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21 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Our language our pride

The culture of the Bengali people was highly developed and very much an inherent part of the society that had little in common with the traditions and culture of the people of West Pakistan
Limana Solaiman Mridha
Our language our pride

Bangla is a beautiful language with a rich heritage of literature that dates back to almost a thousand years. So in 1952 when the Urdu-speaking intellectuals of Pakistan declared Urdu alone would be the state language of the region to bring about uniformity of the education and other systems, the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) protested vehemently against the decree. The culture of the Bengali people was highly developed and very much an inherent part of the society that had little in common with the traditions and culture of the people of West Pakistan.

It was unacceptable for the proud Bengalis to accept such oppression on their language; a basic right that was to be taken away from them that gave rise to the language movement of 1952. However, the fight for our language actually began on 1947 when a booklet was brought out by the cultural society and organisation of scholars, writers and journalists with Islamic ideology, Tamuddun Majlis, titled ‘State Language of Pakistan: Bengali or Urdu?’ demanding in its text that Bengali should be recognised as one of the state languages of Pakistan. Following the distribution of this booklet, an assembly was staged at the Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall of Dhaka University to analyse and discuss the state language issue. The meeting was organised by Abul Kashem who was the secretary general of the Majlis and a Physics Professor of Dhaka University. Following the convene, a political party known as Khilafate-Rabbani Party was formed by the supporters of the cause and Abul Hasim was named the chairman of the party. Following November of 1947, delegates of East Bengal while attending the Pakistan Educational Conference in Karachi opposed to the idea openly that Urdu would be the only national language of Pakistan. The minister of education at that time was Fazlur Rahman, a Bengali himself.

In the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in February 1948, an opposition member and a Bengali, Direndra Nath Dutta, presented a resolution in the first session for recognising Bengali as a state language along with Urdu and English. He pointed out that among the 6 crore 90lakh population of Pakistan, 4 crore 40 lakh were from East Pakistan with Bangla as their mother tongue. This was met with fervent opposition from Liakat Ali, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan and other non-Bengalis present along with easterners like Khawaja Nazimuddin and few Bengali supporters of the West Pakistanis in the Assembly. The original resolution was revised by Direndra Nath Dutta to make it more acceptable but still the West Pakistanis and their Bengali supporters resisted the logical demand. In his book, The Separation of East Pakistan – The Rise and Realization of Bengali Muslim Nationalism, Hasan Zaheer recounts, “The demand for Bengali as one of the state languages gathered the spontaneous support of the Bengali civil servants, academics, students, and various groups of middle class. Several members of the Provincial Assembly, including some ministers, were reportedly active in supporting the movement. By the end of February 1948, the controversy had spilled over on the streets. The East Pakistan Student League, founded in the first week of January by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was in the forefront of the agitation.”

A host of events followed in the aftermath of the incidents mentioned above. The students of Dhaka University with different ideologies and opinions came together under an umbrella, Committee of Action, with the common objective of accomplishing national status of Bengali. Demonstrations of protests took place and there was unrest as the protesters were baton charged by the authorities and quite a large number of students were arrested. Now the governor general was due to visit Dhaka on March 19 and this made Nazimuddin nervous who then sought the help of Muhammad Ali Bogra to negotiate with the Committee of Action. The negotiations led to the signing of an agreement between the two entities the conditions of which stood at (a) The Provincial Assembly shall adopt a resolution for making Bengali the official language of East Pakistan and the medium of instruction at all stages of education; and (b) the Assembly by another resolution would recommend to the central government that Bengali should be made one of the state languages.

But on March 21, 1948, at the convocation ceremony of Dhaka University, the Governor General of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah affirmed that while the language of the province can be Bengali, the official state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu. Anyone who tries to establish otherwise will be considered an enemy of Pakistan. The statement was met with angry outburst from the Bengali youth who took it as a slight since 54 per cent of the population of the region spoke Bangla.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was one of the faces of the revolution raising a protest slogan. He was placed under detention for this audacity. From then on, Dhaka University campus became a meeting point for students and leaders alike to fight for our language. Jinnah tried to persuade the Committee of Action on the necessity of a uniform state language but to no avail. This led to the formation of repressive policies to crush the Bangla language and arrest its supporters.

In the beginning of the year 1952, the second boutof unrest spread throughout East Bengal when at Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan in a public meeting, Prime Minister Nazimuddin, declared that Urdu alone will be the state language of Pakistan. This declaration was made following the decision of the Basic Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan that Urdu should be the only state language.

By then it was clear that the students alone couldn’t prevail against the oppressors and under the leadership of Bhashani, Awami League took on the responsibility to lead the protest. A convention was held at the end of January of 1952 where Bhashani was the convener and leaders such as Abul Hashim and Hamidul Haq Choudhury took part in the event. A new All-Party Committee of Action (APCA) was formed encompassing Kazi Golam Mahboob as Convener and Maulana Bhashani as Chairman, and with two representatives from the Awami League, Students League, Youth League, Khilafate-Rabbani Party, and the Dhaka University State Language Committee of Action.

In another protest meeting in early February of 1952, the Committee of Action decided to observe a strike on February 21 during the East Bengal Assembly’s budget session. To curtail the effectiveness of the strike, the authorities announced Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code prohibiting processions and meetings in Dhaka city. The order further escalated the feeling of resentment among the students and despite the ban, a general strike was observed. The students brought out a procession in order to stage a demonstration in front of the provincial assembly. The situation was getting worse by the minute as the police started lobbing teargas and the students retaliated with bricks. By then riots spread throughout the campus and the police open fired. Three students of Dhaka University Mohammad Salauddin, Abdul Jabbar, Abul Barkat, along with two protesters Rafiquddin Ahmed and Abdus Salam were killed. The news of the killing spree gave rise to the feeling of nationalism among general people and thousands took to the streets of the Medical college premises in protest against the atrocity.

On February 22 another riot flared up and again four people are killed. Giving in to the demands of the angry people, the Chief Minister Nurul Amin approved a motion endorsing to the Constituent Assembly that Bengali should be one of the state languages of Pakistan. The motion was passed collectively. Again a general strike was observed on the 23 and the Shaheed Minar was erected overnight. To bring order, the government issued full authority to the police and military to bring the situation in Dhaka back to normal within 48 hours. The police arrested almost all the student and political leaders connected with the language movement. And Dhaka University was shut down until further notice. The movement lost its momentum but in 1954, the Pakistan government was forced to recognise Bangla as a state language.

The language movement have had a deep rooted cultural impact on the Bengali people and since the tragic incidents of 1952, February 21 has been observed mourning the death of the people who gave their life for our legacy. However, after the liberation of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971, this event was observed as the Language Movement Day or Shaheed Dibosh or Martyrs’ Day. This is where we get the inspiration for celebrating our language. “Amar Ekushey Grantha Mela” is held every year to commemorate the movement all throughout the month of February.

This history of sacrifice and fight for the recognition of our language prompted the UNESCO to declare February 21 as International Mother Language Day on November 17, 1999. Bengalis are the only nation in the world to have fought and sacrificed their lives for the right to speak their mother tongue so the honour was bestowed upon us by the international community.

The writer is a journalist working for, The Independent



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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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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.

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