By : Bishwajit Okram, LL.M and ACCA.
The cultural and linguistic rights of Khoibu and Shaibu tribes must be respected by Maring tribes of Manipur.
“It is estimated that, if nothing is done, half of 6000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century”, Recommendations to UNESCO for Action Plans on the Safeguarding of Endangered Languages (2003).
“With the disappearance of unwritten and undocumented languages, humanity would lose not only a cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge embedded, in particular, in indigenous languages”, UNESCO.
Khoibu and Shaibu tribes of Manipur fear that their language will be among the half of 6000 plus language spoken today which is under a threat of extinction, if nothing is done.
History has witnessed many such disappearances. English annihilated Ireland of its own Gaelige culture and language. Meitei scripts and culture were uprooted some centuries ago by the Bangalis with their culture, language and scripts.
Khoibu and Shaibu tribes’ fear is logical. They must do something and state should protect their identity. Both, national and international law strongly provision for such preservation and protection.
Khoibu tribe and Shaibu tribe of Manipur, having around 3000 and 1000 population respectively, in a country of 1.2 billion population, should be declared as endanger tribes of the world and be called for the protection of their cultural, language and historical heritage.
In a recent interaction, a young, educated couple from Khoibu and Shaibu tribes, explained why their tribes are not at all a sub-tribe of Maring and that they are now under imminent threat from this major tribe of losing their language and culture to extinction.
“Tangkhul Baptist priests used to teach and translate bibles in Tangkhul languages in our villages and Maring villages, but the Tangkhul priests are no more doing this now,” problem started from this point explained the husband. “Marings are now trying to impose their language upon these two tribes who have utterly different languages of their own from Maring,” added the husband.
On being asked as to why their tribes were not recognised separately earlier under Indian govt gazette, both (husband and wife) admitted: “It was until just some generation ago that their tribes started going to school and colleges. There were not many educated people in the villages. People were very poor. We remained ignorant till today. There was nobody who could fight for our case”
Both the husband and wife resented, “We have been forced to add ‘Maring’ in the end of our names.”
“The Shaibu tribe has altogether a different dress code, colour, language, rituals and food habits” claims the Shaibu husband.
“When there is nothing called similarity and commonality between us and the Maring, except that we live in hills, where is the question of we being called Maring which is not our own tribe’s name, ” added bitterly by the Shaibu tribe.
“Now that bible is forced to read in Maring language. We don’t know Maring language. Our parents do not understand Maring language. But we want bible to be read in our own language for our own clarity and understanding”, the Khoibu wife continued.
“We must send linguistic scholars and anthropologists to verify our claims and their claims, otherwise there could be violence in future among the tribes”, said the Shaibu husband.
UN declaration on the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic , religious and linguistic minorities has been adopted by the UN Commission on Human rights in its resolution 1992/16, 21 February and then, by the General Assembly in its resolution 47/135 on 18 December 1992.
Article 1 and 3 of this declaration requires member countries to protect minority linguistic rights and under article 2 of the declaration, it says, “ Persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities (hereinafter referred to as persons belonging to minorities) have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without interference or any form of discrimination. […]”
Indian constitution has plenty of articles that protect and sustain linguistic rights.
Article 14 of the constitution expressively says that every citizen of India shall have right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law.
Article 29(1) of the constitution says any section of the citizen has the right to conserve its distinct language , script or culture.
Article 350(A) and 350(B) have gone a step further, saying that state must provide provisions for facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage and for a special officer for Linguistic Minorities and his duties respectively.
The rights of persons belonging to linguistic minorities have been increasingly acknowledged in international human rights law as both individual and collective human rights.
Khoibu and Shaibu tribes must present their case with supporting evidences and fight for their rights. Set an example before other tens and hundreds of suppressed tribes!