Even though the Ekushey Book Fair is held every year with the objective of upholding the spirit of the language movement, there has been a conspicuous lack of indigenous literature books published in the fair this year.
This year, the Ekushey book fair was praised for the way it was organized in a grander and more developed way. The stalls were more organized and readers had easier access to buying the books they wanted, said the Directing Committee of the fair.
However, the organizer, Bangla Academy, did not show any visible initiatives for promoting indigenous literature through the book fair.
According to the book “Bangladesher Adivashi Bhasha (Languages of Indigenous people of Bangladesh)”, written by Sourav Sikder, currently, there are 40 indigenous or ethnic languages inside the country.
The book further says that none of these languages except that spoken by the Chakma and Marma people has its own alphabet. Most of these languages use the Bangla alphabet. Sometimes, people from the Santal, Khasi, and Garo communities use the Roman alphabet as well.
What we can do is help them [indigenous people] set up particular stalls in the fair...Tiuri, an indigenous based publication house, has already got a stall this year
International Mother Language Institute (IMLI) has been working for the preservation of all languages inside the country, and Bangla Academy has been designated to assist in the preservation and promotion of indigenous language and literature.
But at the book fair, even though there are several corners dedicated to particular subjects- such as the children’s corner- there is no corner for indigenous literature.
The IMLI does not have any stall for the promotion of indigenous languages either.
Most of the indigenous books can be found in the stalls of The Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), a local non-profit organization, Tiuri Prokashon, the lone indigenous book stall, and the little mag corner.
Besides, a few other books can be found in the stalls of Jagriti Prokashoni, Asiatic Society, and Bangla Academy itself.
Sources from Bangla Academy have reported that, since its inception, it has published around 6,000 books, but only a handful of them were written for indigenous people.
This correspondent found a Garo dictionary written in Bangla at Tiuri Prokashon, but nothing similar to it was found in the Bangla Academy stall.
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Tiuri Prokashon, the lone indigenous book stall Rajib Dhar
The Bangla Academy website does not mention this part of their activity either.
Documentation officer of SEHD, Prashad Sarker, said that they had been allotted a corner that very few people visited, whereas other publication houses got theirs in prime locations.
Executive Chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC), said: “The organizing committee did not allocate any stall for PPRC from 2014-16. Those who were working for us were discouraged from participating in the book fair. They only get a token response from the committee.”
Philip Gain, the editor of “Survival of the Fringe: Adivasis of Bangladesh”, in his book opined that every language in the country should be treated equally.
Upon contact, Philip Gain told this correspondent: “It would be a very good initiative for Bangla Academy to allocate a certain number of stalls for the organizations and publishers working on indigenous languages. Scattered stalls will not help the readers learn much about the languages.”
On the other hand, Bangla Academy Acting Director and Member Secretary of the Book Fair Directing Committee Jalal Ahmed said, “It is not our duty to preserve indigenous languages. It should be supervised by language institutions.”
He continued: “What we can do is help them [indigenous people] set up particular stalls in the fair, just like we have given a stall to Sporsho [a stall letting visually impaired people read books in Braille], for free. Besides, Tiuri, an indigenous based publication house, has already got a stall this year.”
He added that the Academy can allocate stalls if one approaches it directly.
IMLI Director Sheikh Md Kabedul Islam said that they were unable to get a stall in this year’s book fair because of their limited resources. Although they had been permitted to employ 98 employees, they could only recruit 50 employees altogether.
He further reported that IMLI had finished conducting research on the languages that currently exist within Bangladesh, and that the first part of the research would be launched soon.
“After the research is completed, the institute will have clear knowledge about the languages that are bordering on extinction,” said Sheikh Md Kabedul. “Then we will be able to take immediate and effective action for the promotion of all languages. We will also be able to take a stall at the next Ekushey book fair.”