In February, on different university campuses, students and young cultural organisers have arranged programmes celebrating the linguistic and cultural diversity of Bangladesh. Nasir Uz Zaman reports from the events
In our work and in our living, we must recognise that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.
— Audre Lorde
In Bangladesh, the months February and March are historically significant. These are months of commemoration and celebration of independence and freedom. In 1971, Bangladesh fought the liberation war against Pakistan and earned its independence. On February 21, 1952, youth of this land sacrificed their lives for our right to speak in our mother tongue. The spirit of Ekushey is not only about our right to speak in Bengali, but it is about acknowledgement of linguistic diversity.
In 2021, Bangladesh will celebrate the 50 years of independence, but the three fundamental principles that guided the liberation movement — equality, justice, and dignity are not ensured for all as the majority of the people in the country, including women, workers and minorities, have not yet achieved their economic, political and cultural freedom.
Marking the significance of linguistic and the cultural diversity for democratic growth of any nation, students of different universities arranged programmes in February.
Cultural Diversity Festival 2020
ON FEBRUARY 28, Dhaka University Jum Literature and Cultural Society, a cultural platform of Jumma students, organised Language and Cultural Diversity Festival 2020 at the Jagannath Hall with the title, ‘Let diversity emancipate all languages and cultures.’
The event was organised to highlight and to present the art, literature and culture of ethnic minority communities of the country. Moreover, it was an initiative to create dialogue between the culture of Jumma people and the mainstream Bengali culture.
The programme was started with the speeches from Jumma students; Chak, Mro, Chakma, Marma and Khumi community students talked in their respective mother tongues.
After the speeches, there was a debate competition with the theme, ‘Cultural aggression threatening unique ethno linguistic and cultural identity’ where students provided arguments in the way majoritarian politics and policy has been threatening the existence of minority languages and culture. In the absence of institutional support for the preservation of speech communities are losing their languages, unique cultural traditions are also faced with similar fate. Children of Jumma communities do not have adequate scope to learn in their mother tongues as the national education system is yet to offer lessons in languages other than Bengali. Though the aims and objectives of education of National Education Policy 2010 says ‘to promote and develop the languages and cultures of the indigenous and small ethnic groups’ but in reality, most of the educational institutions does not have the resources to do so. Students also mentioned that a large number of Jumma people have to live outside their ancestral land for survival, for earning their livelihood where they could not use their mother tongues. This every day distance and lack of practice is leading to the death of many languages.
Mentioning the establishment of Kaptai Dam, a student defined that it was political and economic aggressions for which life of the ethnic people of the land was immensely affected. 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. He also mentioned that ethnic languages and cultures could not be saved if such aggressions continue.
After the debating competition, a discussion session was held where the guests talked about the issues of ethnic communities. Drawing attention to the youths, Pavel Partha, writer and researcher, said 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. Partha also added that the names of ethnic people and places are changed and replaced by Bengali names. Emphasising on the importance of history, Pavel said, ‘People sacrificed their lives for Bengali as well as ethnic languages. In 1961, Sudeshna Sinha sacrificed her life for her mother tongue — Bishnupriya Manipuri language. Mass violence was 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 as these are excluded from mainstream histories.’
In addition to student debate and discussions, a photo exhibition on the life and culture of CHT people was also organised and the event ended with cultural programmes celebrating cultural and ethnic diversity of Bangladesh.
Concert for Diversity
ON FEBRUARY 29, ethnic community based musical band Madal and Institute for Environment and Development jointly organised a programme ‘Baichitrer Aikatan’ (Unison in diversity) at Bakultala of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka promoting social, institutional tolerance and inclusivity.
The spirit of liberation war as well as the constitution of the country also declares that all people will enjoy equality, dignity and their basic rights. The event, unison in diversity, was organised with the aim to establish and increase mutual understanding, interaction and harmony between the dominant ethnic Bengali community and other communities. Eight musical bands from different communities participated in the programme. Horendro Nath Singh, coordinator of Madal, told New Age Youth, ‘Bangladesh is rich in cultural, religious and ethnic diversity. But intolerance and hate often threaten the peaceful coexistence of our diverse population. You will see diversity, if you just look at the list of participating bands. We have tried to bring the voices of different ethnic communities’ bands from different areas of the country whose names are not well-known in mainstream media. But we have not excluded Bengali bands because our main goal is to celebrate diversity. Moreover, we have addressed the gender question with the participation of women bands.’
Ethnic community based women bands F Minor and Kremlin, Garo band Sacrament, Santal band Sengel from Rajshahi, Khasia band Five Thorn Wings (popularly known as FTW band), Madal and Bengali bands Bangla Five and Meghdol performed in the concert.
Besides the concert, there was an exhibition of musical instruments which are about to extinct or only used by some particular ethnic community people. Among some musical instruments, there were natheb, nadengkli, dama, rang which are used by Garo people, madal, nagra by Santal, mro bansi by Mro, kengkrong, dhuduk by Tanchangya, siyada by Tripura, hangrong by Chakma, oraon dhol, murali bansi used by Oraon community people.
Aduri is a musical instrument used by the people of Garo community. They used it to communicate different kinds of news — death, warning or good news with particular tune but nowadays, the usage of the instrument has declined. Chigring is another musical instrument of the community which is not used these days but some Garo people in Meghalaya use it. Nagra is a specific kind of musical instrument that is kept in the house of the head man of Garo community. People gathered in the house of the head man with the sound of nagra. The event featured different kinds of musical instruments to introduce them with new generation as part of their effort to save them from extinction.
Festival of Mother Tongues
ON FEBRUARY 29, Bangladesh Students’ Union, Jahangirnagar University unit, organised a day long festival of mother tongue at Paribahan Chattar demanding education in mother tongues.’
Anu Muhammad, professor of Jahangirnagar University and member secretary of national committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and ports, inaugurated the festival. In the inaugural speech, he raised a question that how the state could ensure the use of mother tongues of minor communities when the state has failed to ensure the use of mother tongue of the dominant community itself?
Professor Anu Mohammad also said, ‘In a state, the importance of the languages of 99 per cent people could not be realised, if it becomes the state of the one per cent. Bangla itself is marginalised in the country for which there was movement and people had given their lives. Today, people take pride in speaking in English. It is a right to get quality job after completing formal education in mother tongue and it is the state’s responsibility to ensure this. Learning different languages is good but learning mother tongue is more important. We need to learn and use mother tongue for our survival.’
Recognising the importance of different communities’ mother tongues in Bangladesh, the organisers arranged a day-long alphabet exhibition of different languages. There were alphabets of about 20 languages, including, Mro, Pankho, Bom, Chakma and other languages. Besides the exhibition, students presented songs in different languages, such as, Tripura, Hajong, Bom, Bangla and more. Later, there was a poetry recitation session in Hajong, Telugu and Mahato languages. Moreover, students arranged a dance performance in Garo and Marma music.
Students arranged the programmes in the context when violence against religious and ethnic minorities has increased, when Jumma community are losing their ancestral land, when ethnic languages and cultures are on the verge extinction. When state policy and government programmes are not just indifferent, rather aggressive towards minority community these student initiates celebrating the linguistic and cultural diversity of Bangladesh are the voice of hope.
Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team
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