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Santal children yet to get textbo0oks in mother tongue: Debate over alphabets deprives 50,000 pre-primary kids of books in new year

Santals say Joharh to say hello and Seta' Joharh to say good morning in their mother tongue. But not all the Santals use the same alphabet to write the words.
Some of them go for the Bangla alphabet while others like to write with the Roman alphabet.
There is a strong division among their leaders over the use of the alphabet in their children's textbooks.
And as the leaders failed to reach any consensus, some 50,000 pre-primary Santal children have been deprived of textbooks which had been decided to be in the Santali language, said experts.
Each of the Santal children was supposed to get a pre-primary book on January 1 under government's first-ever mother tongue-based multilingual education programme.
Recently, the government has distributed pre-primary books in five most-used languages of the indigenous communities -- Chakma, Marma, Garo, Tripura and Sadri, said Prof Mesbah Kamal, chairperson of the Research and Development Collective (RDC), a research organisation.
Prof Kamal is also a member of the Multilingual Education Forum. He said before starting the programme, the government took advice from the forum and the RDC.
He said the government had decided to introduce the pre-primary books for the Santals as their population is about 8 lakh. Santals are the biggest indigenous community in the country, after the Chakmas.
But the books could not be published due to a strong division between the Santal leaders over the use of the alphabet, he added.
Citing his research, Kamal said some 55 percent of the Santals have converted to Christianity over the years. Most of them are in the favour of using the Roman alphabet for writing. The others prefer the Bangla alphabet.
Due to this division, the Santal leaders even turned down a government proposal for publishing the books in both alphabets during a ministerial meeting in 2013, he said. “The Santal leaders are fighting but it is the children who are suffering.”
Luke Tudu, 12, is a class-IV student at Borsapara Gono Pathshala near Rajshahi city. The school is meant for the students from the indigenous communities.
Tudu's mother Shefali Soren told this correspondent that her son took years to complete his pre-primary schooling as he faced difficulties in understanding his book.
Most of the 60 Santal students at the school had faced the same situation, said Gopal Hembrom, a teacher there.
Gopal, however, said he himself feels uncomfortable in using both the Bangla and Roman alphabets. “Bangla language lacks letters for all of the Santali's phonemes while the Roman alphabet sounds foreigner to me.”
He said he heard about the Santali alphabet called Ol Chiki, which had been in use in some Indian educational institutions. ”Many Santals like me are interested in the alphabet.”
Rabindranath Soren, president of the Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, said the Santal pre-primary children, who are already struggling to adapt to the mainstream books in Bangla, would be benefitted if they are exposed to the Bangla alphabet earlier. “We can also have a version of the book with the Ol Chiki alphabet”.
Jogendranath Soren, president of the Adivasi Mukti Morcha, an alliance of 17 plain-land indigenous organisations, said Roman scripts are not Roman since those were “accepted” as Santali alphabets some 154 years ago.
Contacted, Fazle Hossain Badsha, a lawmaker from Rajshahi, said the government's mother tongue-based multilingual education programme would be meaningless without pre-primary books in Santali language as Santals are the biggest plain land indigenous community in the country.
“Language is a matter of choice. Books should be printed in both scripts. It is the Santal students who will make the choice,” said Badsha, who is also the president of the Parliamentary Caucus on Indigenous People of Bangladesh.
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