Is the Mising Language on its way to Extinction?
The Mising community of Assam yesterday celebrated its 28th Agom Longe’ (Language Day). It was on this day in 1985, that the Mising language was first recognized by the Assam government. The recognition came after a long struggle and ended with signing of a memorandum with the govt. of Assam that allowed Mising language to be taught in primary schools, particularly in the Mising dominated areas. Prior to that a new organization was formed named Agom miming kebang at the behest of student union and other organization of the community. The organization also demanded the broadcasting of news in Mising language in AIR and to increase the time slot for Mising program in AIR. Takam Mising Mime’ Kebang, a Mising women‘s organization was also formed to propagate and to take care of cultural part of the Mising nationality.
Language and Culture are defining features of a person’s identity, contributing to how they see themselves and the groups with which they identify. While Culture may be broadly defined as the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings, which is transmitted from one generation to another, Language is intrinsic to the expression of culture. As a means of communicating values, beliefs and customs, it has an important social function and fosters feelings of group identity and solidarity. It is the means by which culture and its traditions and shared values may be conveyed and preserved.
(Concept description: By the Author (copyrighted and published in a book, ‘Religion and Ethnic Reconstruction among Tribes of North East India”, 2013)
Evolution of the Mising Language
The Mising language has passed through various distinct stages. Folk stories have it that the Misings had their own distinct script and history which were being written on animal skin. But since there was a severe drought leading to acute shortage of food, the youth of the community, disobeying the request of the elderly, fed on those skin, leading to permanent loss of the script and document history of the community.
The Misings, originally a hill tribe, after migrating from the plains, came into direct contact with Assamese culture and habits. There was an increasing need to ‘fit in’ and also maintain their distinct identity, resulting into an environment of confusion. Soon after came the forces of sanskritization, trying to absorb the Misings under its grip. Thus, the Misings felt the need of preserving their language and identity. Various scholars, after having serious of consultations and discussions, under the aegis of Mising Agom Ke’bang, started using the roman script and also constructed a definite style of grammar to be used in writing the language.
They then started demanding for the recognition of the Mising language and insisted that it be taught in primary schools. After a long struggle, the demands were accepted and the Mising language was recognized. A separate program in AIR (every Wednesday evening) was also aired in Mising language. This development led to an increasing sense of solidarity and formation of a distinct socio political identity.
The Mising society is on crossroads. Due to a rapid process of acculturation and ‘modernization’, the Mising culture is on a fast road to decline. Out of all the reasons for the Misings slowly ‘losing’ their culture, the most important and perhaps the most dreadful is the ‘constant neglect’ it suffers from its own people. The Mising community is today divided into two classes, first being a small minority of middle class and lower middle class people, who are flourishing with every passing day. Most of them are employed in government services and hold ‘important positions’ in the community, thereby exerting considerable political and social power. The second half is the majority of Mising population, who are getting pushed towards the deeper margins of poverty. The latter, today, holds on the remaining facets of Mising culture. It is this group, who still speaks the language, observes all the rituals and celebrates the Mising festivals.
Today, not many people speak the language. With the increasing attack of modernity, the language has lost its original form. It is no longer taught in schools and the Mising Agom Ke’bang is in doldrums.
While there have been attempts to revive the language and culture, the results of the same are yet to be seen. The new leadership that has emerged needs to be encouraged and new innovations need to be made in the religions and the rituals so that it can be made adaptable and appropriate for the larger benefit of the society. Moreover, institutionalized approaches needs to be taken in the field of language to revive it to its former glory. Some of the steps that could be taken are:-
- One of the key reasons for fast eroding of Mising culture and language is due to decline of ‘passing down’ of Mising values and faiths through social and family networks. Parents no longer encourage their children to speak the language or participate in family/village/community rituals. Also many of today’s youth mention ‘disinterest’ in their parents as one of the key reasons for their ignorance. Thus, the parents should be encouraged to orient their kids about the richness of Mising culture and the benefits of speaking one’s own language.
- Moreover, there is a need to conduct comprehensive researches on the belief system and divide the secular and religious elements present in it. While fighting conversion itself is not ideal and may bring forth conflict, blatant discarding of the secular beliefs like the not participating in Ali-aye-Ligang and other festivals etc. should be discouraged.
- Mobilizing the youth, by giving rational explanation to all their questions. Books and materials in Mising/Assamese and English should be published, for the students to read and understand the Mising culture. The published materials should be accessible to all sections of the community.
- Including Mising textbooks and curriculum in the Education system. While some schools have included it in the primary, they are yet to yield much interest, due to lack of books, constant changes in the script etc. Efforts to mitigate the problems affecting the implementation of Mising curriculum should be resolved as soon as possible.
- Making necessary adjustments to traditional beliefs to adapt to the current environment. And an entire community wide campaign on reviving culture should be launched.
(All the views expressed here are personal and is based on researches done by the author. The author own the copy rights to this article. The extended version of this article was published in the Assamese newspaper, The Assam Tribune as editorial on the November 8, 2013)