Scripting it!

tribal
Dr Prasanna Sree

She is a Professor in AU’s Dept. of English, the first woman in the world to have devised alphabets for 18 Indian tribal languages spoken in the hill and plain lands of India, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Semitic and Afroasiatic Studies, Princeton, New Jersey, USA and above all a Vizagite. Meet Dr. Prasanna Sree, a dynamic force, initiating change at grassroot levels.

Hailing from the tribal community herself, Dr. Prasanna Sree switches effortlessly between English, Telugu, Hindi and Bengali. “My father worked in the railways, so I grew up in different cities and learnt many languages.” Talking about her crusade she shares, “Adivasis are society’s first people. A treasure trove of knowledge and culture, they are looked down upon, often inhumanly. For me too, people would show respect, but only till the minute they come to know that I was a tribal. Then the attitude changes.” And so, the desire to do something for Adivasis was strong right from the start.

Dr. Prasanna Sree wanted to give Adivasis a medium to preserve their folklore and songs easily. And so she decided to give their languages a script. “For linguistic minorities all over the world, educational failure is primarily related to mismatch between the language at home and the language of formal instruction. For equal education opportunities, they need a concept that they will embrace more readily.” Elaborating further she adds, “Languages are said to make us human; but they also dehumanise when they become instruments of power for some, and shame and guilt for others. For millions of people, whose languages are rendered powerless in a society where only a few languages are dominant, exclusion of mother tongues from social domains of significance has serious consequences for basic survival and well being.”

But it was an uphill task, rife with sarcasm and humiliation. “People would laugh behind my back. Even the Adivasis refused to let me in. I needed to be accepted by them to learn their individual dialects. Building trust took time and effort.”

I ignored the criticism, began to dress, live and work with Adivasis and experienced their lifestyle first-hand.

While many would have abandoned such a venture early on, Dr. Prasanna Sree went on to make an adventure of it. She devised scripts for 18 Adivasi languages. She elaborates, “They are strong on culture and I believe that as long as you don’t move from your cultural slot, some force supports you. The Valmiki tribe for instance symbolizes Valmiki of Ramayana. The bow and arrow thus influence this script.”

Today, she has achieved `aplenty. As a Professor in Andhra University, an author of over 26 books, a winner of national and international awards, the most recent being Sarvepalli Radhakrishna Award for Best Academician 2015, she also holds the Limca Book of Records too.  But far from basking in that glory, she is on the move; popularising the script for widespread recognition. “The script is in the process of being domesticated by the community, but a holistic change shall only arrive when it is used by a larger group or masses. I hope the government takes the necessary measures and the State Tribal education policy implements this,” she professes as she leaves for her rendezvous with the tribal folk.

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