Saturday, October 29, 2011

Chakma: A language utterly neglected in Mizoram


The Chakma is a community with distinct culture, traditions, and a language having its own written script. They mostly inhabit the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh; the Arakan or Rakhine state of Myanmar; and Mizoram, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh & Assam in the North Eastern region of India. The Chakmas, though in less numbers, are also living in various parts of the world.

In Mizoram, Chakmas have Autonomous District Council, protected under the Constitution of India. The Chakma ADC protects and preserves the community’s culture, language and script, apart from enjoying political autonomy (though in limited measure). With a population of 71,283 which constitute 8% of Mizoram’s total population (Census 2001), Chakmas are the second largest community, after the Mizos. (See, http://censusindia.gov.in/Tables_Published/SCST/dh_st_mizoram.pdf )

But, Chakmas are very much neglected in Mizoram. This article seeks to document an aspect of that neglect, that is, Chakma language.

Height of apathy: Chakma speakers are counted as Bengalees
In the Mizoram government’s response to questionnaire for 41st Report (for period from July 2002 to June 2003) of the National Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities (NCLM) there is no mention of Chakma as a language spoken in the state. The linguistic profile of Mizoram was mentioned as follows:

Language
No. of speakers
Percentage
Lushai/Mizo
518099

75.11
Bengali
59092
8.57
Tripuri
26425
3.83
Lakher
22938
3.32

Pawi
15316
2.22
Hmar

9525
1.38
Hindi
8837
1.28

Nepali
8247
1.20
Paite

7726
1.12


The highlight of Mizoram government’s response is the exclusion of Chakma language. The fact that the Bengali speakers were mentioned as 8.57% suggests that Chakmas have been counted as Bengalees! (Just look at the figures below; Bengali is spoken by just 1% of Mizoram’s population.) Counting of Chakmas as Bengalees is the height of discrimination and apathy against the Chakmas by the administration in Mizoram.


However, Chakmas figure prominently in the response to the questionnaire for NCLM’s 42nd Report (for the period from July 2003 to June 2004). The languages are as follows:

Language
No. of speakers
Percentage
Mizo
773058
87
Chakma
71086
8

Hindi
31989
3.6
Bengali

9774
1.1
Others
2666
0.3


The Chakma language has been rightly restored as the second most spoken language in Mizoram after Mizo.

In the responses to the questionnaire for 45th Report (for the period from July 2006 to June 2007), the languages spoken are given as:

Language
No of speakers
Percentage
Mizo
647849

72.9
Chakma

67057
7.55
Lakher
34731
3.9
Pawi
24900
2.8
Paite
14356

1.61
Hmar
14240
1.6
Bengali
13325
1.5


How the number of Chakma speakers came down from 71,086 to 67,057 is a mystery. On the other hand, Census 2001 counted the Chakmas as 71,283. 

If we look at critically, we find the following three things:
            First, it is evident that the state government of Mizoram in its response submitted to the National Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities for 41th Report counted the Chakmas as “Bengalees”.
            Second, exclusion of the Chakmas as a distinct linguistic group (despite being the 2nd largest linguistic group) was height of discrimination and apathy against them, and assaults their identity as a distinct community in Mizoram; and
            Third, the Mizoram government has been inconsistent with the number of speakers of various languages including Chakma.

Mizoram snubs NCLM: Evidence of apathy against minorities
Article 350B of the Constitution of India provides for “a Special Officer for linguistic minorities” to be appointed by the President whose duty shall be to “investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities under this Constitution and report to the President upon those matters at such intervals as the President may direct, and the President shall cause all such reports to be laid before each House of Parliament, and sent to the Governments of the States concerned.” The National Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities was created under Article 350B.

The NCLM may be a constitutional authority but without any teeth. Its orders are repeatedly violated by the state government of Mizoram, without any accountability.

The 46th report (July, 2007 to June, 2008) of the National Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities painfully records -
Inspite of repeated reminders and letter to Chief Minister from the Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, the State Government did not furnish a reply to the Questionnaire for the 46th Report of the CLM. Therefore, there is nothing new to report, than what has already been reported upon in the 45th Report of the CLM for the period July 2006 to June 2007.

The NCLM merely reproduced its earlier recommendations contained in the 45th Report as below:
i. The State Government should immediately issue suitable directions for maintenance of Advance Registers in schools to enable registration of linguistic preference of minority language students.
ii. It should make efforts to develop expertise in languages other than Mizo. It should also help in preparing the books in Lai, Mara Chakma, Paite and Hamar
iii. The State Government should take steps to publish gist of important rules, regulations, etc. in minority languages in areas where their speakers constitute 15% or more of the local population.
iv. The State Government should publicize the safeguards available to linguistic minorities so as to ensure that speakers of minority languages are not denied their linguistic rights for want of information in this regard.
v. A firm machinery to look after the safeguards provided to the linguistic minorities is required to be established at state and district level. This should also include a monitoring committee to check action taken by the subordinate officers.

This is not the first time that the Mizoram government snubbed the NCLM. In his 44th Report (July 2005 to June 2006) the CLM also painfully notes that “Reply to the questionnaire for the Forty Fourth Report has not been received from Mizoram even after a lot of efforts. We are unable, on this account, to give information about the updated position about the implementation of the safeguards for the linguistic minorities.”

Mizoram’s Tribal Research Institute: Mirror of discrimination
The aim of the Mizoram’s Tribal Research Institution (TRI) is to “undertake a systematic study and research in all aspect of tribal life and economy which will help the Tribal Areas and the Government in formulating the Development and Welfare Schemes for the tribal people in the correct lines.”

Its objectives are: 1. collection of factual information about the history, social organisation, language, customs and manners, wedding, birth and death ceremonies, customary laws and usages, system of inheritance etc. for each particular tribe resident in the state; 2. study the old monographs and writings on the customs, social organisations, and other subjects; 3. collection of folk songs, folk tales, prayers, stories, festivals, myths and fables; 4. evaluation of the Welfare Works taken up since Independence particularly noting their impact on the mind and psychology of the people showing which of them harmonise with their modern way of life and development, and 5. to take up social economic survey of each Tribal village.

But the Mizoram’s TRI situated at Aizawl has done nothing for the Chakma tribe. This reflects the biasness against the Chakma community.

The 44th Report stated that “The TRI is not working on any language other than Mizo and is not producing any books in them. At least the folklore of these tribes can be published in their own language. TRI can also help prepare the books in Chakma, Lai and Mara.” Similarly, the 45th Report recommended that the Tribal Research Institute “should make efforts to develop expertise in languages other than Mizo. It should also help in preparing the books in Lai, Mara Chakma, Paite and Hamar.”

No monitoring Body
No independent body has been set up to monitor and implement the safeguards provided to the Linguistic Minorities.

The Mizoram government refused to provide answers in a lot of questions, mainly relating to machinery for implementation of the safeguards of rights of linguistic minorities. It did not reply to questions for 45th Report concerning the safeguard mechanisms.

It is surprising that the Mizoram government while responding to questionnaire for 42nd Report stated “Items 43 to 47 come under the purview of State’s Home Department”.  “Items 43 to 47” related to Machinery for Implementation of Safeguards and Pamphlets in minority languages.

Minorities’ silence: No complaint
The state government has stated that no petition/ complaint has been filed by any linguistic minority group. When asked to indicate major problems faced by the government and administration in actual implementation of safeguards provided to linguistic minorities, the Mizoram government replied “N.A” (Not Applicable) (Response to questionnaire for 40th Report).

(This article is taken from SOJAAK, Issue No. 3, October 2011, available at http://sojaak.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/sojaak-october2011.pdf )



4 comments:

Vanlal Faka said...

Hi...

They do not discriminate Chakmas.It publishes quite a few books in Mizo á¹­awng, but that is because some researchers are interested in it.

Maybe there are no Chakma researchers who request a funding from it.

I am sure if you have a book about Chakma culture they would be happy to publish it. Do not just criticise them; you have to act yourself.



Paritosh Chakma said...

Dear Vanlal, what you have to say on the counting of Chakma linguistic group as Bengalis in Mizoram, as pointed out in this post??

Vanlal Faka said...

It is a shame to call Chakmas Bengalis.

It shows the inefficiency of our political system.

But I do not know whether the chakmas themselves have reported their language as Bengali, to the officials. That is open to debate.

Paritosh Chakma said...

Please read my article again, and u will know who has counted/ reported the Chakmas as bengalis, why linguistic rights are not granted etc etc.... Please read again the text properly.. @Vanlal