Facebook’s recognition of Chakma as our second language and Bangladesh’s road to inclusiveness

When I was growing up, I had a high amount of fascination towards the Indian people. I’ve seen them switching flawlessly between Hindi, some other types of Hindi (to my young, incomprehensive mind) and Bengali in television and films- and for a long time, I thought it was Bollywood requirement. My mum found out, laughed at me for a few seconds, then explained to me how unlike Bangladesh, India has a lot of languages (22 to be specific) running around. 

It took me 10 years after that incident to find out those other siblings of Bengali we don’t talk about. A few years more to know that we have around 18 more languages spoken around the country that most of us haven’t even heard of.

Baby steps on the way to progress

In the past few years, the situation seems to have elevated a little bit in the national level. We got pre-primary and primary books in Chakma, Marma and Mro language, we got Mro fables on print in the book fair just this year.

Facebook's recognition of Chakma as a second language and Bangladesh's road to inclusiveness

Read more: The story of Non-Bangalis in Bangladesh and the book that rescues them

Also not very long ago, two students took it upon themselves to contact Google and Microsoft so that they upgrade their system enough to use Chakma language for operating websites. They also developed an operation called ‘Easy Chakma Keyboard”, which helps the user write in Chakma alphabet (in Gboard) on iPhones, Android and Windows devices.

Another student has developed a Santali Wikipedia page which ended up being a collaborative project of Santals from Nepal, India along with Bangladesh.

The newest addition

The newest addition to our crown of progress has been added just a few days ago, as the same students who worked behind the “Easy Chakma Keyboard” started to contact Facebook for the past year and the authority finally included Chakma as the other language from Bangladesh.

“Facebook did not notify us about the latest update in which Chakma language has been added to its language and region option. We have noticed it ourselves recently,”

Jyoti Chakma also added.
Facebook's recognition of Chakma as a second language and Bangladesh's road to inclusiveness

Now, the entire Chakma population from around the world can express themselves in their own tongue- thanks to Facebook and the GBoard in Chakma. 

Jyoti also stated that their next step is to introduce Chakma language to Google translator.

Even though most of these initiatives are private-funded, personal projects, they seem to point at how we are growing to be a bit more inclusive of our own culture day by day. After all, since the movement to establish the reputation of our own mother tongue started Bangladesh’s journey, it’s only fair to include all Bangladeshi’s mother tongue to it.

The story of Non-Bangalis in Bangladesh and the book that rescues them

Imagine having to speak in Bengali only with your parents, very close friends and sometimes with your significant other, if you’re lucky enough to find one who knows your words. Imagine no one understanding when you’re speaking in Bengali. Imagine people whispering behind, and sometimes in front of you, when you’re telling your mother over the phone that you’re going to be late for dinner, or asking your brother which comic he wants. Imagine living in a place where the words you grew up with are alien.

Would you be able to call that place home?

A place called home

If you’re still not getting the direction I’m trying to push you towards, then imagine speaking one of the 18 languages (more or less) as your mother tongue, in a country where people condemn you for speaking anything other than the majority’s language (even your typical English medium accented Bengali).

Imagine living in Bangladesh as anyone other than a Bangali.

If you can’t, here’s a step-by-step rundown of how your life would be:

  • You would barely know how your letters look like- because there’s barely any literature published in it. You’d grow up reading and writing the ever glorifying Bangla letters before you even know how your name looks like in your language (If you’re lucky enough to have a school in your vicinity that is)
  • The stories and fables your mom told you to make you sleep at night would be swamped under the weight of “Thakumar Jhuli” and “Gopal Bhar er Golpo”
  • You’d start high school and on the first day when you introduce yourself in front of the class, you’d hear a lot of sniggering, whispering and even a little loud laughter
  • College is going to be tough (If you have the audacity to attend one) – there’s no sugarcoating here
  • Afterwards, your life is going to be a series of “Hey do you really eat frogs?” “How hard is it to sleep on a machang?” “Are you Chakma?” “Are your eyes open or closed right now?” and a few (!) more FAQs till death does you part

Does that scare you? It should. Because that’s what most indigenous people in Bangladesh go through every day. In this country, it is not particularly a delightful experience to be a minority. We have not made it easy for them.

A ray of hope

But, the scenario might just change the slightest bit in the upcoming years as textbooks in three native languages (Chakma, Marma and Tripura) has been published and distributed among the pre-primary schoolers. They are already complaining about the lack of sufficiently qualified teachers, but hey at least they have the books for a start, right?

The tale of the first book in “Mro” language

Speaking of books, during the Ekushey Book Fair 2019 Biddyanondo Publication has already made headlines twice. One of these times is for a book they published called “Mro Rupkotha” or “Mro Fables”.

What’s special about this book is, it’s the first book ever printed in Mro/ Murong alphabet.

Imagine holding in your hand the first ever printed book in Bengali alphabet. Now imagine doing that in 2019. You’d look like this Mro man holding this book up from his impatient son, getting a closer look with an immense concentration in his eyes. Biddyanondo not only published it, but they also made sure the book reached the Mro households free of costs. According to them, it’s their version of the International Mother Language Day celebration.

All the 35 stories of this book are written in Mro, as well as translated in Bengali. So you and I can enjoy their stories, as old as time, for a change.

Rethinking our pride

For a country that takes such intense pride in their dedication respecting mother languages, we sure have been very negligible towards our very own. And even though this book is one small step for Biddyanondo, it’s a giant leap for all Bangladeshi people.