Last Thursday, several thousand Ladakhis staged a demonstration in the city of Jammu to demand that Ladakhi be added to the list of official Indian languages. Dressed in traditional costumes, over 2,000 people, carrying placards and flags, shouted that Ladakhi, also called Bhoti or Bhodi, should be included on the eighth schedule of the Indian national constitution, which lists the 18 official languages of India.
One protester, Tashi Targez, was quoted by the press as saying, “our first demand is that our language Bhoti should be given due acceptance by the concerned authorities. When Manipuri Nepali and other such languages can be given due importance, why not our language? Since fifteen years, we have been protesting. It is a shame that till date our demands have not been met.”
Bhoti is an archaic form of Tibetan, and while it is not normally understood by the people of Tibet, its dialects are mutually understood by people in Leh, Kargil, Zangskar, and other regions of Ladakh—and to some extent beyond. According to Rizvi, scholars have been trying to develop a written form of Bhoti to correspond to colloquial Ladakhi, but as yet, the written form of the language is still Tibetan.
The 18 languages listed on the schedule added to the Constitution of India include those spoken by smaller numbers of people as well as the ones used by many millions, such as Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. One list of the 18 scheduled languages includes another 96 non-scheduled languages, a number of which have more than a million speakers.
As the protester at last week’s demonstration said, the Ladakhis have been agitating for their language to be added to the official list for many years. A conference in the city of Leh in 2000, the National Seminar of Himalayan Culture and Bhoti Language, raised the issue to some prominence. It included several prominent politicians and other speakers who stressed the national importance of Bhoti.
A news report a year ago indicated that the Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association is spearheading the demand for the language to be recognized in the official, national listing. Shortly after, in January this year, the association sponsored a procession in Jammu with banners and placards to promote their demands. The president of the association, Tashi Taragayas, said that Bhoti, spoken throughout the Himalayan region of India, is the mother tongue of Ladakh.
The Daily Excelsior of Jammu in September this year gave its strong editorial support for the Ladakhi demands. The paper pointed out that numerous ancient texts in the Bhoti language have preserved some of the most important documents in Indian history. The language is also a vital part of Ladakhi society today. While English is understood in Ladakh, the people continue to speak and write in their own language.
The Dalai Lama, when he visits Ladakh, speaks in Bhoti to the crowds. The paper estimates that over 2,000,000 people speak the language, which is also understood in other states and countries. It editorializes that every requirement for adding Bhoti as an official language to the nation’s constitution has been met. It is spoken throughout the strategically important Himalayan region, it has a very rich literature, and it preserves an important cultural history.