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Badagas Stand Up To Be Counted
As the Census of India gears up for its next national enumeration, in 2001, members of the Badaga community are wondering if the time has come to count their people again. They were indeed counted as a separate language category in every census from 1871 to 1971, but since then their numbers have become a matter for speculation.
In the Madras censuses for 1911, 1921 and 1931 they were even referred to as a tribe with their numbers steadily rising to 38,180, 40,329, and 43,075 respectively. Because of World War II, the census of 1941 was a very skimpy affair. But that of 1951, now entirely in the hands of Indian officials, continued the earlier tradition of thorough coverage of the Indian population. Badagas were still enumerated as a separate group, even though the Census Commissioner for Madras in 1951 wrote: This is a corrupt form of Kanarese. By then their total was 67,290.
In the 1971 Census for the first time it was stated that Badaga is considered to be a dialect of Kannada in the Kannada, Badaga and Kodagu Subgroup of the Dravidian family. Nevertheless, a total of 104,392 Badaga speakers was still published. But in 1981 the Badagas simply disappeared from the national census! Evidently they were just added to the Kannada speakers. The latter, recent immigrants from Karnataka, form quite a small minority in the Nilgiris District, and yet their total suddenly jumps to 1,57,672 in the 1981 census. This can only be because that total includes all Badaga speakers. (In 1975 a report of the Backward Classes Commission cited a figure of 1,25,821 Badagas for that year.) In short, the Badaga language, which is such a fundamental marker of Badaga identity, was totally ignored in the censuses of 1981 and 1991.
It is interesting that, although the national census began in 1871, there are actually reliable enumeration of the Badaga people, done by local officials, from the years 1812, 1821, 1825, 1847, 1856 and 1867. This therefore makes the time-depth of census documentation in the Nilgiris one of the longest in the non-western world. An arbitrary decision to break that continuity in the last two censuses is thus all the more to be regretted.
Another aspect of this enumeration problem hinges on the distinction between language and dialect. In common speech people don't make much of a distinction, but linguists certainly do. A language is a pattern of speech behavior in a population which has a common origin and is unintelligible to speakers of neighboring languages: thus Kannada is distinct from Malayalam. Dialects, on the other hand, are variant ways of speaking a given language that still are mutually intelligible: thus with Coimbatore Tamil and Trichy Tamil. By this crucial criterion Badaga is a separate language: it is not mutually comprehensible with any other language, and only after a speaker has been exposed to Kannada for some days or even weeks will mutual comprehensibility develop.
And this is what the linguistic experts agree on. M. B. Emeneau, who is Professor of Sanskrit and General Linguistics at the University of California, and without a doubt the dean of all the world's comparative Dravidian scholars, has made the situation quite clear. He wrote: Badaga is obviously closely related to Kannada... However, ... it is possible to identify several features in which it agrees with the languages of the Nilgiri subgroup (Kota and Toda) rather than with Kannada.
Nobody could be more adamant that Badaga should be enumerated as a distinct language than Paul Hockings and Christiane Pilot-Raichoor, both trained professional linguists. (Pilot-Raichoor is Director of Research at the National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris.) These two people are the authors of a Badaga-English Dictionary (1992), 800 pages long and the only one in existence. As Dr. Hockings pointed out recently, they would hardly have wasted a quarter-century in compiling the materials for this dictionary if they thought the book would simply look like an abbreviation of Georg Kittel's famous Dictionary of Kannada! But it does not.
The unique socioeconomic and cultural features of the Badagas have been a subject of intense research by international and national scholars for well over a century. Census data are a major source of information to them. More importantly, in recent decades, the economy of the Badaga community has been undergoing a fundamental transformation from predominantly subsistence farming to commercial plantations and professional services. Economic data from the census is very crucial to monitor the changes which have a bearing on a range of government policies.
The census department of the Government of Tamil Nadu, therefore, should reconsider its decision in the last two census to club the Badaga population with the Kannadigas and enumerate them separately as has been the case right from the first census.
A request from Dharmalingam Venugopal and the IBA to all Badagas:
Please email the representation addressed to the Chief Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Government at email@example.com. Copies may be marked to Director of Census at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies may also be sent to N. Sundaradevan IAS, Chief Minister's Office at email@example.com and the District Collector of Nilgiris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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