The older-than-Bengali Assamese script is inching closer to getting digital recognition.
A report stated that this has become possible due to years of struggle by different quarters of the Assamese society both in India and abroad.
A group of four Indian representatives are holding a series of meeting in London with the Unicode Consortium demanding an independent chart for the Assamese script in Unicode, till now labelled and included under the Bengali script. Dhruba Jyoti Borah, former president of Asom Sahitya Sabha, stated, “This is the first time we have talked face-to-face with the Unicode Consortium.”
Borah and his team – present president of Sahitya Sabha Paramananda Rajbongshi, Shikhar Sarma of Gauhati University and member, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), and AMTRON managing director MK Yadav – is holding a series of meetings with the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) working group II in London to sound out a long-standing demand for an independent digital identity to the Assamese script.
The series of meetings are bearing fruit – A recommendation to rename the ‘Bengali’ script in the Unicode as ‘Bengali/Assamese’ script as well as inclusion of a new set of symbols from the Assamese script.
Today, digital identities of languages across the world are best legitimised by the Unicode: A computing industry standard where characters of different writing systems are digitised and identified under separate charts made by the Unicode Standard Consortium.
The Assamese script has, till date, been clubbed under the Bengali script, owing to a “faulty Government of India recommendation in 1991″.
The entire initiative was taken up in 2011 by Guwahati-based surgeon Satyakam Phukan and Pastor Azizul Haque. The duo filed a complaint with the Unicode Consortium. A fact sheet published by the Asam Sahitya Sabha states that when the Unicode Standard was accepted by the Government of India in 2000, the Unicode Consortium did “not encode the Assamese script, instead added two characters of the Assamese script to the Bengali script, depicting them as a Bengali characters.” This was not conveyed to the Assamese people and the state government.
In the interim, there have been many isolated moves from different quarters of Assamese society pushing for the Unicode. But, things started moving only when the government took it up.
The result of the series of meetings in London with the ISO has three important takeaways: One, the change of domain name — from “Bengali” to “Bengali/Assamese”. “They could not recommend an independent chart to the Assamese script because it is too similar to Bengali — the computer would get confused,” says Borah. The second is that each letter in the domain will also be recognised as Assamese. And third, inclusion of a set of new Assamese symbols in the chart. “These include land, weight and volume measures,” informed Borah.
A strong argument for the separation is also stemmed in the belief that the Assamese script is much older than the Bengali script — and probably the oldest script in eastern India. According to the Asam Sahitya Sabha fact sheet, the early 5th century inscription of the Nagajari-Khanikar village in Assam’s Golaghat district is the oldest Assamese inscription. The ancient saanchipaat (tree bark) and tula paat(cotton) literature and stone inscriptions also predates the Bengali script.
Borah and his team has more work in hand once they are back in India. “This is just the beginning,” he says. The ISO recommendations will now be sent to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), and only if the national standardisation body approves, they will come into effect. “By September, we will have persuade the BIS to accept the proposal,” he says, “In a way, our fight actually starts now.”