Probhat Pratim Singha Sangeet, a third-grader Manipuri boy at Sylhet Government Pilot High School, has to study Bangla and English books at his school. He has no scope for getting education in his mother tongue.
It is not only Sangeet but other Manipuri children in Sylhet as well who face the same problem in schools – they do not get education in their mother tongue.
The National Education Policy, formulated in 2010, recommends that primary education be imparted to children of small ethnicities in their own mother tongue.
However, the Bangladesh constitution does not give constitutional recognition to any language other than Bangla.
Poet AK Sheram, president of Bangladesh Manipuri Sahitya Sangsad, lamented the situation, saying, "We do not have constitutional recognition. We have our own language and a rich culture. But the constitution of Bangladesh does not recognise it."
Manipuri people living in Sylhet are divided into two groups - Meitei and Bishnupriya.
They have a script of their own. It has been mentioned in history that in the first century AD, Manipur Raja Pakhongba developed this script.
At the time, the number of alphabets in the language was 18 and, in the seventh century AD, seven more letters were added.
Bangladesh Nrityashilpi Sangstha Sylhet Division president and a noted writer of Meitei
Manipuri language, Laxmikanta Singha, and editor of Ethak, a Bishnupriya Manipuri language newspaper Sangram Singha, stated that there is no educational institution which teaches the languages of small ethnicities in the country.
However, Bayezid Khan, District Primary Education Officer, said the government has taken an initiative to have the mother tongues of the children of small ethnicities as the mode of the teaching imparted to them.
Books in their languages have already been published, but all the children are yet to receive the books, he said.
Adibashi language alphabets
Indigenous people have alphabets but no lessons in their mother tongues.
Several lakh indigenous people live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). They feel at ease speaking their own language and have already created alphabets for their languages.
But they use the language for oral communication as programmes for teaching in their mother tongue will be stopped owing to different problems.
An initiative had been taken for teaching their alphabets and language on a limited scale, but a lack of government assistance and financial crisis halted the programme.
Kheyang language education divided over alphabet issue
Kyasamong Kheyang, developer of the first Kheyang language, said it is a language of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. Kheyang alphabets are made of their own basic sounds.
The language has 28 letters, seven of them vowels and the 21 others as consonants. John Cripton, a UNDP alphabet expert, supervised the preparation of the alphabet.
Monghla Prue Kheyang, a teacher and cultural activist said, the first prepared alphabet got acceptance to all. At that time, text books for children of the schools run by the
UNDP and the UNICEF were also prepared in Kheyang language.
But in 2017, a division arose over preparation of Kheyang alphabet as five teachers differed with it.
ChingHla U Kheyang, one of the five teachers, said attempts are being made to prepare an acceptable Kheyang alphabet through adjusting new and old alphabets.
As per 2011 census, the Kheyang population was 2,986 but has now crossed 10,000. Apart from Ruma, Rowangchari and Thanchi in Bandarban, the Kheyang people live in Kaptai and Rajsthali upazilas in Rangamati.
Chak alphabet limited in development
Chaks live in two unions of the southern-most Naikhangchar iupazila. In the 2011 census, the number of Chak population was 2,392. Though the Chak population is small, they have their alphabet.
Mong Mong Chak, developer of this alphabet, said it took a long time to prepare the alphabet. After long research, he published the Chak alphabet in 2011, which falls within the Aryan language family with 45 letters --- 34 consonants and 11 vowels.
Khumi --- a threatened, marginalised language
Khumi is the smallest linguistic population in the hills. As per the 2011 census, the number of this population is 1,729. However, the Khumi Social Council claims the number of the population is about 3,500.
Lelung Khumi, the first graduate from among the population, noted that a Christian priest from neighbouring Myanmar prepared the Khumi alphabet in 1930.
"This is a language of Kuki-Chin language family with 25 letters; and of those six are vowels," he added.
Some Khumi people, who visited Myanmar in 1970, brought the alphabet to this country. The language is endangered now and mainly used for oral communication.
Mro language practice on the rise
Mro is another language of the Kuki-Chin language family. As per the 2011 census, the number of Mro people was 39,656. But according to a survey by the Mro Social Council in 2020, the population was found to be around 80,000.
A 19-year old youth named Menle Mro succeeded in developing a complete Mro alphabet in 1985-86. Singyoung Mro, former general secretary of the Council, informed that Menle Mro published the alphabet in the presence of about 5,000 Mro people that time.
Noted linguist and Dhaka University Professor Dr Shourav Shikder has said that taking initiatives for preparing alphabets for all mother tongues is a good one.
"The cooperation of the linguists should be taken about the sounds, pronunciation and rhythm of these alphabets. More research on this subject is necessary," he said.