On a hot sunny afternoon around twenty tribals — among them a teenager who has studied till fifth, a school teacher readying for his MSc Physics exam, a XII pass youngster and an engineer — are poring over folk-tale texts in the spacious hall of government-run International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Naya Raipur. They may have varying degrees of education, but have one thing in common: Each of them is bilingual, capable of speaking and writing Hindi and native Gondi.

Engrossed in their work, they do not look up until they are asked to. Visibly tired from hours of translating Hindi texts into their native Gondi, they eagerly settle in a circle to listen, but are shy to talk. After all, they have come to Naya Raipur, a part of Chhattisgarh’s capital city, for the first time.

10-day target

However, 19-year-old Uttam Atta, who has travelled close to 300 km from his home town in Gadchiroli in neighbouring Maharashtra, to participate in the translation project, is not shy.

“When we were in school, the teacher conversed with us only in Hindi. We were made to read Hindi texts. But our native language is Gondi. Our parents speak Gondi. We have tribal song and dance celebrations with deeply-ingrained messages on health and education, in Gondi — popularly known as ‘Gotul,’ and ‘Relaas.’ We are in the process of making more Gondi literature available to children in school through this project,” he says.

This batch of 20 volunteers has a massive task on hand. In ten days, they have a target of collectively-translating at least 10,000 lines from Hindi to Gondi, that means 400 story books.

“Once 10,000 lines are translated and fed into the computer, the system has enough information to design an algorithm for further automated translation. Once that is achieved, any text from Hindi to Gondi or vice versa can be translated automatically by the computer,” said Devansh Mehta, Head of Urban Outreach and Business Development at CGNet Swara, a citizen journalism platform. This platform is facilitating the workshop in collaboration with Microsoft and IIIT.

The translations are being uploaded on Pratham Books supported web portal Story Weaver, which has 9,384 stories in 120 languages online.

Suresh Katrami (25), a BSc graduate from Bastar, appears worried when asked about conditions in his village back home. “We hardly have electricity... bad roads, a school but a teacher who barely attends class. In the last three months, the teacher attended school for only a week. The translation exercise will aid children in accessing Gondi texts, so they can study on their own. Our native tongue is diminishing, we are in process of alleviating it,” Katrami said.

Gondi is a nuanced language and has up to 27 lakh native speakers spread across tribes of Central India mostly in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha. “Yet, we are not taught our mother tongue in school,” said Sanju Mandavi, who undertook 200-km travel from Pakhajore in North Bastar to Naya Raipur to be able to participate in the translation endeavour.

“When we were kids, there was no poetry or story texts in Gondi. Now, when we get married and have kids, we will be able to gift them Gondi books,” he beams.

Kumari Sushila (17), who has travelled over 100 km from Kanker in North Bastar to Naya Raipur, had never seen a computer before. She has studied till V and is manually translating primary school level text in her shaky handwriting from Hindi to Gondi. “I end up making wrong translations. I goof up, make mistakes. But the seniors here help me correct them.

Attending this workshop has instilled tonnes of confidence in me,” she says as she translates yet another line of a story in Gondi from Hindi, “ Nanha Erey Saad Daayla Tayyar Hayala”, which roughly translates into: ‘ The little goat is ready to go to school’.

The writer was recently in Naya Raipur (Chattisgarh)