Fiji Hindi becomes a subject of controversy

Controversy is raging in Fiji between proponents and opponents of a proposal to teach Fiji Hindi in schools.

Hindi is a great language but ‘Fiji Hindi’ is unteachable!

The expose of Ba based eminent educationist, author and poet Jogindar Singh Kanwal in Fiji Times (December 16) is worthy of consideration.

Fiji Hindi is strongly rooted in Indo-Fijians living in Fiji and elsewhere.

Arguably, there is charm and sauciness in this version, although it lacks dignity of the language. Some may even label it as crude but our community treasures it as a mark of identity, dignity and embodiment of Indo-Fijian culture.

Fusion during Girmit

Fiji Hindi evolved in an environment that was both traumatic and chaotic. It was the hostile environment of the Girmit years (1879-1919), in which people from different parts of India, speaking different dialects and with different customs and traditions were herded for a common purpose.

In Fiji, the victims of pain and suffering and leaned on each other for comfort, care and support. The only jewel in their possession was their culture and language of communication and when they could not understand each other’s dialect, they began sharing it. A majority of them spoke Bhojpuri and Awadhi and these dialects underwent a process of fusion, giving birth to Fiji Hindi.

It also found refinement, as Hindi began to be taught in schools. It was substantially modified subsequently, as people read religious texts and Hindi books.

Gradually, Fiji Hindi was enriched and refined and its stature elevated.

However, it is not structured and hence will crumble under grammar and syntax scrutiny.

People who originated from South India during the indenture period and up to 1960s spoke their own dialects, namely Tami, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. Some of these languages were taught in schools established under the Sangam umbrella but the power of Hindi films, songs and dominance of North Indian dialects saw these dialects gradually submerge, as Fiji Hindi comprising Bhojpuri, Awadhi and original Hindi firmed.

Restraint needed

I agree that Fiji Hindi cannot and should not be taught in schools. It is not structured for teaching and there is nothing that can be taught to those who have the freedom to use it, as they deem fit, in oral communication.

Further, few writers have tried to write in Fiji Hindi, the most notable of who is by Professor Subramani, currently a Visiting Professor at the Fiji Institute of Technology. His book, ‘Dauka Puraan,’ is an outstanding attempt by a person respected for proficiency in Hindi and English.

However, most people found it a difficult and tenuous read and it did not ignite a desire in Indo-Fijians to take Fiji Hindi to the next level. Similar attempts by various writers outside our community also failed to see Fiji Hindi established as a written language.

Interestingly, people always use pure Hindi on formal occasions such as religious ceremonies, delivering eulogy in public or even a political speech, No Pundit can use Fiji Hindi to conduct a wedding ceremony; doing so would be an act of impropriety.

It is also impossible to compose a song in Fiji Hindi to describe landscape or emotions effectively. Hindi is a language for all occasions carrying dignity, depth and decorum.

In the evolutionary process, Fiji Hindi will continue to be refined by Hindi and it will be seen as a natural progression because it is its anchor.

Fiji Hindi can also be likened to a stream that joins in the river but its individual existence is never under threat.

I strongly share the views of Mr Kanwal and would like to see Fiji Hindi retain its place, as a ‘conversational language’ within our community.

It is our heritage and legacy to be left for successive generations.

It is a beautiful Fiji-made language that has served our community through every season and situation. We have an emotional attachment to it but this is not a reason to de-link from its origins.

Fiji Hindi will not dissipate or diminish because it is firmly rooted in our community. It is a treasure that needs to be promoted among the future generations so that we can retain our cultural distinctiveness.

But let us not take it to a level where it crumbles because of our imprudence.

Rajendra Prasad is our Columnist and author of the Book, Tears in Paradise–Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji. Email: raj.prasad@xtra.co.nz

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