Monday, October 31, 2011

Our script is our birthright





By Paritosh Chakma

The rally by Chakmas in the streets of Agartala, the capital of Tripura, on 18th August 2011, three days after the India’s Independence Day, is an unforgettable event. Although I was not physically present there, the photos flashed through the Facebook inspired me to write this article.

The Chakmas participated in the rally holding placards and banners written in Chakma script, Bengali and English conveying their demands. Most of the placards and banners were written in Chakma script but they were also written in Bengali and Roman scripts so that others and Chakmas who cannot read the Chakma script can read and understand.

The rally was participated by over 400 people, including women and girls, from the nook and corners of Tripura. Given the lackluster attitude of Chakmas towards social movements across India, the number (400) is significantly higher, also given the fact that the rally was held at Agartata where not many Chakmas live. The number reflected the honour Chkamas would like to have by getting official recognition of their script and language.

Constitution vs Tripura govt

The Constitution of India has provided adequate safeguards for minorities, including linguistic minorities. While all the constitutional safeguards like the right to equality, non discrimination etc, are also applicable to the minorities, the Constitution has spelt out several safeguards specifically for the minorities. Article 29 (1) of the Constitution explicitly states that “any section of citizens” has the right to conserve the “distinct language, script or culture of its own”. The Constitution also says that it shall be the endeavour of every state government to provide adequate facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage (Article 350 A).
But the Tripura government has “imposed” the Bengali script on Chakmas. It is an insult to the whole Chakma community and naked violation of the fundamental rights of the minorities in India.

Not many tribal languages have their own scripts. Since Chkama is an endangered language, the State must take adequate measures to safeguard it. The first and most important measure would be to officially recognize the Chakma language and script and give all the protections under the law.

But the Tripura government has separated the Mother Tongue from its script. The state government had agreed to introduce Chakma language but not the script. The million dollar question is: why should the Chakmas read or write their language in some other’s script when they have their own script which is centuries old and well developed?

Who’s to blame?
If the Tripura government has refused to adopt the Chakma script who is to blame? The Tripura government has squarely blamed the Chakmas themselves, and to be more specific, the Advisory Committee for Development of Chakma Language (hereafter “Advisory Committee”) which is headed by a Chakma. Figure this. Vide letter dated 16 August 2010, Director of SCERT, Tripura informed the General Secretary, Undandhi Sadhak (NGO) that “Chakma Text-Books are being prepared in Bengali Scripts on the basis of the resolution adopted in a meeting of the Advisory Committee for Development of Chakma Language held on 10/08/1998, which was approved by the higher Authority vide DO.No. 256/Min/Edn/99 dated 1-4-99”. “In this regards, it may be mentioned here that the Authority of School Education is acting on the basis of the advise/ recommendation of the Advisory Committee for Development of Chakma Language,” the letter further pointed out. 

Earlier, responding to an RTI application filed by Aniruddha Chakma, GS, Chakma Students’ Association, S. Debbarma, Deputy Director, SCERT, Tripura reiterated the same thing on 25 February 2008: “Bengali script was adopted [for Chakmas] as per recommendation of Advisory Committee for Development of Chakma Language”.  

The allegation also goes that the Advisory Committee on 10 August 1998 secretly embraced the Bengali script. Interestingly, the Advisory Committee has never publicly refuted these allegations. 

However, to be fair to the Advisory Committee, prior to 1998, it had indeed recommended to the state government for adoption of Chakma script. For example, such a resolution was passed on 8 October 1993 but the state government did not accept it. Instead, the state government vide letter No. F.19(8-11)-DSE/88(2-3)/850-58, dated Agartala, the 05 September 1995 announced that Chakma subject will be taught in Bengali script!

So, it is evident that prior to the Advisory Committee’s resolution of 10 August 1998, the state government had already approved Bengali script. 

There is also evidence to suggest that the Advisory Committee did indeed lobbied for Chakma script. In a letter dated 2 November 1995, Officer-in-Charge, Tribal Language Cell, Directorate of School Education, Agartala informed Pragati Chakma, Member of the Advisory Committee that “the Hon’ble Education Minister has kindly agreed to introduce only Chakma Language subject in Chakma Scripts from Class III onwards at the Primary level as per report submitted to this office by the Chairman of Advisory Committee for Development of Chakma Language.”  

But the state government of Tripura never kept its promise. It needed an excuse to scuttle the Chakma script. That excuse came in the form of the Advisory Committee’s resolution of 10 August 1998 that was passed under mysterious circumstances.  

That however does not exonerate the Advisory Committee which has a lot to answer.   
On August 29th, Chakma social leaders and Advisory Committee members held a meeting with state’s Education Minister. The Education Minister decided to send the proposal for Cabinet consideration. Chakmas believe this is a delaying tactic. Only god knows how many more years it will take to come to a solid decision.

Way forward
We must not be disheartened by the August 29th event. Chakmas must continue to keep the movement for Chakma script alive.  

Our fight must be both at state level and national level. We must bring our demand to the notice of the President of India and the National Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, who reports to the President. Under Article 347 of the Constitution, “On a demand being made in that behalf the President may, if he is satisfied that a substantial proportion of the population of a State desire the use of any language spoken by them to be recognised by that State, direct that such language shall also be officially recognised throughout that State or any part thereof for such purpose as he may specify.” There are several pockets in Tripura where Chakma speakers could be considered “substantial” in number. We must make it clear that language and script are inseparable.  

The National Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, created under Article 350B of the constitution, has the authority to “investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities under this Constitution and report to the President”. 

Chakmas must use various constitutional mechanisms. If nothing works, we must seek legal guidance as to whether or not this case could be taken to the court.

The Chakmas’ understanding is: Our script is our birthright. What does the constitution say?


(First published in SOJAAK, Issue No. 3, October 2011, available at http://sojaak.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/sojaak-october2011.pdf )


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 )