Kokborok in Roman Script: Uniting Voices for Linguistic Rights

By Dr. Benjamin Debbarma

On 28th August 2023, the day I had to fly to Delhi for admission of my nephew and for a personal academic work. The day happen to be a protest called for 12hr bandh (as announced from 6:00 am – 6:00 pm) by the TSF (Twipra Student Federation), RSKC (Roman Script for Kokborok Choba) along with many others individual, socio-cultural, linguistics organization demanding Kokborok to be written in Roman script.  I cannot skip the day as it has been already pre-planned, before announcing the strike for the protest on the very day. Coming out of my home, heading towards the Airport with my nephew on a auto in cloudy, gloomy weather I could see people coming out in groups for demanding the rights. I question, what is this system? One need to come to the street to write what he/she speak and communicate daily. I give salute to all my brother, sisters, along with elders and Mother groups (Buma bodol) at several state highway junctions shouting for rights, demanding for rights to write. The shouts, slogans are echoing my ear even though I can only hear the flight humming and roaring fast taking its height to climb higher heading its way to destination. Flying high, miles, and miles of distance through a thick black cloud and turbulence made me feel stronger. As I stood firm in solidarity  with those brothers, sisters, elders and mother groups with wet clothes demanding for Kokborok to be written in Roman script.

My thought run with thought after thought seeing my brothers and sisters in the rain with wet clothes being dragged by the police personal demanding for right to write in what one speaks and communicate. The deep pain I felt, should it be called- emotion,  sentiment, against someone, violating rules, and many more. No, is what I can boldly say as because we have learned enough to be civilized, in the era of this fast, digital advancing globalized world. As one knows that what will be cooked and served by a mother for his or her children. 

Language is an important medium by which people of similar groups communicate to each other. The constitution of India has reorganized several states on the basis of  language. Thus, creation of  linguistics units has spread length and breadth enhancing more national language and feeling. Besides, various official language one language that had been permitted for all purposes is English across the states of India. The facts, there are several languages as schedule or recognized  as regional or even made as official. Such is the provisions where the constitution of India permits for unity within several languages’ groups. These languages groups are linguistics units of people who speak one or more of their common language or dialects exercising their right to speak or by writing.

Kokborok: Taken for granted

Language politics in Tripura is not a new one. The languages  or the dialectical groups of people had been divided on the basis of their language. Tripura the land itself is Twipra/Tipra known for its distinctive characteristics for the indigenous people. Since, the time after attaining its statehood status on 21 January 1972 the language that the indigenous were given or imposed to write, read and speak was Bengali and by its script’s alone. Time has passed by being imposed, domination of one language Bengali besides Kokborok and many others. The most burning issue or problem which has been blamed were those leaders who had used language- Kokborok on divisive line for the purpose of narrative and even for politics between the indigenous and non-indigenous people.

Kokborok: Language kept aside

Kokborok which belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language family is spoken by the indigenous people of Tripura, part of Assam and Bangladesh. The language has been declared an official language in the state by the government in the year 1979. However, the language has been used by Bengali script in schools both at primary and secondary levels. Even further, it has been taken to higher level by introducing at university (as certificate course from 1994, graduate diploma from 2001). Further in colleges as a degree course from 2012 and master degree course at university from 2015. Since, its development and promotion there has been a demand for inclusion in the eight-8th schedule language in the constitution. And the demand for Roman script had been pressed on for more than a decade. The demand had started and had its own shape and forms now from demand to movement held by several organization. The strongest organization that had pressed on for inclusion and Roman scripts were the KSS (Kokborok Sathiya Sabha), KHOM (Kokborok tei Hukumu Mission), and several others like the student’s union TSF, TISF, etc. The most vocal being TSF and RSKC (Roman Script for Kokborok Choba), for preserving, help to protect culture for the indigenous people. The TTAADC administration in 1992 and 2000 had passed for the areas under ADC that Kokborok be written in Roman script. The mere policy and as being ignored by the state government had brought this present day or future generation in making gloomier, for nothing but divisive policy in the lines of language. The politics of language had taken away from bad to worse now, this is as because the policy, implementation and its unwilling ness to comply with diversity. Imposition, as felt by those finding it difficult read, write, speak and write the correct word by Bengali script for Kokborok words and sentences.

I would not like to conclude, but I will have to reluctantly pause for now. This moment, journey on 2hr flight will be a memory as I will grow old. I could see my brothers, sisters, elders and mother groups (Buma bodol) being push, dragged into the vans, jeeps by the cops. Their wet clothes are my tears, not of the rains, the rains is a blessing to keep them cool as the slogan will be louder that every ear be heard. The identity that binds the indigenous (Tiprasa) had failed, but I am sure deep down the heart there is a bonding connection for each one of us. Many have fought to restore, wear our cultural attire, sang a song, wrote poems, etc. in Bangla. Now, enough is enough Kokborok in Roman script being our rights. Politicization of language and divisive policy is enough now. However, no force can stop us in fighting for our rights, we may be feeling shy, not been able to come out of our comfort zone and many obstacles. Come (out of comfort zone), Unite (thansa, hands), Shouts (at one loud voice) is the call to every Tiprasa. We shall overcome someday.

Khulum kha tei hambai.

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