People of Chakma and other minorities have lamented the loss of their native language while paying tributes to the Bangla language martyrs at Central Shaheed Minar.Napoleon Talukder on Sunday said he spoke Chakma with his family at home but he has never been trained in the language; meaning he cannot write it.
A student at Notre Dame College, he said no-one in his family, including his parents, are familiar with the Chakma script.
“We speak Chakma, our language, at home. My family members are educated. But no-one knows how to write in Chakma.”
Napoleon’s friend Amar Jiban Chakma was also at the Shaheed Minar on the day recognised globally as International Mother Language Day.
“Chakma is my language but I can’t write in it. I feel terrible but I can’t say anything about it.”
Small ethnic groups make up two percent of the population in Bangladesh where there is no option to learn in these languages.
Forty percent of the people around the world do not study in a language they understand, according to findings from UNESCO’s new paper released for the Day.
The policy paper titled, ‘If you don’t understand, how can you learn?’ mentions the kind of grievances felt by Bangladesh’s neglected ethnic minorities that Napoleon and Amar represent.
“We’ve come here to pay our respects to those who sacrificed their lives to secure their native language in 1952,” said Amar, also a student of Notre Dame.
“It feels good to come here. I couldn’t come here before because I was in Khagrhachharhi.
He said his schooling did not include his native language at his home, Rangamati, or in Khagrhachharhi where his father worked.
“We have to learn Bangla, the official language… so we will. But I feel bad for not being able to write in my own language.”
It was also Napoleon’s first time at the Central Shaheed Minar. “There are places in the remote hills where you can learn Chakma, but they don’t have other essential subjects there.
“It’s not possible to learn the script from someone who knows it in the town.”
Mormo Singha Tripura was in the memorial with his wife and children. He told bdnews24.com he learned whatever he knew of his language on his own.
The UNESCO paper recommended at least six years of education in one’s mother tongue “so that gains from teaching in mother tongue in the early years are sustained”.
The Chakma language was first introduced in hill tract primary schools during British rule in 1863, but the arrangement did not last long.
The Bangladesh education policy favours teaching in the mother language, leading to the formation of a national committee in 2012, headed by Dhaka University linguistics professor Sourav Shikder.
The committee first selected six languages – Chakma, Mandi, Saontali, Marma, Orao and Tripura – basing their choice on the number of people that spoke them, he told bdnews24.com.
“A dispute arose among the Saontals on the use of Roman and Bengali scripts, putting the initiative on hold. Later, five text books for the pre-primary level were prepared between June and July last year.”
A bureaucratic bottleneck has kept them from being distributed among students, he said.
“There are steps yet to be taken for its implementation,” said Sanjeeb Drong, a committee member and general secretary of the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Forum.
“We are yet to list the schools where it will be taught. Teachers need to be trained and assigned. None of this has been done,” he added.
The matter had been denied the importance it deserved and the government has been slow in taking it forward, he said.
Kishore Chandra Roy, a Bengali youth, came with Napoleon and Amar to place flowers at the Central Shaheed Minar on Sunday.
“Today I wish my friends could learn to write in their mother language like I can in mine.”