A Struggle to Get Tulu Language Its Due

Tulu is one of the prominent native languages of Karnataka, and is spoken by around 20 lakh people.

3 min read
 Tigalari script used to write Tulu. 

‘Pancha Dravida Bhashas’ are five prominent languages of South India. While four of them – Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, and Telugu – have found a place in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution as official languages, the fifth, Tulu, was left behind. According to the Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger published by Unesco, Tulu is now a vulnerable language.

As per government data, more than 20 lakh people speak Tulu in the Tulunadu region, which consists of coastal Karnataka and parts of Kerala. This year, on Kannada Rajyothsava Day (the Karnataka State Formation Day), the Tuluvas (Tulu speakers) are reigniting their demand for an official recognition of their centuries-old language.

Tulu is often misrepresented as a dialect of Kannada, even though it has its distinct features like Kannada and Malayalam, says AS Bhandary, president of Tulu Sahithya Academy. “Our struggle is to get Tulu the importance it deserves. If Tulu is made an official language under the 8th Schedule, it gives our literature and our identity a big push,” said Bhandary.

A delegation of Tulavas met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October, reiterating their demand for the inclusion of the language in the 8th Schedule. “The Prime Minister has included Tulu in the languages proposed to be added to Schedule 8 of the Constitution in the near future. This is a positive move, but we will continue our struggle till our demands are met,” he said.

A computerized version of the Tulu script was released by the Tulu Academy.  
A computerized version of the Tulu script was released by the Tulu Academy.  
(Photo Courtesy: Karnataka Tulu Academy)

Attempts to Transcend the Language

While attempts to get the language official recognition are underway, at home, steps are being taken to increase literacy in Tulu. The Karnataka Tulu Sahitya Academy has been promoting Tulu as the third optional language in over 200 schools in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi in coastal Karnataka.

According to Bhandary, as of 2017, Tulu is being taught to 1,647 students in 35 schools, from Class 6 to Class 10. “If the youngsters are given formal education in Tulu, it will help our efforts in creating a strong literary base for the language, we want more youngsters to produce literature in their own mother tongue,” he said.

Tulu writer Vaman Nandavar, however, finds the task of creating a love for Tulu literature among the young Tulavas a tough task. “From my experience, parents are more interested in getting their children education in English, and learning about their own culture and language takes a backseat. Just asking how many of them have read a Tulu book makes this clear,” he said.

The Tulu movie industry, although small compared to the Kannada and Malayalam movie industries, has been playing its role in the revival of the language. Devadas Kapikad, one of the prominent Tulu theatre artist and filmmaker, said that more than 10 movies are made in Tulu every year and the response has been encouraging.

“Yes, we are not as big as the other industries, but in the Tulu speaking regions, there is an increasing demand for good Tulu movies. There are issues with getting theatres whenever a big Kannada movies releases, but the people’s response gives us teeth to demand more screens,” he said.

However, the irony is that the end credit of Tulu movies always roll out in the Kannada script. Although the script of Tulu is available, it is not popular, and people continue to write it in the Kannada script.

“Tulu was predominately a spoken language, and as Kannada was taught from the very young age, the practice of writing Tulu in Kannada became common. Very few in Tulunadu region can read or write in the Tulu script,” said writer Nandavar.

Bhadary once again reiterated that in order to face these challenges and revive the language, Tulu needs official recognition.

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