[ Taba Ajum ]
The identity of any group of people is through its languages and dialects. Arunachal is a unique state where more than 100 tribes and sub-tribes, each with its unique culture and language, live together. Sadly, the languages and dialects of many of these tribes are on the verge of extinction. The languages of small communities like Meyor and Bugun face the biggest threat. These tribes are perhaps left with the last generation speakers.
The UNESCO has listed 33 languages spoken in the state as endangered. These include major tribes like Apatani, Galo, Nyishi, Monpa, Khamti, Nocte, etc. The introduction of Hindi and English languages in the state has led to the vanishing of tribal languages. Now it is a Herculean task to find children who speak in their mother tongue. The broken Arunachalee Hindi has become the lingua franca of the state. If this continues for another 10 years, almost all the tribal languages will become extinct from the state.
As a father of two children and having married from outside of my tribe, it deeply worries me as to whether my children will grow up speaking Nyishi, the language of the tribe to which I belong. With sincere effort from everyone at home, including my wife, my daughter learnt Nyishi, and I was quite proud of it. In fact, once when I and my daughter were having a conversation at Akashdeep market, some Nyishi ladies who were there were highly impressed with the way my daughter was conversing in the Nyishi language. That indeed was a proud moment.
However, as she grew up, the time came for her to attend school. First she went to playschool, then to LKG, and now she is in UKG. As she is growing up, sadly, like any other kid, she is facing the onslaught of Hindi. Her capability to speak Nyishi is slowly diminishing, and honestly, it is giving me sleepless nights.
A few days ago, she asked me, “Abu (father in Nyishi) can I call you Papa?” I asked why, and she replied, “At school everyone calls their parents Papa and Mummy. I feel awkward to call you Abu.”
I somehow managed to convince her to still address me as Abu. But that’s how our culture, tradition and languages are dying a slow death.
People should understand that culture and language cannot be saved just by celebrating traditional festivals once in a year. It should be a continuous process. The young generation should feel proud to speak in their mother tongue. Perhaps Arunachalees should learn a lesson from the Tamils and the Mizos. They have fiercely managed to hold on to their languages despite several attempts by north Indian politicians to introduce Hindi in their respective states.
Unless drastic measures are adopted, tribal languages will become extinct in the next 10 years. Tribal languages should be taught in schools at least till the primary level. The state government, particularly the education department, should work out the modalities with respective community-based organizations.
Also, there should be a tribal language test at the time of hiring for government jobs and while issuing ST certificates. These measures may sound absurd but the situation is so alarming that if such urgent measures are not adopted, it may be too late. Meanwhile, my own battle to make my children proud Nyishi speakers will continue.