Birat Anupam (RSS) , Dhankuta / Gopimaya Magar, 81, is the oldest family member with six sons and two daughters at a village called Majhuwa of Sangurigadhi Rural Municipality-6, Dhankuta. Having survived to see her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, octogenarian Magar is happy on her life. The only thing she regrets about is the loss of Magar tongue in her own family.
”Magar people only inhabit Majhuwa for years. But, our new children have started to forget their own language”, said Kopimaya. She added while seating with her great grandson Rajan, ”My all six sons, two daughters and my grandchildren can speak Magar. But, great grandchildren can’t speak properly.”
Rajan Magar, 9, the great grandson of Kopimaya said he only knows few Magar words. ”Father is called ‘Boi’ and mother is called ‘Moi’ in our language”, chuckled smiling Rajan, adding, ”I only know few words.”
Similar is the woes of Krishnamaya Magar, 70, another resident of Majhuwa. Krishnamaya said she has two sons and one daughter and all of them can speak Magar language language fluently. However, her grandchildren cannot speak their mother tongue as their ancestors did for centuries.
”The only child who can speak little Magar language is my granddaughter Anita who is the daughter on my only daughter Puja”, said Krishnamaya. She added, ”None of my other grandchildren from two sons and one daughter can speak Magar language.”
Kopimaya and Krishnamaya said new generations could not speak their mother tongue mainly on two reasons. One, they say, is the schools, both private and public, where there is no use of Magar language. Second reason, they say, is television. The televisions do not air any program in their indigenous language.
”Our children do not like to speak Magar like we did”, said Kopimaya, ”They like to speak Nepali as this is spoken in school and television.” Krishnamaya Seconded Kopimaya and added, ”If schools had used Magar language, they could have spoken like us.”
Magar: A strong yet declining local and provincial language
Sangurigadhi Rural Municipality is spread in 10 wards within 166.4 square kilometers of area. It has 21,536 population based on decennial census of 2011. The new census is in the offing in 2021.
Among the total population of the local government, Magar is the fourth largest mother tongue in Sangurigadhi Rural Municipality. According to the statistics compiled by Nepal Language Commission based on census of 2011, there are 1685 Magar speakers in the local government as mother tongue behind Bantawa (6671), Limbu (6028) and Nepali (2632).
Not only in local government, Magar is among the top mother tongue in the entire State-1. Based on data of Nepal Language Commission, Magar is the sixth largest language in the State-1. 146,252 people speak Magar as mother tongue in the State-1 which is just behind five other languages like Nepali (19,53,396), Maithili (507,275), Limbu (331,685), Tharu (177,789) and Tamang (177,613).
Despite this strong lingual presence at both local levels of Sangurigadhi Rural Municipality of Dhankuta and in the State-1, number of Magar speakers is declining. Owing to this, Magar elders like Kopimaya and Krishnamaya are dejected.
”People in my village say that our Magar speakers are decreasing but Nepali and English speakers are increasing. This is not good. All small language like our Magar must not decrease”, said Kopimaya, ”We, illiterate people, can speak our language but our educated children cannot speak their language. This is not good.”
The ward chairperson of Sangurigadhi-6, Yam Prashad Magar, also confessed there is not any concrete effort to preserve and promote Magar language locally. ”We have our rights. However, there are not any attempts to teach in Magar tongue as other communities do not understand Magar language.”
Magar said there are five elementary schools and one secondary school in the ward. However, none of these schools teaches Magar language in the Magar-majority village.
”Language also has its lifespan, we have to protect it”
Professor Emeritus Dr. Tanka Neupane, also a known linguist in State-1, said every language has its lifespan. ”Because of globalization and capitalization, people tend to adopt and speak the language that has more economic and job opportunities”, said Neupane, ”That is the reason English is taught widely and lately even Japanese, Korean and Hebrew, among others, are taught privately in Nepal just for better job opportunities.”
Neupane, who did his doctorate degree in an indigenous language of Aathpahariya Rai of Dhankuta district, said language preservation is must for saving human heritage. ”A language is not just a property of a community or country. It does has global importance for humanity”, said Neupane.
Neupane said language in not immortal owing to various factors. He added, ”Language also has its lifespan, we have to protect it from dying.” In order to protect any language like Magar from dying, Neupane opined, is to take ownership both in community and state level.
”State has to establish a language university for preservation, promotion, protection of all languages spoken in the country”, said Neupane. He added, ”Community also must practice their mother tongue irrespective of state response to their mother tongue. There are instances, where despite state’s neglect, many languages are still thriving in the world which is a result of community ownership and protection of the language.”