In the run-up to WORLD LITERACY DAY, on Thursday, 4th September, LALIT, at a press conference launched the first in our new series of “Program Documents”, on the language issue, “Program lor Langaz”.
The 20-page Program, in leaflet form, was presented to the Press by Dany Marie, Ram Seegobin, Priya Bunamally, Devianand Narrain and Lindsey Collen.
It criticizes the Minister of Education, Steeve Obeegadoo, for continuing previous Government’s policies of stifling the peoples languages, Kreol and Bhojpuri. And, while in the past LALIT had emphasised that this harms children’s educational development, and interferes with their human rights by keeping almost half the people in Mauritius without literacy, today LALIT went a step further. We accused the Minister of Education of “linguistic genocide” in the precise meaning of the term accepted by the United Nations during the process of preparing the UN 1948 Convention on Genocide, that is to say deliberately excluding the peoples’ languages from education. 93% of the people speak Kreol or Bhojpuri or both, according to the 10-yearly official Government Census of the year 2000.
In order to take so strong a stand against the Minister, and in order to launch a new campaign in favour of the peoples’ daily languages, LALIT has questioned some of the clichés used in connection with language until now. This analysis is the first part of the program. Language is not merely a “cultural” trait, as people often infer, but it is a “natural” human capacity. We are born with it, and, just as the onset of puberty is pre-timed, so the onset of language development is, too. Language should also not be reduced to the pat phrase: “Language is a means of communication.” It is much more than this. Language is our means of understanding the universe around us, of being aware of our own emotions, and of being conscious of our thoughts. If the State interferes with the natural development of children’s language faculties, for example by forcing education through foreign or dominant languages on children, it is a serious attack on the child’s potential development. And if the State intends to either weaken or wipe out peoples’ languages, then they are guilty of linguistic genocide.
After an analytical section, and then a brief outline of LALIT’s contribution to the struggle for the peoples’ languages, the program contains a list of specific demands on the language issue, developed through meetings of the Lalit Language Commission, and then amended by a process of going throught the Party’s branches.
This is the first of a series of about 20 “Programs” that LALIT’s commission’s and branches are working on. The constant work on “programmatic issues” is one of the processes that keeps LALIT alive and coherent, preventing opportunism, on the one extreme, or sectarianism, on the other. The programs all contain demands that are anchored firmly in present-day possibilities, and yet represent, at the same time, the realization of the need for fundamental revolutionary changes in society.