The doctor and priest who gave life to an Adivasi script


The Indian rupee note has several languages on it, including Hindi, Sanskrit, Punjabi, Marathi, Bengali and Kannada. None of India’s tribal languages are represented on it.

This observation, as well as the experience of discrimination in medical college, inspired a young doctor named Narayan Oraon to begin work on a script for his language, Kurukh, in the late 1980s. He decided that the work could be his contribution to the movement for a separate state of Jharkhand, which was gathering steam at the time.

But Oraon was worried that there would be no takers for his new script.

As it happened, around the time he completed his work, deep in the interiors of Gumla district, a priest named Zephyrinus Baxla set up a school, where he decided students would be instructed in Kurukh, and taught aspects of tribal culture, including songs and folk stories.

Oraon’s script would find its first home in Zephyrinus' school. Nolina Minj tells the story of how the two men’s lives intertwined, and how they left their mark on the state and on Kurukh culture.

“Working on this story has been special to me since I too belong to the Kurukh community,” Minj said. “The two key persons – Dr Narayan Oraon and Father Zephyrinus Baxla – are both forces of nature, despite getting on in years. I was touched by the zeal that they both brought to their work, which was very palpable in the interviews.”

She added, “Generally, media narratives on Adivasis tend to only focus on the host of struggles they face, which no doubt deserve coverage, but stories like that of Oraon and Baxla remind me to dig deep for the longer, more complex stories out there.”

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Ajay Krishnan
Senior Editor

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