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Q&A: Meet R. Ashwani Banjan Murmu, Santali language activist

Portrait of Ashwani Murmu, Santali language activist

Photo provided by R. Ashwani Banjan Murmu.

Following last year's successful social media campaign celebrating linguistic diversity online throughout Asia, the collaborative project is continuing in 2020. Every week, a different language activist and advocate will be taking turns managing the @AsiaLangsOnline Twitter account to share their experiences, best practices, and lessons learned from their revitalization work promoting the use of their native languages, with a special focus on the role of the internet. This campaign is a collaboration between Rising Voices, the Digital Empowerment Foundation, and the O Foundation.

Each week, the upcoming host will answer several questions about their background and give a brief overview of their language. This Q&A is with R. Ashwani Banjan Murmu (@ashwanimurmu) who will provide a sneak preview of what he will be discussing during his week as host.

Rising Voices: Please tell us about yourself.

I am R. Ashwani Banjan Murmu. I am a contributor and admin at Santali Wikipedia and also a contributor and translation manager at Global Voices in Santali. I also run “Mission Olchiki-2025″ for Santali language at the Kuliana Block of Mayurbhanj, Odisha (India). Mission Olchiki 2025 is a campaign for literacy in Santali language with the time frame target of year 2025. As Santali language is an indigenous language and losing its significance, the campaign is an attempt to bring awareness among the Santali people about their language and culture. I am also a co-founder of the Ol Chiki Tech team, working for the promotion of Santali language in online platforms.

RV: What is the current status of your language on the internet and offline?

The Santali Language is the one of the official languages of India, which means that it is included in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India. This language is spoken in the eastern part of India (mainly by the Santali people in Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam) as well as in the neighboring countries of Bangladesh and Nepal. Offline, the language has good number of writers and authors but there is a wide gap between its online and offline users and authors. Though people have started using their own language in social media and on the internet, there are very few avenues in online platforms for Santali language. The Santali language script is called Ol Chiki and is included in the Unicode standard. There are two websites of the government of India in Santali language and one and a half years ago, Wikipedia in Santali language was launched. Recently, Global Voices has released a Santali language site. Story Weaver is an online platform where authors are writing stories for kids.

RV: What topics do you plan to focus on during the week that you’ll manage the @AsiaLangsOnline Twitter account?

During these seven days, I will try to focus on the journey of the Santali language as well as highlight the issues and challenges the language is facing.

RV: What are the main motivations for your digital activism for your language? What are your hopes and dreams for your language?

“A language needs to go with the times and be at par with other mainstream languages of the world, otherwise it can’t grow and sustain itself forever,” this thought has motivated me in digital activism for my language. There are lots of hopes and dreams for my language. Santali language has a long way to go in digital activism. I expect that more and more people of my community will join online platforms for revitalization and growth of this language. I would also like to appeal to the rest of world for meaningful support to all the endangered and small languages of the world which are struggling to survive.

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