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Q&A: Meet Veer Keram, Gondi language activist

Gondi language activist Veer Keram, photo courtesy of Veer Keram.

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 Veer Keram (@veerkeram750) who will provide a sneak preview of what he will be discussing during his week as host.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself.

Veer Keram (VK): My name is Veer Keram, and I belong to the Gond tribe. I was born and brought up in Madhya Pradesh, in central India. I've graduated with a degree in law from Rani Durgavati University, in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. With Gondi being my mother language, I have always had a keen interest in it. I've been in the field interacting with people who speak Gondi, trying to gather information about the language as well as the speakers. I am currently a part of the Endangered Language Documentation Project which aims at promoting the use of Gondi language.

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

VK: Gondi is a South Central Dravidian language spoken by about 2 million people belonging to the Gond tribe. Although it is the language of Gondi people, only one fifth of them actually use it, thereby making it vulnerable to extinction. Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath had decided to include Gondi in the primary education curriculum of the state's tribal dominated districts, but the plan has not been put into action until now. The rapid decline observed in the number of Gondi speakers is a matter of grave concern.

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

VK: During the week that I'll manage the @AsiaLangsOnline twitter account, I plan to focus primarily on the importance of language and why language conservation is the need of the hour in order to protect our identity as well as our culture and our traditional knowledge.

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

VK: Drawing inspiration from Dr Abhay Sagar Minz, assistant professor at Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee University, Ranchi, I wish to work towards protecting tribal languages and our rich cultural heritage with the same energy and vigor he displays.

Having said this, I have great hopes and dreams for my language in the future. Language is the vehicle that maintains our identity through generations. It is language that transmits the elements of our culture and traditional knowledge from one generation to the next. I wish for the Gondi language to become mandatory at the primary education level so that the coming generations remain attached to their roots from the very start. I also wish for it to gain recognition in the eighth schedule of our Constitution, which lists India's official languages. Members of the Gond community shall take immense pride in their language and culture.

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