It took PT Thomas more than 15 years to translate the New Testament into Bhili dialect and now he is working on the Old Testament for the past five years.
Thomas, 65, a Kerala-born linguist living in Jhabua for the past 20 years, learnt the dialect from Bhil tribes people in the district.
“I will complete the translation in the next two years,” said Thomas, who is also working on two bilingual dictionaries–Bhili to Hindi and Bhili to English.
Thomas was pursuing post-graduate degree in phonetics and linguistics when the idea of translating the Bible came to him. He came to Jhabua more than 20 years back and stayed on to learn the dialect. To translate the Bible, he adopted the Bhil tribes people’s lifestyle.
“I talked to three generations of tribes people to learn the language and went around villages in Jhabua to enrich my vocabulary…and at times I stayed in villages for weeks to learn more about the dialect,” Thomas told Hindustan Times.
He further said that the aim for translating the Bible into Bhili is to encourage and enrich the dialect.
In 2012, more than 2,000 copies of the New Testament in Bhili were published and became talk of the town.
“Since Bhili has no script, I chose to translate the Bible in the Devnagari script. I only give the translated Bible to the people, who I know will read the book…,” said Thomas, who left his job with Food Cooperation of India in 1970 and decided to study linguistics.
Thomas’s wife, Emma Valsa, who has been with her husband since he came to Jhabua, said she too learnt the dialect from the tribes people. “Thomas and I still visit villages every time we come across a new word or a concept.”
The Bhili is western Indo-Aryan language spoken in west-central India. The language is written using a variation of Devnagari script.
B Damor, a tribal activist working in the region, said the translated Bible will help promote the dialect in the other parts of the country where the Bhil tribes people live.
“Since there is no dictionary of Bhil and proper literature, scriptures of other religions should also be translated in Bhil,” he said.