Kokborok Recognition Day – Beyond the Greetings of “Khulumkha” and “Hambai”

By Pankaj Debbarma

January 18, 2024

Kokborok Recognition Day, observed annually on January 19, is more than a mere date on the calendar. It stands as a celebration of cultural identity, linguistic heritage, and an unwavering commitment to the sustained development of the Kokborok language. While the customary greetings of “Khulumkha” (Hello) and “Hambai” (Thank you) serve as cultural symbols, the essence of this day extends far beyond these expressions. This article emphasizes the need to move beyond these conventional greetings in the addressal from the stage and to focus on comprehensive initiatives for the preservation and development of Kokborok. Additionally, it underscores the broader importance of indigenous languages like Kokborok, particularly in the context of the ongoing International Decade on Indigenous Languages (2022-2032).

Kokborok serves as the linguistic heartbeat of the indigenous communities in Tipra/Tripura, India. It encapsulates the rich cultural fabric of the Tripuris, the Reangs, the Jamatias, the Noatias, the Uchois, the Murasings, the Kolois, and the Rupinis. Beyond being a mere collection of words, Kokborok is a repository of traditional stories, folklore, and ancestral wisdom. It carries the collective memory of the indigenous people, reflecting their deep-rooted connection with the land, nature, and spirituality. Kokborok Recognition Day provides a platform to explore and celebrate the profound cultural significance embedded in the language.

While greetings like “Khulumkha” and “Hambai” are vital cultural touchpoints, addressing the community from the stage during Kokborok Recognition Day should transcend these customary expressions. It presents an opportunity to articulate the urgency of sustaining Kokborok in the face of modernization, globalization, and the encroachment of dominant languages.

  1. Consensus-Derived Script: Establishing a consensus-derived script is a foundational step in the long-term linguistic development of Kokborok. The address from the stage should emphasize the importance of inclusive decision-making processes involving linguistic experts, community representatives, and cultural scholars. This collaborative effort ensures that the script resonates with the linguistic nuances of the community, fostering a sense of ownership and acceptance. The inability to resolve the script deadlock, despite multiple Commissions, since the recognition of the language as an official language in 1979 is puzzling. It becomes especially ironic given that the State itself, derived from a compound of two separate Kokborok words, ‘tui’ (water) + ‘pra’ (near), which in totality means ‘near water’, has not officially recognized the language at the inception of statehood. This issue can be traced back to both pre-merger royal blunders and post-merger democratic blunders following the integration of the Princely state of Tipra/Tripura with the Union of India.
  2. Educational Integration: Kokborok Recognition Day provides a platform to advocate for the seamless integration of the language into educational curricula. The address from the stage should emphasize the significance of effectively teaching Kokborok in schools. This not only preserves the language but also equips younger generations with the ability to use it for both written and oral communication. The educational system becomes a critical ally in the quest for the language’s longevity. Reports of the imposition of a certain script in examinations due to the absence of an officially recognized script don’t contribute positively to the cause.
  3. Media and Technology Integration: The address should underscore the importance of leveraging media and technology platforms to make Kokborok a living language beyond Recognition Day. Creating online content, developing language-specific apps, and incorporating Kokborok into digital spaces contribute to its contemporary relevance. Media becomes a powerful tool in ensuring that the language thrives in the digital age. The community must also endeavour to increase the usage of the language of their identity and heritage in the digital spaces.
  4. Cultural Programs and Events: Regular cultural programs and events play a vital role in language preservation. The stage address should encourage the organization of such events that highlight Kokborok’s significance. These occasions serve as a bridge between generations, facilitating the transfer of linguistic and cultural knowledge. By fostering continuous community engagement, these programs contribute to the language’s vibrancy.
  5. Promotion in Governance: Advocacy for the inclusion of Kokborok in official documents and governance activities is crucial. The stage address should underline the importance of broader recognition, reinforcing the language’s significance on a regional and national scale. A language spoken by roughly 25 percent of the state’s population deserves an effort to be learned by the people delivering governance. This effort not only validates Kokborok but also aids in its institutionalization, ensuring its presence in official discourse.

The Importance of Indigenous Languages and the International Decade

The significance of Kokborok Recognition Day is amplified when considered within the broader context of the ongoing International Decade on Indigenous Languages (2022-2032). Indigenous languages worldwide, including Kokborok, face the looming threat of extinction due to factors such as globalization, cultural assimilation, and insufficient institutional support. The International Decade aims to draw attention to the critical loss of Indigenous languages and underscores the urgent need to preserve, revitalize, and promote these languages.

Efforts during the International Decade must encompass various dimensions:

  1. Indigenous languages are integral to the cultural identity of communities. They carry the history, traditions, and unique worldview of these communities. Preserving these languages is synonymous with preserving cultural diversity and richness. Kokborok Recognition Day, during the International Decade, becomes a platform to highlight the interconnectedness of language and culture.
  2. Integrating indigenous languages into educational curricula is a key focus of the International Decade. Kokborok Recognition Day can serve as a catalyst for advocating educational empowerment through effective language teaching. It is an opportunity to emphasize the need for inclusive and culturally sensitive educational policies that recognize the value of indigenous languages in fostering a strong sense of identity among younger generations.
  3. The International Decade underscores the role of media and technology in preserving and promoting indigenous languages. Efforts to create online content, develop language-specific apps, and utilize digital spaces for language preservation align with the goals of the Decade. The address during Kokborok Recognition Day can stress the importance of utilizing modern tools to ensure the language’s relevance in the digital age.
  4. Cultural programs and events, as emphasized in the context of Kokborok Recognition Day, gain additional significance during the International Decade. These events become a means of revitalizing indigenous languages by fostering community engagement, promoting intergenerational knowledge transfer, and creating spaces for the continued celebration of linguistic and cultural diversity.
  5. The International Decade provides a global platform for advocating the recognition and inclusion of indigenous languages in national and international governance. The address during Kokborok Recognition Day can contribute to this advocacy, stressing the importance of linguistic diversity at the regional and national levels and urging policies that safeguard the linguistic rights of indigenous communities.

In conclusion, Kokborok Recognition Day stands as an opportune moment for the State and the community to unite in its commitment to the preservation and development of Kokborok. Beyond the customary greetings of “Khulumkha” and “Hambai,” the address from the stage should serve as a call to action, emphasizing the need for a consensus-derived script, educational integration, media and technology initiatives, cultural events, and broader recognition in governance.

The importance of Kokborok and other indigenous languages is magnified during the International Decade, providing a global framework for concerted efforts. By moving beyond traditional greetings, the State and the community can acknowledge the dynamic role Kokborok plays in shaping the identity and heritage of the Tipra/Tiprasa Community. As each Recognition Day unfolds within the International Decade, let the stage address be a rallying cry for the sustained development of Kokborok, ensuring that it thrives as a living testament to the cultural richness of the indigenous communities in Tipra/Tripura for generations to come.

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