The Garhwali language of India’s Uttarakhand state is in desperate need of preservation.
Luxmi, like most children in the hilly Garhwal division of Uttarakhand, learnt how to speak Garhwali first, before Hindi. However, UNESCO’s Atlas of World Languages in Danger lists Garhwali as one of them, classifying it as ‘vulnerable’. Most children speak the language, but it might be restricted to certain domains, for instance the home. “I want to show people this language so that they know it exists and so they can know a little more about my culture. I am proud to be a Garhwali speaker, but the younger people have begun speaking Hindi more and more in the markets and schools. If a group of college students are standing around speaking Hindi, you will also speak it. You won’t talk in Garhwali – it’s not fashionable,” Luxmi told us.
The state of Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000 and its interim name was Uttaranchal. But the people insisted that their state should have a Garhwali name, so it is now known as Uttarakhand, ‘uttara’ meaning north, and ‘khand’ meaning country or part of country. For years the people of this Himalayan region have felt neglected by the central government and underrepresented in the rest of the country. So they actively promote their language through forums such as the ‘Garhwali Language Conventions’ held annually, where there are folk dance and song performances, speeches and discussions on how to preserve the language. “We enjoy local movies and music, because we feel this is the way to keep our culture going. We can see our own actors, speaking in our own language, and walking around places in Uttarakhand – the connection is strong, especially for those who live outside India. But the youth – they watch a lot of Hindi television programs and this comes out in their conversation,” said Luxmi.
Garhwali originated from Sauraseni Prakrit, which is also the source of other Northern Indian languages such as Rajasthani. It is influenced by Sanksrit and uses the Devnagri script, but sounds dissimilar to Hindi. “If we spoke Garhwali in front of a Hindi speaker, they wouldn’t understand much,” Luxmi said. Uttarakhand is the site of many Hindu temples and pilgrimage sites, and it is believed that the vedas andshastras (Hindu scriptures) were written there. With such a rich cultural and religious heritage ensconced in the language, Luxmi feels saddened that Garhwali is becoming unfashionable amongst people her age.