Immigrants to the Caribbean always regarded themselves as Hindi speaking
Stabroek News
April 18, 2002

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Dear Editor,

I refer to Dr Richard Allsopp's letter of April 9, 2002 captioned: "Bhojpuri is a cousin dialect of Hindi". There are several issues raised by Dr Allsopp, some of which I address below:

Dr Allsopp seems to rely on U. Tiwari's book: "Origin and development of Bhojpuri" published over 40 years ago in Calcutta. From Tiwari's book, Allsopp uncritically accepted the position that Bhojpuri, the dialect of Bihar, is not Hindi. This position is preposterous to anyone who has studied the development of the Hindi language in any depth and knows the linguistic and historic position in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad.

The Hindi language developed from the Prakrits spoken in the Ganges valley between northern Uttar Pradesh and Southern Bihar. In modern times, three major dialects of Hindi emerged in the area - Khari Boli spoken in the Delhi area and northern U.P; Awadhi (Braj Bhasha) and Bhojpuri in southern and eastern UP and Bihar. All three dialects were regarded as Hindi and the 19th and 20th century Bihari/UP immigrants to the Caribbean always regarded themselves as Hindi-speaking. No one ever claimed he was speaking Brajor Bhojpuri and not Hindi.

Indeed, the official immigration documents of the 19th and 20th centuries always described the Bihari/UP immigrants as Hindi - speaking and in Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname, the speakers of Braj or Bhojpuri always described themselves as Hindi - speakers. In Suriname, for example, the mainly Bhojpuri Hindi is now called Sranami Hindi. And further, in the language statistics of the Government of India, Khari Boli, Awadhi, Bhojpuri and Rajasthani are all called Hindi.

If Allsopp had consulted other texts such as Nath's "History of Indians in Guyana" or Ruhoman's "Centenary History", he would have seen that the language of the immigrants was Hindi and would have known that in addition to writing in Devnagri script, many immigrants wrote in Kaithi script of which Tiwari makes no mention.

For Allsopp's benefit, I would point out the analogy of mediaeval English: The dialects of the Scottish Lowlands, the northern English dialects (e.g. the Gawain poet) and the Chaucerian dialect of the South are all regarded as English. This adoption of Southern English as the standard did not preclude the more northerly dialects from being considered English; they are never labelled "Cousins of English".

Khari Boli on which modern standard or official Hindi is based, likewise does not preclude other similar Hindi dialects from being called Hindi both by speakers and non-speakers.

Dr Allsopp's researches into the different dialects of Hindi which came here needed to have been broader and more intensive and he should have studied the local situation rather than relying on Tiwari's book. In this respect, Allsopp's offering on Hindi is highly flawed because of lack of depth and breadth of research.

Having made his inadequate offering on Bhojpuri Hindi because of uncritical reliance on Tiwari's book, Allsopp raises other questions. The first is his blithely slipping from his own basis of "apan jaat" as a political slogan of the 1950's as mentioned in his Mitleholzer Lecture, to an incident of his youth long before 1950's. In this incident, there was familial discord in the home of one of Allsopp's Indian neighbours because of a cross-racial marriage.

Allsopp is writing of Albouystown/Charlestown, a slummy area of working class people. Most of these residents of Howes Street at the confluence of Albouystown and Charlestown were poor, hand-to-mouth people who had their own Alboustown/Charlestown ethic as all lower class communities do.

When Allsopp wrote: "the Indian father had expelled the eldest daughter from their home for marrying a Black young man", he attributed the father's action to his being prejudiced against Black people. Allsopp didn't consider the fact of whether the daughter was so rude and disobedient to her old father that he decided to part company with her. Or whether the Indian old man was in such poor economic circumstances, as people in that area usually are, that he blanched at the burden of not only minding or maintaining his eldest daughter but her young man as well.

But Allsopp always interprets human action and history on a racial basis as was common and fashionable in the 1930's and 1940's when he was receiving his schooling and education.

Allsopp requests substantiation of my remarks that he is partisan and interprets human action from a racial standpoint. The first example of this is Allsopp's letter itself (SN9/4/02) wherein he essays to write about racism in Guyana. He dwells solely on Indian racism but doesn't say one word about Black racism. Indeed, after reading Allsopp's letter one would think that Black racism never existed and doesn't exist in Guyana.

A second example of Allsopp's blinkered partisanship is clearly seen in his remark: "If the Burnhamite political sect could have found anything remotely as effective with African Guyanese as the galvanizing devotional force of apan jaat, they would as likely never have been driven to the desperation that bedevilled support canvassing on their part at the turn of the 1980's decade". The facts are completely different. In the 1980's Burnham and his coterie rigged elections and the vast majority of both Blacks and Indians were disenfranchised. Burnham did not have to canvas Black or any other support and never did. In fact, in Burnham's rigged elections of 1980 the results showed that he had overwhelming and increasing Indian electoral support!

Further examples of Dr Allsopp's blinkered partisanship could be seen in the articles he wrote in the Barbados newspapers on Dr Jagan at the time of his death.

Yours faithfully,

R. Williams