How the Gondi community is creating a standard dictionary of their language

gondi-dictionary Gondi dictionary will store audio records of different dialects of the tribal language

Three women from a Gondi-speaking community are huddled around a computer monitor in a small room of a government-run arts organisation in central Delhi. Chudur, Phada, Aada, Niwa (small, big, ginger, your) of them, who hails from Madhya Pradesh, recites into a cell phone recorder. The Gondi words read out from an Excel sheet will power a digital dictionary of sorts, storing audio records of different dialects of this tribal language. The goal is to build a standardised dictionary of the Gondi language, without sidelining its regional variations spread across Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and adjoining areas. "Where I come from, Gadricholi in Maharashtra, the kids are scared to go to school. The teachers who are appointed in local schools know only Marathi. Having a standardised dictionary for the Gondi language will go a long way in addressing literacy issues in Adivasi belts," says Shatali, who has been involved in creating this dictionary for the last four years. 

CGNet Swara, a citizen journalism venture for local residents in central Gondwana, Chhattisgarh, in collaboration with Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi, organised a five-day Gondi standardisation workshop which ended on March 23. The workshop saw 60 Gond Adivasis participating from six Gondi-speaking states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Orissa, striving to collate a standard Gondi dictionary to help simplify education, journalism, and administration work in the Gondi language. An extension of the dictionary into an oral Android Application is also on the cards.

Similar workshops held in the last three years have yielded a thesaurus of Gondi words assembled from dialects of the many Gondi-speaking states. It was was published in August last year. In this eighth iteration of the workshop, 3,000 words (from Hindi to Gondi) have achieved a final standardised form, so far, and will be compiled into a proper dictionary soon. Strategies to formulate a coherent proposal to include Gondi in the 8th schedule of the constitution were also taken up for discussions in the workshop.

Commenting on the long-term benefits of creating a standardised dictionary for Gondi, Shubhranshu Choudhary, founder of CGNet Swara, says, "The community will be able to talk to each other. Before they became a part of this workshop process, the participants from different regions could barely communicate with each other.  We hope there will be genuine cooperation with this initiative. People from Chhattisgarh also need to know how Adilabad, which was once a Naxal hotbed, abjured violence and embarked on a path of peace and reconciliation." 

Choudhary grew up in the Adivasi areas of Chhattisgarh and went to a tribal school. In 2004, he quit his job at the BBC as South Asia producer and started CGNet Swara."Many of my classmates had become Maoists. So I understood that the kind of communication we have has a lot to do with the violence there. So I thought, can I do something?" says Choudhary. 

Gonds are considered to be one of the largest tribal groups in the world, numbering around 12 million according to some estimates. Believed to be from the Dravidian stock, they are notified as scheduled tribes in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and West Bengal. But they are largely concentrated around central India, which is also referred to as Gondwana among tribal groups. The standardisation initiative is a major drive towards a long-overdue inclusion as a scheduled language in the Indian constitution.