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Language maintenance and development


There are over Twenty lakh Kurukhs, (or Oraons) in India who speak Kurukh language natively. Major concentration of the Kurukhs is in the adjoining districts of Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh which formed erstwhile Chotanagpur and Central Provinces- the homeland of Kurukhs from where they have migrated to other parts of the country, and to the neighboring countries like Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Kurux remained as a spoken language till the advent of European Christian missionaries in the year 1845. They published grammars of language for their workers to learn it, and then prepared books on religious instruction for the Kurukhs to follow the new religion Christianity. The absence of written documents makes it very difficult to write any historical background of the Kurukh people. Roy (1915:28) opines that the Kurux migrated to up country from the Deccan Plateau. But there is hardly any substantive evidence to support this claim. Traditional stories and folktales suggest that Kurukh once inhabited the Gangetic Plateau from where Aryan and Muslim invaders drove them to the hilly regions of the Chotanagpur Plateau and Central Provinces.

Kurukhs mostly live in villages and their primary occupation is agriculture, through in modern days they have entered into commercial business and white colored jobs. A typical Kurukh village consists of a majority of Kurukh families and a few non- Kurukh artisan families who function as the helpers to the former. So in almost every Kurukhs village, there is a non- Kurukhs  family of blackmails who look after their cattle; potters who make earthen ware for their domestic use; weavers who weave their clothes; basket makers who weave or plait their baskets; and the dancers who play music at their social functions (Roy 1915:68). The artisan families who assist Kurukhs in their economy speak Indo-Aryan or Munda languages. Thus even in a primitive Kurukh settlement Kurukhs have contact with the speakers of other languages. However, contact with these artisan families is superficial as they are not forceful elements to effect bilingual situation, mainly because Kurukh in such settlements form dominant groups. Socio-linguistic set up across a Kurukh village presents a complicated picture Increased social and economic developmental programmes of government and private agencies have introduced regional languages of the States in which a Kurukh has to communicate with the non- Kurux government officers and social workers, and send their children to schools where the medium of instruction in a States languages, and he almost invariably uses a variety of regional language to communicate with non- Kurukh. The organization of States divide the Kurukh homeland into four different States as a result of which Kurukhs population is politically fragmented and culturally and linguistically divided. The impact of the three important majority State languages, such as Hindi in Bihar Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, Bengali in Bengal and Oriya in Orissa is very heavy, resulting in a widespread tendency among them to shift from their native language to the majority State languages. Besides being divided into different political areas, Kurukh ethic group has been divided into two major religious groups: Christians and non-Christians, and among these two groups, the latter group forms the majority. Factors contributing to the maintenance of their language must be examined against this background.

The majority of the Kurukhs in Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh maintain their language, the majority of them in Orissa and west Bengal have shifted to other languages. It is significant to note that in every State the languages to which the Kurukhs have shifted are the regional languages. Thus, in Bihar 10.3 per cent of the Kurukhs have shifted to Sadani, which is a variety of Bhojpuri and 8.05 percent to Hindi; in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh 8.4 per cent have shifted to Hindi and 1.69 to Chattisgarhi; in Orissa 44,45 per cent to Oriya and in Bengali 11.12 per cent to Bengali.

The Kurukhs, who are geo-politically divided, have varied communicational needs. Kurukhs in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar need Hindi for their educational and socio-economic development, and those, in West Bengal and Orissa need Bengali and Oriya respectively. They have only two choices before them: one is to maintain stable bilingualism in Kurukhs and the State language, or other languages. We have seen that in Chhatisgath, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar the Kurukhs who opt for the first choice outnumber those who opt for the second. The situation in just the opposite in the case of Kurux in West Bengal and Orissa where the majority of Kurukhs opt for the second choice. Generally, the educated Kurukhs favors the first choice, but not all. Those who favors the second believe that the continued use of Kurukhs in day to day conversation would reduce the amount of practice needed by the Kurukhs students in understanding and using respective state languages which they need to master for their educational progress and economic and social advancement.

While examining movements for language maintenance and loyalty among the Kurukhs it is important to realize the fact they are a disunited ethnic group living across different, through contiguous States. There has been total lack of organized efforts for the maintenance of the Kurukhs language at the national level. Nor has there been such efforts at popular level in the States. The two main reasons for lack of any organized efforts are general lack of education and poor economy. The policies and programmes of the following agencies relating to language have some impact on the position of the Kurukh language.


There are four major Christian missions, viz. Gossner Evangilical Lutheran Mission (Berlin), Roman Catholic Mission (Belgium), the United Free Church Mission (Scottland), and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (London) (Mahto : 1971 : 2). The primary aim of these Christian missions was to spread christianity among the various tribes of the Chotanagpur area. They preached for renouncing traditional music, dancing, witchcraft and drinking etc.. Fortunately, they did not ask them to renounce their language. In fact churches have contributed much to the development of the Kurukh language through their pioneering grammarians, such as Rev. O.Flex (1874), Rev. F. Batseh (1886), rev. F. Hahn (1898), Rev. A. Grignard (1924) and Rev. C. Bleses (1956) whose grammers and dictionaries later served as the bases for translating Christian literature in to the Kurukh langauge. The policy of the church has been to preach its followers in their own native language and this has led to nativising all worship rituals. The extensive use of Kurukhs books such as Girija Dandi (Hymn), Kurux Negchar (Kurux Order of Worship), Dharam Puthi:

Puna Gacharka (New Testament) and other similar books on Christian worship has not only helped to maintain the language but also has induced unity among the Kurukhs living across different States. However, for administrative convenience missionaries use regional languages particularly in the multilingual congregations. Thus in the areas where the church is well established, church services are conducted in the regional languages, and in the congregations. Thus in the areas where the church is well establish, church services are conducted in the regional languages, and in the congregation of new converts who normally lack competence in the regional languages, church services are conducted in Kurukh. The use of the regional languages for the religious sermons and worships relevant to their religious practice is less meaningful as not all the Kurukhs have competence of the standard variety of the regional languages in which the books are written. However, the use of the regional languages for church administration permits greater mobility of the clergy in different tribal and non-tribal language areas which is impossible if the church uses Kurukh alone as its language.


Before Independence, there were very few schools, mostly run by the church to cater to the educational needs of the Christian Kuruxs in the Chotanagpur area. Today there are several schools in the area run by both government and private agencies. Medium of instruction in these schools is invariably the regional languages of the States. Though there is constitutional provision to use minority and tribal language as medium of instruction where majority of the students in a school come from one linguistic background, Kurukh has not been used as a medium of instruction. It is often argued that the use of the Kurukh language as the medium of instruction will hamper learning of regional languages which would be the only language used in the higher education. This fear is justified when there is no systematic language teaching material for gradual switch over to the regional language. There are problems of non-availability of teaching particularly in the government schools. Unfortunately the Kurukh language is associated with low socio-economic status, backwardness and ignorance and so time it has failed to provide adequate facilities for learning regional language as a result of which the Kuruxs continue to remain deficient in the regional language in which they have to complete for jobs.

Kurukh language was introduced first time in Gossner Collage Ranchi in 1971. Than Kurukh study was started in Ranchi Univercity in 1980. It had been started in the both institutions due to the amazing efforts of Dr. Nirmal Minj. Kurukhs language has been included in the degree courses as one of the Modern Indian Languages at the Ranchi University recently. It is however too early to say whether it has any favorable impact on the maintenance of the Kuruxs language.

Press and Radio

Most rural Kurukhs have very little access to general information on national event, employment etc. Those who have, generally get it from newspapers published in the regional languages. There is complete lack of periodicals and news bulletins published in the Kurukh from time to time, such as Bij Biinko (Morning Star) published for only six months in 1940; Dhumkuria (Dormitory or House of Learning) published for about a year and a half during the years 1962-1963. The publication of these monthly magazines had been stopped for want of adequate finance. Another major factor responsible for the discontinuation of these magazines is their very low circulation which seems to be natural for a speech community whose literacy rate is 10.56 per cent. Besides monthly journals, there is some creative literature written by the Kurukhs. These include Munta Pump Jhumpa (Bunch of First Flowers) by Dawle Kujur (1950) ; Innelanta (Present day0 by Ignes Kujur (1962); Kurukh Sanni Kiiri (Kurux Short Stories) by Julius Tigga (1962). There are a few other books for adult education, such as Pardikarge Angitana Puthi ( book for adult literary ) by C. M. Tiga (1939), Luurgahi Mahba (the importance of learning) by C. M. Tiga (1940?) Bolo Ganit (elementary Arithmatic) by C. M. Toppo (1940).

The All India Radio, Ranchi, presents programmes in the Kurux language which include broadcasts of Kurukhs songs and discussion on current topics.


The Kurukhs leaders, both clergy and political, who are most influential in representing their people have almost invariably abandoned their language and switched over to the regional languages. Organizations and institutions developed by such leaders are directed almost entirely toward impressing upon their followers about the importance of the regional languages. Their goal is to promote effective fluency in the regional languages. This is done at the expense of Kurukh by either ignoring or condemning it. The Christian associations under different church denominations, for example, conduct their activities in the regional languages, and in the mission schools the use of Kurukh for day today communication among the Kurukh students is prohibted.

Traditional youth organizations are deteriorating (among the Christian Kurukhs) and have been replaced by youth organizations under the direct control of the clergy. But they do very little to the language. The Catholic Sabha is the Central Catholic organization dealing with the educational, social and economic problems of the Catholic Christians in the Chotanagpur area, but this has done nothing for the development of the Kurukh language. There have been some efforts to from a Kurukh language and culture society to safeguard the linguistic and cultural interests of the Kurukhs. But no tangible results have been achieved yet. There is an increasing trend in all organizations to acknowledge that power in the state or national scene requires fluency in the regional languages. But this tends to negate many positive values in the Kurux language and culture and overlooks the possibility of maintaining the Kurukhs language without hampering the economic and educational interests of the people.

To conclude, a plenty of Kurukhs (near about 8,00,000 out of total 20,00,000) have abandoned the Kurukh language. There has been total lack of organized efforts for the few educational Kurukh who understand the value of maintaining their languages. However, these efforts could not be sustained because of the low literacy rate and poverty. with the speedy spread of education among the Kurukhs, there is steady growth of political consciousness and there is hope for the maintenance of tribal values, customs and language.