by Masum Ahmed
Siloti (Sylheti) is a language which is placed at the 81st position among the world’s top 100 languages yet is unknown to many, and the speakers are 11.8 million as per a survey of 2007.
Language is the carrier of culture, and for sure any language carries and conveys its own culture which in turn reflects its background and other possible fields of anthropological concerns. It is very much known that without literature a language cannot be preserved and without a script, a literature cannot be composed or compiled.
Without the presence of its own script a language may flourish but cannot survive for long or may not hold on throughout the ages its prestige and resilient sublimity of its very own culture. Records in terms of manuscripts must be present to support this existence of a language and Siloti (Sylheti) fulfils this criteria supporting its origin and existence and survival through ages. With its literary evidences in terms of “futhis”, and evidences of official documents in erstwhile British India as well as within ‘folk literatures’ of religion and various other topics and philosophies found in its preserved manuscripts, Siloti has grandeur cultural legacy.
The language has its own script (written in Siloti Nagori/Sylheti Nagari), its rich literature (sometimes in manuscripts called “futhi”) but devoid of any big stock of works (though considerable literary works and compositions, translations, compilations and poems are available) only because of its own people, who, from quondam days carry on rural lifestyle and very few of them focused educating their offspring. But again you will find a good number of them very much satisfied and comfortable with a fake identity which they perceive or claim.
Many of them have English as their native or functional language as they are settled abroad, many again have Bengali, Meitei or Assamese or any other available language as they found those languages around them in function since childhood. Because their community megrely paid heed to the matter of preserving their script through writings or in official documenting activities as of how it was prevalent earlier, before the dawning of 20th Century.
Political partitions can do a little harm to a vast, unpartitioned culture and culturally connected people! This very dignified and culturally rich language, Siloti (Sylheti), is spoken in India, Bangladesh, United Kingdom, United States of America, Rome, Malaysia, Singapore, Berlin, in various places within Australia, as well as in Middle East and in many small and large countries of this modern-day world. During the partition in 1947, Silotis (Sylhetis) were part of Assam in North-Eastern British India, as it then was. It must be known that Sylhet at present is a big division consisting of four districts. Along with these four districts of Sylhet, Sylheti is spoken in various other parts of present Bangladesh.
Siloti (Sylheti) is spoken by the people of three districts (Cachar, Hailakandi, Karimganj) of “Barak Valley” in Assam and in parts of Tripura (notably Dholai) , in Meghalaya (notably Shillong) in India. A good number of speakers are spread across India, in various institutions, offices, fields and universities, especially in Aligarh Muslim University where this author is currently pursuing Bachelors, more than 100 speakers of the same ethnicity pursue various courses.
It is said that among every ten Bengalis (British Bengali, Bangladeshi Bengali, Indian Bengali) in London 8-9 are Siloti (Sylheti) speaking in several day-to-day activities of life. The data and various surveys says that sailing or seafaring has been in the blood of Silotis (Sylhetis), because their imprints are found in the annals and archives of British India, where in British ships, most probably between 1850-1945, they were recruited as sailors or lascars and by the course of time they settled there in a far land.
Thus, as per one survey report, about 500,000 Silotis (Sylhetis) , or even more are perceived, are presently residing in United Kingdom, who for lack of documentation and teaching materials among other reasons, simply call it ‘Bengali’, where Siloti (Sylheti) is an independent language with ample evidences, rich literary documents, and its own script!
Another source says the possible number of speakers vary from 450,000/500,000 in the USA/Canada, 150,000 or more in Middle East, 300,000 in Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Rome and Berlin collectively, and about 150,000 in various cities of India.
Views expressed by the author are personal.