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21 February, 2020 11:38:58 AM

How Ekushey February metamorphosed into International Mother Language Day

Celebrating International Mother Language Day is an opportunity to promote and protect cultural and linguistic diversity
Syed Mehdi Momin
How Ekushey February metamorphosed into International Mother Language Day

Today is Ekushey, the 21st February, a great day in the history of Bangladesh. On this day 62 years ago a number of brave Bangladeshi youths laid down their lives to protect the dignity of their mother tongue. With that cataclysmic event taking place with young blood spilled on the streets of Dhaka, the seed of our nationhood was sown which sprouted and grew into a tree and gave us the strength and fortitude to press for self-determination and freedom from slavery and exploitation of the Pakistanis. This momentous event took place in the wake of the then Pakistani rulers’ first attempt to suppress the Bangla-speaking people’s unique identity with their own language, heritage, art and culture. They tried to deny our right to speak, think and write in our mother tongue, when the then Governor General of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah most unjustly declared that Urdu would be the only official language of the state of Pakistan.

This declaration from the ruling quarters was a blatant denial of the right of the Bengalis who formed the majority of the population of Pakistan. But when the brave sons of this land most unselfishly embraced martyrdom to counter the designs of the Pakistani rulers representing the minority of the population, this step was written into history as the courageous action of a people who fought for upholding the dignity of their national pride. But for the Bengalis, as the years passed by, the yearning for freeing themselves from the shackles of exploitation gained momentum spontaneously as the world witnessed the political movements of the sixties ushering in the six-point charter of the Awami League, the 11-point demands of the students, the mass movement of 1969, and ultimately the Liberation War of 1971 that gave birth to Bangladesh.

This day of the highest and noblest sacrifice is now the eternal fountainhead of inspiration for the people of Bangladesh and the Shaheed Minar has become a very potent symbol of our nationhood and national unity. Herein lies the true meaning of the Immortal Ekushey.

Until 2000, the celebration of the day was confined to Bangladesh and Bangla speaking peoples scattered around the world. With the announcement of the day as the International Mother Language Day by the UN in 1999, the day has been given its due universal dimension and it has become a pride possession of our nation. The spirit of the Ekushey will always give us inspiration to forge ahead as an independent nation that refuses to bow its head to unholy and diabolical powers trying to suppress our identity as a nation.

In 1948 Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the governor General declared, “Urdu and Urdu alone shall be the national language of Pakistan”. It was an autocratic measure imposed upon 58.6 percent of the Bangla speaking majority. The young students did not welcome Jinnah’s declaration, fought on the barricades, organized the language movement and made it a political issue by sacrificing their lives. Eventually this nationalism, which focused strongly on language, finally gave birth to a new country in 1971, called Bangladesh.

From 1953 onwards till today, 21st February is being observed as a martyrs’ day. The Memorial erected in their name has turned into a national meeting place. The love and respect that these martyrs had aroused for Bengali mother-tongue and culture, eventually laid the foundation of the war of liberation of Bangladesh.

In 1956 Pakistan Constitution, Bengali and Urdu were declared as state languages of Pakistan. In the constitution of Bangladesh, adopted in 1972, it is a stated: the language of the Republic would be Bengali. In Bangladesh continuous efforts are on to establish Bangla in all walks of life.

The decision to observe 21st February as the International Mother Language Day was unanimously taken at the 30th General Conference of the UNESCO held on November 17, 1999.

Bangladesh officially sent a proposal to UNESCO requesting the world body to adopt a Resolution declaring 21st February as International Mother Language Day. The Language Division of UNESCO marked the proposal from the Government of Bangladesh as the Draft Resolution -35 and sent the same to Commission-2 for consideration. The Commission unanimously recommended the proposal for presentation at the Plenary Session of the General Conference of the UNESCO. This proposal from Bangladesh was seconded by Ivory Coast, Italy, Indonesia, Iran, Oman, Comoros, Gambia, Chile, Dominican Republic, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Paraguaya, the Philippines, the Bahamas, Benin, Blearus, Vanatua, India, Micronesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Russia, Lithunia, Srilanka, Saudi Arabia, Surinam, Slovakia and Honduras. After that, on November 17, 1999, 21st February was declared in the General Conference as the International Mother Language Day.

It may be mentioned here that “Gaffargaon Theatre” under Mymensing district in Bangladesh had in 1997, in a booklet published on the eve of 21st February, raised the “demand for declaration of an International Mother Language Day and for the International recognition of 21st February.”

There is an Organization named “Mother Language Lovers of the World” in Canada. There are ten English, Kutchi, Cantonese, German, Filipino, Bengali and Hindi speaking members in that organization. In 1999 they urged the UNO and the UNESCO to declare 21st February as the International Mother Language Day.

The UNESCO in reply informed them that such proposal could only be considered if it had come from the National Commission for UNESCO of any member-state. The said organization informed Ministry of Education, Government of Bangladesh of the matter over telephone. The government sent the Bangladesh Proposal to UNESCO at the earliest cutting down all the procedural formalities. The Proposal was promptly sent to UNESCO. This enabled UNESCO to adopt the historic resolution in the long run.

It is a great achievement on the part of Bangladesh. Probably nothing equally great has been achieved after the Independence war. The International Mother Language Day is not only for Bangladesh, rather it is for all speakers of all languages all over the world. In spite of that, Bangladesh cannot but feel proud when 21st February has been chosen as the International Mother Language Day.

According to the UNESCO statistics, every 14 days a language dies. Celebrating International Mother Language Day is an opportunity to promote and protect cultural and linguistic diversity. It is estimated that almost half of over 6,000 languages in use worldwide are in danger of disappearing. Because language is so strongly linked to culture, losing a language also implies the disappearance of a culture’s means of expression. For small ethnic groups and minorities across the world, International Mother Language Day is a powerful tool in their quest to preserve their language and cultural heritage. That’s what this holiday is all about; protecting one’s culture and mother tongue and upholding it with pride. And of course on this day, the whole world pays homage to the martyrs of 1952, by celebrating their mother tongues and dwelling on the importance of preserving it.

Because of the global economic crisis, many countries are now trying to tighten and regulate their job markets. While different governments are speaking less about the value of globalization and are expressing more concerns about migrants. In the era of globalization, it is now more critical than ever to build relationships, find mutual understanding and respect differences. The International Mother Language Day is one of the initiatives to remind the global citizen that diversity is an important source of strength - economic, cultural and spiritual.

The writer is the Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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