By: MA AONG NU MARMA
Like everyone else, Adivasis have their own language. Adivasis also communicate in their native language. His dreams are filled with the language of his mother. The children from the hills of Chittagong Hill Tracts can speak several languages. Due to their studies in Bengal, the tribals have developed a deep affection for the Bengali language. During language month, we have the chance to delve into the profound insights of gifted individuals regarding the Bengali language. There is widespread dissatisfaction regarding the usage and ever-changing nature of the Bengali language.
This demonstrates a deep affection for the Bengali language. However, the perception of the Bengali language as a rich and significant language prompts indigenous speakers to contemplate further. One might wonder how a language that boasts books by esteemed poets and writers such as Manik Banerjee, Syed Waliullah, Bibhutibhushan Banerjee, Kazi Nazrul Islam, and Rabindranath Tagore could ever face the risk of losing its significance. Bengali is a language that holds a special place in our nation. Furthermore, Bengal continues to produce literature daily. There is a surge in the creation of songs, movies, and plays. Numerous Bengali-language schools and colleges exist, including the renowned Bangla Academy. Every day, hundreds of thousands of school students proudly recite the National Anthem in their mother tongue, Bengali. There are translations of the world’s famous literary works available in Bengali. Bengali literature also offers the opportunity to earn a significant degree.
In addition, Google is currently developing support for the Bengali language. A project worth 160 crore rupees to enhance the government’s official language resources (see Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, 2019). According to Abdul Mannan (2019), the University Grants Commission has made it mandatory for all university students to study Bengali language and literature. Biswa Sahitya Kendra operates 250 mobile libraries across 58 districts, aiming to promote the practice of pure Bengali among the youth through the ‘Banglabid’ competition. In 2018, a staggering 4,591 books were published from Book Fair alone, and this number continues to rise with each passing year. The musical sounds of Bengali can reach your ears even at an altitude of 40 thousand feet. Bengali-speaking thinkers have extensively debated the limitations of the Bengali language.
However, it is worth noting that the Marma language holds significance as the second-largest indigenous population in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region of Bangladesh. Historically, Bihar-centric education was quite common, but nowadays, it is only found in a few selected neighbourhoods. The government has developed and distributed textbooks in the Marma mother tongue for pre-primary to second grade over the past two to three years. However, formal teaching work has yet to commence. The cultural institutes of the three hill districts occasionally publish articles on the Marma community and other communities. A book called ‘Marma History and Culture’ was recently published by two dedicated Marma researchers. It is worth noting that another researcher completed work on the Marma language dictionary quite some time ago. However, despite their efforts, the dictionary has yet to be published due to a lack of cooperation. Currently, no established school or institution is dedicated to research in the Marma language.
While there may have been indications of literary activity in the past, the current absence of any such practice is evident. There is a lack of recognition for writers or poets in the Marma language. Everyone who is writing is doing so in the Bengali language. Unfortunately, there are no papers available in the Marma language. The children in Marma are excelling in their studies in Bengal. It’s worth noting that some language teachers occasionally simplify the spelling of Marma students’ names if they find them challenging. For instance, they might change “KU Mong Marma” to something more manageable. Despite the relatively small Marma population in Bangladesh and Tripura, India, there is ample opportunity to preserve and enhance the Marma language. Most of the elders in the village are literate. In the 11th National Assembly elections, candidates’ posters in Marma-dominated regions were observed to be campaigning in the Marma language. In addition, leading cultural organisations also play a significant role in national and international arenas, showcasing the country’s rich cultural diversity.
Once more, it is commonly understood that Bengali is considered the primary language in society, often overshadowing other indigenous languages. It is worth discussing whether or not young students adequately recognise the importance of their mother tongue. There is a prevalent tradition in society of devaluing the indigenous language. For instance, I can discuss a current TV advertisement by a mobile network company that portrays a negative image of the adivasis’ proficiency in the Bengali language.
However, NGOs are crucial in addressing issues such as poverty and gender inequality. It can be quite challenging to secure a job within national and international organisations and local NGOs without English proficiency. It is worth mentioning that none of their employees are fluent in English. Understanding the English required to communicate effectively with the villagers can be challenging. For someone in the field of ‘society doctor’, it is crucial to possess a deep understanding of societal issues and the ability to analyse them. These qualifications should be the primary criteria for determining eligibility for NGO work. However, it is essential to note that having a solid command of the English language is a significant factor in securing employment opportunities, which holds even in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. English proficiency is highly valued in the NGO sector, often resulting in higher job titles and salaries. NGOs significantly contribute to the diminishing significance of the mother tongue. English plays a crucial role as a primary means of communication in NGOs. But what is the importance of English proficiency in an organisation? This problem can be easily overcome with the presence of a translation section. Promoting individuals solely based on age and English proficiency may inadvertently discourage them from using their mother tongue among other employees.
It would be a grave oversight to consider Bengali as the mother tongue solely when assessing the practice, popularity, and prosperity of the language within society. To promote the use of the Bengali language, it is essential to prioritise the preservation of indigenous languages. Only then will all children genuinely understand the meaning of their mother tongue.
Like any other language, the progress of the Bengali language also depends on the attention and support of society and the government towards all languages. Twenty-one reflects a rich history of standing up against linguistic discrimination worldwide. Today is International Mother Language Day, which holds great significance.
The Amar Ekushe Book Fair has yet to have a stall for the Marma community. No books are published in the Marma language. This disgrace extends beyond the Marma tribals and affects all of us. Many believe that Ekush, book fairs, and discussions about the mother tongue primarily focus on the Bengali language. We need to examine the perspectives of other tribes to determine their level of interest in language development.