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16 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 16 February, 2018 12:19:02 AM

A Few Words on Ekushey February

By Shounak Reza
A Few Words on Ekushey February

When I was seven years old, Road 3 in Dhanmondi was named after my maternal grandfather, Mohammad Sultan, one of the leaders of our Language Movement. I watched with wide-eyed curiosity as the then mayor of Dhaka inaugurated the plaque that bore the name of my grandfather. That day, after we returned home, my parents told me how important it was for me to cherish the ideals of my grandparents.  

My paternal grandfather, Serajuddin Hossain, was a prominent journalist. He was one of the intellectuals murdered in December 1971. Both my grandfathers had worked to protect our Bengali identity and heritage, defying the restrictions that the Pakistani rulers placed on us.

Since I grew up in a family that prioritised its Bengali identity over everything else, Ekushey February is a day that is deeply rooted in my heart. Every year Ekushey February reminds us of our language martyrs and of the language movement, of the way they sacrificed their lives for our language. In spite of being colonised for centuries, Bengalis managed to keep their language unscathed. Instead of being influenced by alien cultures, Bengalis worked hard to flourish their unique culture and literature over the centuries.

The Bengalis were furious when Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the then governor general of Pakistan, declared that only Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan. It was 1948, the British had left the Indian Subcontinent the previous year and Bengalis were full of hope. This declaration, however, crushed their expectations. They knew they would never be able to realise their dreams if they allowed themselves to be ruled by the Urdu-speaking Pakistanis. They kept protesting against this declaration.

A series of movements followed, culminating in a tragedy on February 21, 1952, when the police attacked student-led processions in Dhaka that demanded that Bangla be made one of the state languages of then Pakistan. This tragedy strengthened the determination of the people to uphold the dignity of their language, and finally, in 1956, the government recognised Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan in the constitution. Since 1953, Ekushey February, or 21st February, has been observed as Shaheed Dibosh (Martyrs' Day), and in 1999, UNESCO recognised the day as International Mother Language Day to inspire people all over the world to respect and protect their respective mother tongues.

When I was little, I used to attend a small kindergarten called Saint Paul's School. The principal, a strict but matronly disciplinarian we all feared and loved at the same time, used to arrange programmes every year to commemorate Ekushey February. The day before, she would remind us to bring flowers the following day. I fondly remember how we used to walk towards the makeshift Shaheed Minar (martyrs’ monument) and offer flowers as the teachers sang ‘Amar Bhaiyer Roktey Rangano Ekushey February’. It was these Ekushey February programmes at school that further instilled in me a deep respect for my mother tongue, for our language martyrs. At home, too, we made sure we remembered our language martyrs and their sacrifices.

I grew up in a joint family and on Ekushay February every year, relatives and family friends would gather in our living room and sing songs, like 'Amar Bhaiyer Roktey Rangano Ekushey February’, ‘Ora Amar Mukher Bhasha Kaira Nite Chaay’ and ‘Moder Gorob, Moder Asha’'. I was eight years old when Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, the person who wrote ‘Amar Bhaiyer Roktey Rangano….’, visited our house. I listened attentively as he recounted those days when Bengalis determinedly fought for their language, their culture, their identity.

I think it is very important for us to preserve our language. While multilingualism is something very important, the present generation should remember never to lose their fluency in their first language while mastering other languages. Back in 1952, people only a couple of years older than I am now sacrificed their lives for our mother language. We have the legacies of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, of the many poets and writers who have graced our language over the centuries, and of our language martyrs. Let Ekushey February remind us of their contributions and sacrifices all over again, and inspire us to protect and preserve Bangla, one of the richest languages in the world.

Photo: File



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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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