The Rohingya—the persecuted ethnic minority currently facing a sweeping refugee crisis in Myanmar—will soon be able to communicate digitally in their own language. Described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, the Rohingya population is denied citizenship in Myanmar, and is currently in one of the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis provoked by what the UN describes as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The language will reportedly be included in the Unicode Standard—the coding systems that digitizes written script into characters and numbers. While the group is arguably facing matters much larger than language digitization, experts say having a digital script of their own is symbolic for the recognition and survival of the Rohingya people. “If a people do not have a written language of their own, it is easier to say that as an ethnic group you don’t exist,” Mohammad Hanif, developer of the writing system for the Rohingya language in the 1980s told The Guardian.
Anshuman Pandey built upon Hanif’s development after learning of it in 2011, and wanted to give people a chance to use it on computers. “Hanifi Rohingya” may be encoded by the Unicode Consortium, a non-profit corporation that coordinates the development of the Unicode standard. A representative told AFP by email that Hanifi Rohingya was one of the scripts being considered in the next version, but a final decision would be made in February.
“This is a big moment for the Rohingya community,” says Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organization in the UK. “The government has denied our existence for many decades.” With the addition of the Rohingya script, “our identity and culture will be preserved for the future,” Khin explains.
“It is revolutionary,” said Rebecca Petras of Translators Without Borders—a non-profit that provides translation services for charities in crisis zones. “In order for the language to survive, a script is necessary. This would strengthen the language and go a long way to preserve it.”