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The Voice of a Threatened Culture

The Voice of a Threatened Culture

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  6 May 2019 9:49 AM GMT

Our Bureau

In the realm of writers and activists working for the cause of endangered and minority languages, there are only a handful people in the Northeast who catch our attention. One such multi-faceted person in our midst is Kumkum Sinha – a multi-faceted persona who has excelled as a writer, singer, theatre person, educationist and sportsperson and who has used all these fields to promote the cause of the threatened Bishnupriya Manipuri language.

A prominent Bishnupriya Manipuri social activist and litterateur, Mrs. Kumkum Sinha, MA, LLB, B.ED, DEPA, joined the Assam Education Service in 1987. She is former direction, English Language Teaching Institute, Assam and former Joint Director, Elementary Education, Assam. She is vice president of All Assam Other Backward Classes Association and President of All Assam Bishnupriya Manipuri Mahila Samiti and Executive Member of Vidya Bharati, Assam. She is the first lady National H.Q. Commissioner, North East, Bharat Scout and Guides. She is member of World Association of Bharat Scouts and Guides, Asia Pacific Region. As a member of India Federation of Social Workers, she represented India to USSR in 1973.

She has produced and directed a number of Bishnupriya Manipuri short films. A theatre person, film actress and singer, she has also written a number of books and travelogues on Bishnupriya Manipuri. For her lifetime contribution in promotion of Bishnupriya culture, she received the Hemlata Devi Memorial Award from Singla in 2008 and was felicitated by Bangladesh Manipuri Samaj Kalyan Samiti Maulavi Bazar in 2012. She was honoured by Bishnupriya Manipuri writers forum in the International Bishnupriya Manipuri Literary and Cultural Festival, 2012. The Mahendra Kumar Sinha Birth Celebration Committee recognized her as a renowned social worker in 2016.

The mélange team caught up with the multi-faceted lady for an absorbing interview. Following are excerpts.

  1. Please tell us about your childhood and growing up days.

Ans: I was born on 29th July, 1952 to enlightened parents who were highly respected in the Bishnupriya Manipuri society. My father late Krishna Sinha was the first Manipuri advocate of undivided Cachar District. My mother late Sukhajyoti Sinha was the first lady graduate and double M.A (Pol Sc, Eng) of our society. She retired as District, Adult Education Officer, Nalbari.

I started my schooling at Saint Mary's Convent, Guwahati. My father shifted me from Saint Mary's Convent to Pan Bazar Girls High School, Guwahati when I was in classs V, as he wanted me to study in a vernacular school so that I could read Ramayana, Mahabharata, Gita and all religious books when I grow up. I am thankful to my dad for his wise decision as only because of studying in a vernacular school I have now been able to become a Bishnupriya Manipuri writer as the script of Bishnupriya Manipuri is same as Assamese and Bengali script. Knowledge in Assamese helped me in serving as an Education Officer, as I could read and write notes in Assamese in my office files which is the fruit of studying in a vernacular school. I did my graduation from Lady Keane College, Shillong and M.A, B.T and LLB from Gauhati University.

  1. What was your childhood ambition? When did you decide to become an educationist?

Ans: My father used to say that teaching was the best profession for women for leading a stable life and a teacher is regarded as the architect of the backbone of the society. As per his advice I took up this noble profession. In our days career was chosen by parents and guardians and we followed their advice. I joined as lecturer in Madhab Deb College, Narayanpur, Lakhimpur in 1977 Later on I became a subject teacher in English in Barpeta Govt. High Secondery School, where I served for long ten years. I joined Assam Education Service in 1987. I have two sons and a daughter. My eldest son Kalpanil Sinha is Product Manager of Tata Communications, Mumbai, my younger son Kanad Sinha has just completed Ph.D in Computer Science from Columbia University, New York and his presently a senior research scholar in the University and my daughter Kinkini Sinha is a Dentist by profession.

  1. How did you get interested in social work? You have been a frontrunner in this direction and have also represented the country in this sector. Please tell us a bit about your involvement in this sector.

Ans: My mother started her career as a Social Education Officer which turned her into a social worker. She inspired me to serve the society. She made an arrangement for me in visiting the U.S.S.R in 1977 as a member of Indian Association of Professional and Working Women. That experience was a powerful momentum to dedicate myself to social work and there was no looking back.

  1. You were an avid sportsperson in your childhood days and also participated in a number of sporting events…

Ans: I have two brothers. My studious elder brother Kishalay Sinha had a brilliant academic career. My younger brother late Kirity Sinha ACS met with a tragic car accident while in service. In our childhood days, our father gave stress on our studies and did not allow us to join in any extra-curricular activities as it would hamper our studies. But he inspired us to learn all kinds of sports. Though I had a background of a sports but I never joined in any event of competition as my father was very conservative in participation of girls in sports. But after my marriage to Kamini Mohan Sinha a lecturer of Gauhati Commerce College, I was given complete freedom by my husband to pursue any field as I wish. I joined Veteran games as a sportswoman in different categories of sports like shot put, discuss throw and walking. I represented Assam in National Veteran games in Thane in the 50-55 age group. Sports was just a hobby for me not a career. During my service period I was State Chief Commissioner (Guides) Assam. Later on I was appointed as National Headquarters Commissioner (North-East Region) of the Bharat Scouts and Guides. I was the first lady from Assam to hold this prestigious post.

  1. You have made a number of contributions towards the preservation and promotion of Bishnupriya Manipuri language through the medium of short films, plays, songs, theatre and writing. Please tell us about your activities in this direction.

Ans: The Bishnupriya Manipuris are struggling hard to save the Bishnupriya Manipuri language from extinction. This can be done only by popularizing Bishnupriya Manipuri movies, newspaper and by cultivating the habit of reading Bishnupriya Manipuri literature among the young folk. One will be surprised to learn that Bishnupriya Manipuri writers distribute their books free of cost but hardly sell. Their objective is to popularize the language and inspire the young folk to learn the language at the expense of their own large sum of money spent. There is a tendency among the young folk to buy books of other majority languages than buying a Bishnupriya Manipuri books. But this generation is to realize that loss of language means loss of culture. Language is worth saving.

  1. You have made a number of contributions towards the preservation and promotion of Bishnupriya Manipuri language through the medium of short films, plays, songs, theatre and writing. Please tell us about your activities in this direction.

Ans: The easiest media to influence the young folk is through movies. So, now we the filmmakers have come up to popularise our culture and promote the Bishnupriya Manipuri language through movies 'Yarou' is the first Bishnupriya Manipuri short film produced and acted by me. Another films 'Mor Thoigo' have been screened, in which I have depicted the 'beti bachao, beti parhao ' concept. 'Rabir Mingal' a translation of Rabindra Sangit into Bishnupriya Manipuri was done by Professor Brojendra Kumar Sinha in which I have given my voice. A Rabindra Sangit CD containing Six(6) songs 'Rabir Alokat' was translated by Smti. Tilottama Bhuyan into Assamese. It was sung by renowned artist Rishiraj Sharma and me.

  1. Q. As President of All India Bishnupriya Manipuri Mahila Samiti and Vice President of All Assam Other Backward Classes Association, what do you feel is the present status of Bishnupriya Manipuri culture and literature? What should be done to promote the rich culture of Bishnupriya Manipuris to the present generation and posterity.

Ans: As a Vice President of the All Assam OBC Association. I wanted to reach and guide the different OBC/MOBC communities who are really backward in the true sense of the term. Even the S.T & S.C communites have become quite forward as they get many facilities from the state and the Central Government. Govt. servants belonging to OBC community do not have a promotion quota whereas the aforesaid two communites have. 'The creamy layer' who are the economically forward OBC people do not even enjoy the few facilites given to the common OBC people. This 'creamy layer' category does not exist in the ST or SC community. We have been placing our grievances to the Government time and again.

As an advisor of 'Sadou Asom Bishnupriya Manipuri Mahila Samiti' I worked with my mother the then President of the Samiti. At present I am holding the post of President of the Samiti. For the preservation of our society we are struggling hard to motivate our women folk. As per the observation of UNESCO Bishnupriya Manipuri Language falls in the category of endangered languages. We are trying hard so that our next generation learn their mother tongue. Due to vigorous contact of Bishnupriya Manipuri language with Majority languages like English, Hindi, Bengali, Assamese our children tend to shift to speaking the language which is spoken as the Lingua France. They consume and interact in the major languages which is generally their medium of instruction. It's fine to learn languages as much as one can but that does not mean that one must quit their mother tongue. Now, therefore, we are empowering the mothers to converse in Bishnupriya Manipuri language with their children which would surely save the language from extinction.

  1. What are your views on the present education system and your future plans?

Ans: The present education system is quite different from that of our times. We used to study hard before the half yearly and annnual examinations. But nowadays, a student has to study the whole year round due to the introduction of the Unit Test System. It’s a very wise step taken up by the Government. But on the other hand 'no retention' system in Government Schools is undoubtedly doing much harm to the students as they know they would be promoted to the next class even if they fail upto the class VIII standard. Again after passing HSLC students hardly study hard in class XI as they are aware of the fact that they would be allowed to appear in the class XII final examination as before appearing for the test exam they are allowed to fill up the final exam forms. As a result the students forget to abide by the rules of the educational institutions.

I love to travel. And while travelling I feel the necessity of the knowledge of two subjects- History and Geography. Knowledge in these two subjects is of utmost importance to know this world- present, past and future. Therefore, in my view these two subjects should be introduced in schools as a subject not as a part of social studies.

Quite a few travelogues are written by me in Bishnupriya Manipuri language which has become quite popular. A few Bishnupriya Manipuri version of Srimad Bhagavat Gita has been translated by me into Bishnupriya Manipuri to popularize religion through our mother tongue which is readily accepted by our people. I have uploaded the recording on YouTube under Krishnajyoti Production. To promote the rich culture of Bishnupriya Manipuri to the present generation and posterity we should imbibe in them the feeling of self respect in regards to their mother tongue, culture and the knowledge which has trickled down from our ancestors through generations. Knowledge is power and power is wealth. If we go back to our roots we would realise what a precious treasure we had, which we are going to loose in the ocean of other languages. But no language is sweeter to us than the mother tongue spoken by our ancestors who drank the sweet water of the Loktak lake of Manipur on the bank of which they resided.

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