Dhard, India : ''Wading into culture wars'' as leaders push Hindi, a linguist is documenting the nation's many tongues.

''History is being taught to spread political bigotry in this country. Someone needed to show a mirror to the ruling class.''

The task was gargantuan : assembling a team of more than 3,500 language specialists, academics and enthusiastic amateurs to determine just how many distinct languages still exist in India, a country of stunning linguistic diversity.

Ganesh Narayan Devy has been obsessed with that question since, as a young scholar of literature, he came across a linguistic census from 1971 that listed 108 mother tongues spoken by Indians. At the end of the report, at No, 109, it said ''all others".

''I wondered what 'all others' could be,'' he said.

It turns out to be a huge number : His team's survey, perhaps the most exhaustive such effort ever in India, has reached 780 languages currently being used in the country, with hundreds more left to be studied.

INDIA'S CONSTITUTION, in contrast 22 languages, and the last government census in 2011 named ''121'' major languages with 10,000 speakers or more.

Mr. Devy's findings, which he has been gradually publishing in a series of scholarly volumes, come at a sensitive time, as the government of Prime minister Narendra Modi is pushing to adopt Hindi as the national language, part of the broader Hindu-first vision for India.

As his language research is being rolled out, Mr. Devy has immersed himself in a new project that takes on what is perhaps an even bigger and more contentious issue in India's culture wars : the country's long history.

His ''The Origins of Indian Civilization and Histories of India'' aims to trace the trajectory of the entire subcontinent since the end of the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago. He has recruited 80 historians from around the world to work with him.

The ambitious work is intended as a rejoinder to the campaign by India's governing party to rewrite the nation's history books, including by excising sections on Muslim rulers and changing the Muslim names for places.

''History is being taught to spread political bigotry in this country,'' Mr. Devy said. ''Someone needed to show a mirror to the ruling class.''

His passion for both India's languages and the advent and course of its civilization converge in his work with India's vast population  of long-oppressed Adivasis, or ''original people''.

Adivasi is an umbrella term for indigenous groups in India, covering a population of more than 100 million people, with a tremendous diversity in ethnicities, culture, languages and even language families.

Many of these languages have already died, or are fast disappearing. And when a language goes extinct, it's not only words that are lost.

Language is the way, Mr. Devy said, that a community constructs its ideas of time and space. People who abandon their first language to take on another often lose this distinct perspective along with it, he said.

''The world may be one scene out there, but the language constructs it in a unique way,'' he said. ''So this unique worldview is lost.''

For decades, India has been hemorrhaging languages, having lost over 300 since independence in 1947, Mr. Devy said, with many more on the verge of disappearing as the number of speakers drops below 10,000.

Conducting his research for the People's Linguistic Survey of India, Mr. Devy said, was walking into a graveyard littered with corpses.

The Publishing continues. The World Students Society honours Mr. Ganesh Narayan Devy, and thanks author Sameer Yasir.


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