Dhaka University Jum Literature and Cultural Society organised Language and Cultural Diversity Festival 2020 at the Jagannath Hall of the University of Dhaka. Returning from the event, writes Nasir Uz Zaman
To know and understand our own culture, we must learn to see it from the point of view of other cultures, comparing our customs and beliefs with those of other times and places.
— Claude Levi-Strauss
DHAKA University Jum Literature and Cultural Society, a cultural platform of Jumma students of the University of Dhaka from Chittagong Hill Tracts, organised Language and Cultural Diversity Festival 2020 at the Jagannath Hall of the university on February 28 with the tag line ‘let diversity emancipate all languages and cultures.’ In the welcome speech, Ratul Tanchangya, president of Dhaka University Jum Literature and Cultural Society, said that the event was organised to highlight and to present the art, literature and culture of ethnic people in the DU campus. Moreover, the platform tried to create harmony between the culture of Jumma people and the mainstream Bengali culture by arranging the programme.
Dhaka University Jum Literature and Cultural Society is a platform which represents the life and lifestyle of Jumma people of CHT by promoting their cultural and literary diversity. The platform was formed in 2017 and from then on, it is publishing yearly magazines and organising yearly programmes on Jumma culture. This year, for the fourth consecutive time, the platform organised Cultural Diversity Festival 2020.
The event started with speeches from Jumma students; Chak, Mro, Chakma, Marma and Khumi community students talked in their respective mother languages.
After the speeches, there was a debate competition between the first and the second year Jumma students of the university. The theme of the debate competition was ‘Cultural aggression threatening unique identity of ethnic languages and cultures’ where the affirmative team members — Tanmoy Chakma, Suhelti Chakma and Joya Chakma — presented their arguments. Donoai Mro, Achai Mong Chak and Rahin Chakma were in the opposing team.
In the arguments, the affirmative team members pointed out that ethnic languages and cultures are losing their unique identity for cultural aggression, more specifically, for the dominant Bangla language and culture. Speakers described that children of Jumma communities have no scope to get formal education in their mother languages for the present national education system. Though it is said that the government has taken steps to provide education in mother languages but in reality, most of the educational institutions are yet to provide it. As a result, children of the new generations have to learn Bangla language instead of their mother languages.
The team also indicated that a large number of Jumma people have to live outside their ancestral home for survival, for earning their livelihood where they could not use their mother languages. The lack in the practice or the use of the mother languages is leading to the death of that language. To add to the scene, a member drew attention to the use of Bangla language in the practice of Jumma literature. Tanmoy Chakma said, ‘Bangla is not only becoming the dominant language for the Jumma people but also is becoming the dominant language for the Jumma literature. Nowadays, writers from Jumma communities are writing in Bangla instead of using their respective languages. Additionally, the influence of Bengali culture is also increased in the festivals of different ethnic communities.’
The opposing team members argued that cultural aggression is not the only threat but there are also political and economic aggressions for which ethnic languages and cultures are losing their unique identity. The team members pointed out that lives and lifestyle of ethnic communities have changed or deteriorated in quality for political and economic aggressions. Mentioning the establishment of Kaptai Dam for the Karnaphuli Hydroelectric Power Station, a member defined that it was not cultural aggression but political and economic aggressions for which life of the ethnic people of the land faded, a large majority of whom were from Chakma community.
Achai Mong Chak described that the lives and livelihood of the Jumma people have fallen in danger and Jumma villages are now facing eviction one after another for political and economic aggressions. He also mentioned that ethnic languages and cultures could not be saved if such aggressions could not be stopped.
During the next phase of the programme, a discussion session was held where the guests talked about the issues of ethnic communities and about the importance of diversity.
Chandra Tripura, general secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Cultural Forum, urged the Jumma youths to become aware of the present situation and to participate in the movement for saving the culture of ethnic communities. She said, ‘We cannot protect our language and culture if we just blame each other. No one will save our culture if we cannot become aware of our cultural values, beliefs and perceptions. It is true that ethnic people face derogatory comments for their appearance and language but we should not become agitated but should make people understand about ourselves.’
Marking February 21 as International Mother Language Day, Chibol Sangma, executive member of Dhaka University Central Students’ Union, said that the spirit of the month is not only about one language but it is about the diversity of different languages. Describing the present situation of Dhaka University Chibol said, ‘We are yet to highlight ethnic languages as well as our communities in the campus. Though there are about 23 organisations in the Teacher-Student Centre of the university but there is no organisation to represent Jumma communities. We need to establish an organisation in TSC to represent ethnic communities.’
Praising the Jumma students who have gotten the chance to get admission in DU, Pallab Chakma, executive director of Kapaeeng Foundation, called them as the ambassadors of their own communities. He advised the students to keep friendly relation with other students. He also expressed his hope for a culturally diverse Bangladesh as more students from Chak, Mro, and Khumi communities along with Chakma, Marma and Tripura communities have joined the campus.
Drawing attention to the youths, Pavel Partha, writer and researcher, marked that youths of ethnic communities are forgetting their own culture and it is not only the society but also the state system that is responsible for such situation. Pavel also added that the names of ethnic people and places are changed and replaced by Bangla language. Emphasising on the importance of history, Pavel said, ‘People sacrificed their lives for Bangla language as well as ethnic languages. In 1961, Sudeshna Sinha sacrificed her life for her mother tongue — Bishnupriya Manipuri language. Genocides were also committed on ethnic people in Logang, Langadu, Naniachar and other places. Youths should work or research on the history of the ethnic people and should present them in their writings.’
The chief guest of the discussion session Sadeka Halim, dean of the faculty of social sciences of Dhaka University, advised the Jumma students to increase solidarity among them. She said, ‘People around the globe are experiencing different forms of discrimination. In this situation youth need to be tolerant towards diversity.’ Following the talk, Thowin Nu Aung Chak, vice-president of Dhaka University Jum Literature and Cultural Society, gave the concluding speech of the discussion.
Besides the discussion session there was a photo exhibition on the life and culture of CHT people and the event ended with cultural programmes performed by the members of the platform with a hope for a diverse society.
Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Initiative