Tribal newspapers from different states.
Tribal languages have received insufficient attention in our country. Only a small number of them have managed to register their presence in the world of print media. This article analyses registered tribal language newspapers and examines the conditions that support the growth of tribal languages in print media. Key findings are:
The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution lists 22 languages, including two tribal languages, Bodo and Santhali, that were added in 2004. In 2001, the Census reported 93 tribal languages, including Bodo and Santhali, spoken by more than 10,000 people each. Other sources that do not restrict themselves to languages spoken by more than 10,000 people also show that there are many more tribal languages in India than non-tribal languages. However, the tribal languages are barely represented in the print media.
The registered tribal language newspapers accounted for only 0.25 per cent of all newspaper registrations, whereas tribal communities have over the years accounted for at least seven and a half per cent of the country’s population. Between 1957 and 2015, only 340 newspapers were registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI) in 34 tribal languages and 13 states.[i](Some tribal language newspapers operate without registration such as Sumi Zumulhu of Nagaland, but the number of such newspapers is small.) This article examines the conditions that support the growth of tribal language newspapers.
The conditions that nurture the growth of tribal newspapers
Since 1957, when RNI began registering newspapers, at least one tribal language newspaper was registered in every year, except in 2002, and ten or more tribal language newspapers were registered in 11 years (Figure 1).The period after the Emergency (1978-91) witnessed the most robust growth in tribal language newspapers, with the annual rate of registration being almost twice that of the 1957-77 and 1992-2002 periods. There has been a revival of growth after 2002.
In six states (Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Odisha and Tripura) more than half of the tribal language newspapers were registered after 2005. Likewise in 11 tribal languages, more than half of the newspapers were registered after 2005.
How the languages are represented
The Mizo language has recorded the highest number of registrations (181), including 169 in Mizoram and 12 in Manipur, Meghalaya, West Bengal, and Delhi (Figure 2). Mizo is followed by Khasi with 36 registrations, including 35 in Meghalaya and one in Assam. In Tripura, all four tribal language newspapers were registered in Kokborok. Except Santhali (22 registrations), all languages with ten or more registrations belonged to the North East.
Santhali newspapers were registered in four states – Jharkhand (6 registrations), Maharashtra (2), Odisha (6) and West Bengal (8). One newspaper each was registered in 12 other tribal languages including Nagamese and Sadri, which are link languages spoken by tribes. Together the Kuki Chin languages spoken in Mizoram and south Manipur accounted for 64 per cent of all tribal language newspaper registrations in India, even though they constitute less than two per cent of the country’s tribal population (Census, 2011).
Distribution across states
About 90 per cent of the tribal language newspapers were registered in 27 languages of seven North Eastern states that are home to barely 12 per cent of the country’s tribal population (Census, 2011) (http://tribal.nic.in/WriteReadData/userfiles/file/Demographic.pdf) (Figure 3). These include four tribal majority states, namely, Arunachal Pradesh (1 registration), Meghalaya (48), Mizoram (170), and Nagaland (5). Sikkim is the only North Eastern state where there was no registered tribal language newspaper.
Mizoram alone accounted for half of all the registrations even though only 1 per cent of the tribal population of India lives in this state (Census, 2011). On the other hand, only 8 per cent of tribal language newspapers were registered in Central and East Indian states including Chhattisgarh (1 registration), Odisha (7), West Bengal (10), and Jharkhand (10), where 30 per cent of India’s tribal population lives (Census, 2011).
Three newspapers were registered in the Mizo, Bodo and Karbi languages in Delhi. But Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh, where 33 per cent of the country’s tribal population lives (Census, 2011) (http://tribal.nic.in/WriteReadData/userfiles/file/Demographic.pdf), do not have even one registered tribal language newspaper. Maharashtra, which accounts for about ten per cent of India’s tribal population (Census 2011), reported only three registrations, only one of which is a local publication, whereas the other two were merely categorised under the state as the publisher of Chandamama, which is also published in Santhali, and is based in Mumbai.
Mizoram is exceptional among states with a large number of tribal newspapers as all but one of its tribal newspapers were registered in just one language, Mizo. In contrast, in neighbouring Manipur, 47 newspapers were registered in 13 different tribal languages. Likewise in Assam, 31 newspapers were registered in seven tribal languages and in Meghalaya 48 newspapers were reported in five tribal languages. In the rest of the states, newspaper registrations have been reported in three or fewer tribal languages (Figure 4).
Among tribal majority states, Arunachal Pradesh stands out because tribal language newspapers accounted for less than five per cent of the registered newspapers of the state. In other tribal majority states, tribal languages accounted for at least 19 per cent of the registered newspapers (Figure 5).
Registered tribal language newspapers were distributed across 48 districts including Delhi. Mizoram’s capital, Aizawl, alone accounted for 39.6 per cent of the registrations, whereas Manipur's Churachandpur has seen 29 registrations in nine languages (Figure 6). Churachandpur shares a border with Mizoram and its people are ethnically and linguistically close to Mizoram. Eleven other state capitals reported 22.6 per cent of the total registrations. However, in a few districts, namely, Churachandpur (62 per cent) in Manipur and Karbi Anglong (26 per cent) and Kokrajhar (26 per cent) in Assam, more tribal newspapers were registered in comparison to the state capital.
Periodicity – monthlies have been growing
About 25.6 per cent of all newspapers registered between 1957 and 2015 were dailies. Until 2005 tribal language monthlies accounted for only 29 per cent of newspaper registrations in comparison to 25 per cent of weeklies. But, in recent times (2006-15) the share of monthlies increased to 45.9 per cent compared to 9.4 per cent of weeklies and 29.4 per cent dailies (Figure 7). The resurgence of monthlies suggests that it is difficult to sustain dailies in tribal languages.
Ownership is predominantly private persons
Almost two-thirds of all the tribal newspapers were owned by individuals. Only seven individual owners – one each in West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Nagaland, and Tripura and two in Meghalaya – belonged to non-tribal communities. Private publishing companies owned only three per cent of the newspapers (Figure 8).Youth, students’ organisations and political parties owned ten per cent of the registered newspapers.
All four tribal language newspapers owned by political parties were registered in Mizoram. Eleven newspapers were owned by the government in four tribal languages namely Mizo (7) in Mizoram, Khasi (2) in Meghalaya, Santhali (1) in West Bengal and Kokborok (1) in Tripura. Religious bodies and affiliated institutions owned 54 newspapers, including 52 newspapers in 14 languages owned by Church institutions, one Santhali newspaper owned by an ashram in West Bengal, and a Khasi newspaper owned by the Seng Khasi Association. The dominance of private individuals and not-for-profit organisations in the tribal language print media suggests the lack of commercial viability of tribal language newspapers.
The fact that tribal languages with a large number of registrations also happen to be spoken by hill tribes that have embraced Christianity is explained by the historical association of the Church with printing in tribal languages. Among Christian hill tribes, the tribes in which the Presbyterian Church is dominant – the Mizo of Mizoram and the Khasi of Meghalaya – have recorded very high rates of registration.
Almost 60 per cent of all the Church-owned tribal language newspapers in the country were published in Mizo, even though only 16.5 per cent of the Mizo newspapers were owned by the Church. About 35 per cent of Khasi newspapers and 30 per cent of tribal language newspapers in Manipur registered before 1977 were owned by the Church and its affiliated organisations. In Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, no tribal newspaper was owned by the Church. Outside the North East only four tribal newspapers were owned by the Church.
Circulation varies greatly
Only 16 tribal newspapers including nine in Assam, two each in Nagaland and West Bengal and one newspaper each in Chhattisgarh, Tripura and Jharkhand filed annual statements in 2014-15 (see appendix 1).These include five Karbi and four Bodo newspapers. Among these only Bastaria (1984) and Badosa (1991) were more than 20 years old. The remaining 14 newspapers were registered after 2000.
The highest circulation among tribal newspapers was claimed by Tir Yimyim (Nagaland). In 2013-14, 19 newspapers filed annual statements including eight in Assam, four each in Meghalaya and Mizoram and one each in Nagaland, Tripura and West Bengal. Among these U Nongsain Hima (Meghalaya) was more than 50 years old and Hachukni Kok (Tripura) claimed the highest circulation. Ten newspapers filed annual statements in both 2013-14 and 2014-15. Figure 9 shows the circulation of newspapers that filed statements in at least one of these years. If a newspaper filed returns in both years the figure shows the average circulation.
The requirement of filing annual statements is not strictly enforced and therefore the information base does not cover all newspapers that are currently in circulation. The filing rate is particularly low for remote areas and small newspapers. For example, in 2007-08 only three tribal newspaper including one Mizo newspaper Vanglaini, and two Khasi newspapers Dong Musa and Ka Jingshai Ka Gospel filed returns.
Information about the present state of tribal language newspapers can also be obtained from the lists of accredited newspapers maintained by the department of information and public relations (DIPR) of various state governments (Figure 10). At present there is no accredited tribal newspaper outside the North East. Mizoram alone accounts for 65 per cent of the 52 accredited tribal language newspapers. In fact, Mizoram is the only state where government circulars are simultaneously released in both English and a tribal language.
Accreditation is generally given to dailies and news-oriented magazines, which leaves out other periodicals registered with RNI. So, the exact status of the tribal print media can be obtained only through field visits. However, based on the available information the following can be said about the tribal newspapers in operation. One newspaper each in Nagaland and Manipur has gone out of circulation. All but one registered tribal newspapers of Nagaland are currently in operation. In the rest of the states the list of accredited newspapers provides information about some of the newspapers in circulation.
In addition, other sources suggest that 12 more newspapers are in circulation – Jharkhand (1 newspaper), Arunachal Pradesh (1), Chhattisgarh (1), Meghalaya (1), Mizoram (1),West Bengal (2),Manipur (2) and Assam (3). So, out of 340 registered tribal newspapers, two have gone out of circulation, while at least 66 seem to be in circulation of which 25 have filed annual statements between 2013 and 2015.
A few states have also seen registrations of bi-/multi-lingual tribal newspapers. Unfortunately, RNI does not identify the languages involved in such publications and this has to be inferred from the name of publication and the name and location of the publisher. About 58 bilingual and 16 multilingual newspapers have been registered in the North East. Nagaland’s only bilingual (Sumi and English) newspaper is no longer in circulation, whereas both bilingual newspapers of Tripura are in circulation and also accredited with the state government.
Mizoram (15 newspapers), Manipur (20), Meghalaya (16) and Assam (4) accounted for 90 per cent of the bilingual tribal newspapers. More than two thirds of the bilingual tribal newspapers were registered between 1957 and 1991. After that, the rate of registration has fallen. Multilingual newspapers were published from Mizoram (7), Manipur (5), Assam (3) and Tripura (1). Half of the multilingual newspapers were registered during 1957-1991.
Generally tribes do not get sufficient recognition in the mainstream media. The development of media in tribal languages is a step in the direction of developing an environment to nourish the language, culture and heritage. Political autonomy and recognition in a state as one of the primary official languages support the growth of tribal newspapers.
The tribal majority states of the North East account for most of the registrations of tribal language newspapers. Mizo, the leader in tribal language print media which accounts for half of the registrations, is spoken by only 1.8 per cent of India’s tribes (Census, 2001) Between 1957 and 1986, the average number of newspapers registered in Mizo was 2.3. However, in later years, i.e., after the resolution of the insurgency and the formation of the state, there were 3.8 registrations per year in Mizo.
While Mizoram is the smallest North Eastern state, the Mizo language enjoys a number of advantages over other tribal languages. An overwhelming majority of Mizoram speaks Mizo. Also, unlike other North Eastern states, Mizoram has enjoyed a long spell of peace since 1986 and is among the leaders in the country in terms of literacy.
The impact of political autonomy is reflected in the fact that in all North East states, at least 60 per cent of tribal language newspapers were registered after the formation of the state. Except one Santhali newspaper, all government-owned tribal language newspapers were published from the North East. The Mizo language accounted for a majority of government-owned tribal language newspapers. All tribal languages with a large number of registrations, except Santhali, are spoken in states that have a tribal majority.
Also, the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which applies to some of the North Eastern states and gives greater autonomy to tribes compared to the Fifth Schedule that applies to tribal areas in the mainland, is associated with more registrations. Moreover, the headquarters of autonomous tribal areas such as Kokrajhar and Karbi Anglong have seen more tribal language newspaper registrations than even the state capital.
The effect of official status is demonstrated by the fact that all the tribal languages that reported more than five per cent registrations are official languages of a state and are also taught at the university level. Only Garo (8 registrations), Kokborok (4), and Tenyidie (2) satisfy these conditions, but have seen fewer registrations.
Large population size does not necessarily support the growth of tribal language newspapers. The Central and Eastern Indian states where the bulk of India’s tribes live, have very few tribal language newspapers.
Similarly, recognition as an Eighth Schedule language does not necessarily support the growth of newspapers. Between 2005 and 2015, the growth rate of registration of tribal language newspapers was 33 per cent compared to the 13 per cent of Bodo and 120 per cent of Santhali that were added to the Eight Schedule of the Constitution in 2004.
(i) This figure includes one Hmar newspaper reported under Hindi and two Garo newspapers reported under Garhwali. It does not include two duplicate entries, six newspapers for which details are not available, 20 tribal language newspapers registered by an Odisha-based publisher who has registered newspapers in several other languages as well, and 35 non-tribal language newspapers reported under tribal languages. Newspapers reported under languages such as Ganje (1), Kabur (1), Zeliangrong (1), Paite Pau (1) and Others (1) were found to belong to Gangte, Rongmei/Kabui, Paite and Kom languages. These newspapers were accordingly transferred to the latter.
Ankita Pandey is an independent researcher based in Bengaluru.