Letter To Editor 02-Aug-2011

By: Bikram M Baruah

It has come to our notice that people are questioning about the resolution of Sahitya Sabha in connection with the renaming of the Bengali Script in Unicode. Though I am not directly related with Sahitya Sabha, but I would like to clear some doubts from xobdo.org. Before going to the main topic I would like to bring your kind attention about some facts of Unicode.

What is Unicode? The Unicode Consortium is a non-profit organization founded to develop, extend and promote use of the Unicode Standard, which specifies the representation of text in modern software products and standards. Therefore, Unicode provides a unique number for each and every character – irrespective of the platform, program, and the writing language. Fundamentally, computers deal with the number which store letters and other characters (will be termed as character hereafter) by assigning a number for each characters. Before Unicode was coined in 1991, there were different encoding systems for assigning these numbers to the characters. Therefore, it was not possible to cover enough characters within single encoding systems. Even for a single language no single encoding was adequate for all the characters. Moreover, those encoding systems conflict with one another. The availability of multiple encoding systems (at that time) made it difficult to recognize a character in a computer which was written by someone else in other computer. Otherwise any given computer needed to support different encoding systems. However, there was always a risk of data corruption whenever it was passed between two different encoding systems. In simplicity, someone who inscribed (typed) “ক” in one system would have been shown as “খ” or “গ” or “x, y, z” in the other system. Sometimes, it was also shown as some junk and unreadable characters. Unicode is trying to assign a unique number for those characters (“ক” in this case), so that the character “ক” typed in my computer will be shown as “ক” in each and every computer irrespective of the platform, irrespective of the program, or irrespective of languages they are running. This means we can not have a different code for Assamese “ক”, or Bengali “ক”, or Manipuri “ক” unless and until the character has some reasonable difference in each language.

Let us come to the second point – why do we need a renaming of the existing Bengali Script in the Unicode consortium? There are several mistakes in the existing list. What comes to our mind at the first sight is that Bengali is the name of a language and not a script. It is similar to the fact that Roman script is used to write which serves for writing most of the languages of Western Europe including English. Moreover, there are some fallacies that Bengali Script (?) is also used to write Assamese and Bishnupriya Manipuri languages. It is a clear injustification to the other two languages. They have done several other mistakes in that script by interpreting the letters “ৰ” and “ৱ” which are categorised as Bengali Specific additions. The notable misinterpretations in the scripts are as follows.

“ৰ” (code 09F0): Bengali letter RA with middle diagonal

“ৱ” (code 09F1): Bengali letter RA with lower diagonal

= Bengali letter BA with lower diagonal (1.0)

Moreover, there is no space/code for the character “ক্ষ” in the Unicode list. To the best of our knowledge, “ক্ষ” is considered as a Yuktakshor (যুক্তাক্ষৰ) in modern Bengali language. But it is an independent letter in Assamese and Bishnupriya Manipuri languages. Therefore, it also deserves a space/code in the Unicode list. Similar kind of injustification was also done for “ৎ” till the version Unicode 5.0. Moreover, they should not be termed as Bengali letter “xyz”. It has to be language independent as per the objective of Unicode.

Let us come to the last point – from where the concept of Eastern Nagari (“পূব-নাগৰী” in Assamese) evolves. There was an informal discussion in late 2005 to mid 2007 in Wikipedia where people were discussing about the writing script of Assamese, Bengali, and Meitei. The discussion was initiated by Sameer Khan of Bangladesh and two/three Assamese people also took part in that discussion. After prolonged discussion they coined the terms Eastern Neo-Brahmic script or Eastern Nagari script to represent the scripts that are used to write Assamese, and/or Bengali, and/or Bishnupriya Manipuri. Later they came to a conclusion to rename the existing script (Bengali) in Wikipedia as a common Eastern Nagari script. Therefore, Assamese, Bengali, and Bishnupriya Manipuri were considered as the part of Eastern Nagari script. This may not be historically right and correct. Late Maheswar Neog wrote in his book entitled “Early history of Vaisnava faith and movement in Assam: Sankardeva and his times”, page no 308, that the Assamese script was derived from the Kutila style prevalent in Northern India roughly from the 6th century. Again, the stone, copperplate and clay seal inscriptions of the Kamrupa kings from the 5th century onwards give us the early history of Eastern script, which became the mother of the Assamese, Bengali, Maithali, and Oriya scripts…. It was also written that the Assamese script must have established itself much before the time and developed three distinct modes, viz., Gadgaya, Bamuniya, and Kaithali or Lakhari (as it was known in the then Kamrup district/state). Therefore, there is a scope of renaming this script to as Kamrupi Script. However, it is not well explained whether the modern characters (vowels and consonants) used to write Assamese (and part of Bengali and Bishnupriya Manipuri) are the original characters of the Kamrupi scripts. Therefore, we, from XOBDO.ORG, support the renaming all the modern characters used to write Assamese, Bengali, and Manipuri with a unified name. However, we do not bother whether it is renamed as Eastern Nagari, or ABM (“Assamese-Bengali-Manipuri” as proposed by IIT Guwahati) or AMBM (“Assamese-Metei-Bengali-Manipuri” as proposed by Satyakam Phukan in The Telegraph, 5th July, 2011). Our main concern is to remove the ambiguity in the Unicode list and to get equal recognition for all these three languages.

We, on behalf of XOBDO.ORG, request all the Assamese scholars to discuss it thoroughly in the perspective of Unicode and come to a resolution so that it can be rightly approached to the Unicode consortium for renaming of the existing script.