State officials are ethnically alien to the local people. The fact is, the tribal languages of Chhattisgarh are alien to most of the IAS or IPS officers who would carry the State-sponsored schemes. In this context, the State government has decided to impart training in oral communication skills in all dialects of Chhattisgarh.

According to Mr. Kumar, the State Academy of Administration has already been advised to “strengthen necessary language laboratories with facility to impart” language training. However, it would be limited to oral communication.

“This could be the dialect of the district where the officers would be posted for field training,” said Mr Kumar. A workshop conducted more than a year ago at the Academy initiated the process. “We believe that this exposure would make communicating at the grass roots more effective, thereby equipping the civil servants with better problem solving skills,” he added.

The first batch of IAS officers receiving language training is in the pipeline. The Director General of the State Academy of Administration, Narayan Singh, told  The Hindu  that once the present batch is posted after training, the course designers would be able to assess the relevance of the short course. He claimed that Chhattisgarh is the first State to introduce a “need-based tribal language training course among civil servants”.

The course material provided to  The Hindu , however, looks quite elementary at this stage. Few photocopied pages with Hindi on left and the local language, written in Hindi script, on right, may only help the officers to ask some basic questions to the office staff. The informal course material has pages ‘Conversation with Guests’ written on top. Evidently, the course is developed so that an outsider, presumably the Collector, can exchange a few greetings and ask about the weather condition, village head’s name or inquire about the routine problems to her or his staff or residents of an area. Dorli, Chhattisgarhi, Sargujiya, Gondi and Halbi are the languages introduced so far.

Mr. Singh said they are trying to figure out how the course can be developed over the years. “Once we get some feedback from the first batch of trainees, we may be able to develop it further.” The Academy will train the IPS and Forest Department’s officials in a “phase-wise manner”.


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