যে ভাষার জন্যে এমন হন্যে, এমন আকুল হলাম, সে ভাষাতে আমার অধিকার।
Posted by bangalnama on September 19, 2008
With their long and rich literary tradition, Bengalis (bangal-i, when pronounced with a normal Bengali accent 🙂 and you get our subtle pun) have strived since ages to amalgamate a culturally and geographically diverse region. In 1952, when Bangladesh used to be East Pakistan, this strong sense of identity led to the Bengali Language Movement in which several people braved bullets and died martyrs on February 21.
The Language Movement (Bangla Bhasha Andolon) was a political and cultural movement in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) that centred around the recognition of Bengali language as the official language of Pakistan and a broader reaffirmation of the ethno-national consciousness of the Bengali people. Discontent against Pakistan’s “Urdu-only” policy had spilled into mass agitation since 1948 and reached its climactic strength after police fired upon and killed student demonstrators on February 21, 1952.
After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the Central Government under Muhammad Ali Jinnah ordained Urdu to be the sole national language, even though the Bengali-speaking national population unquestionably formed the majority . The policy, compounded by sectional tensions served as a major provocation of political conflict.
” Mr. Jinnah made a statement in the Constituent Assembly on 25th February, 1948 that Pakistan being a Muslim state URDU would be its state language. Quaid-E-Azam Md. Ali Jinnah was to visit DU during his stay in East Bengal (Bangladesh) in 1948. The students asked Khwaja Nazimuddin (chief minister of East Bengal at that time) to put forward their demand for Bengali to be accepted as one of the state languages of Pakistan. But apparently he didn’t convey that to Mr. Jinnah. The founder of the nation told them during his speech on 19th March, 1948 that URDU alone will be the lingua franca of Pakistan “
[by Lt. Gen. (retd) Kamal Matinuddin; Tragedy of Errors, East Pakistan Crisis 1968-1971]
Despite protests in 1948, the policy was protected by law and reaffirmed by national leaders, including several Bengali politicians. Facing rising tensions, the government in East Pakistan outlawed public meetings and gatherings. Defying this, the students of Dhaka University (DU) and other political activists started a procession on February 21. Near the present Dhaka Medical College Hospital, police open-fired on the protestators and as a result Abdus Salam, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abul Barkat, Abdul Jabbar and some unidentified people were killed. The deaths from police firing on peaceful student protesters was enough to bring about a national uproar and immediately resulted in widespread strikes and protests. This was an unprecedented event, the likes of which was perhaps only to be notoriously repeated in history some 37 years later in the infamous Tienanmen Square of China.
Impact of the language movement
The Language Movement served as a catalyst for the assertion of the Bengali cultural and national identity within Pakistan. The agitation also served to intensify the political and sectional rivalries between the two wings of the East and the West. The movement served as an inspiration and forerunner to Bengali nationalist agitations against the political and economic domination of West Pakistan, including the 6-point movement and subsequently the Bangladesh Liberation War (Muktijuddho) in 1971.
In Bangladesh, February 21 is commemorated annually as the Language Movement Day. The Shaheed Minar was constructed to commemorate the agitation and pay homage to its victims.
At one minute past midnight on 21 February, the President of Bangladesh arrives at the Shaheed Minar to pay homage to the language martyrs. He is followed by the Prime Minister, members of the cabinet, staff of diplomatic missions in Dhaka, political leaders, representatives of various institutions and organisations etc. Throughout the day, people of all ages and from all walks of life visit the Shaheed Minar to pay tribute to those who gave their lives for Bangla. Walking slowly, they sing the mournful notes of the elegy, ‘Amar bhaiyer rakte rangano ekushey february ami ki bhulite pari’ (How can I forget 21 February reddened with the blood of my brothers?). In commemoration of the day, bangla academy holds a month-long book fair and organises literary and cultural events throughout the month.
Reflections on ekushey
How quick time passes by! It seems like the blood splattering incident of February 21, 1952 just happened few decades earlier. At the time no one thought that the day’s activity would shape up the lives of millions people even half a century later.
Bangal-i feels strongly about Ekushe February. Their hearts fill with joy knowing that on that fateful day, in the bangla month of crimson Falgun, a few brave sons of the soil stood up in vigorous protest to assert Bangla as their Rashtro Bhasha and they took bullets in their body, unfalteringly. Blood was spilled in the perched and dusty soil in front of Dhaka Medical College gate. In return Bangal-i got their voice back.
Falgun is a time when new buds sprout. And here is when, the sacrifice of a few brave sons of the land heralded a new beginning. They broke the manacles of tyranny. And what is perhaps the most unique feature of Ekushey was that it sprouted a movement where language took precedence over religion.
Ekushe had huge cultural impact. আমার ভাইযে়র রক্তে রাঙানো একুশে ফেব্রুযা়রি (amar bhaier rokte rangano ekushe february) penned down by Abdul Gaffar Choudhury (as a poem, later set to tune) to mark the language movement achieved iconic status as one of the most popular songs in Bengali. The song is sung every year in the probhat feri, the morning march in barefoot towards the Shaheed Minar to pay homage to the martyrs. The song was first set to music by Abdul Latif, but later the composer Altaf Mahmud changed the tune to the present version. It is regarded by the listeners of BBC Bengali Service as the third best song in Bengali.
Look everywhere in current Bangladesh and what you see is the reaffirmation of the victory on Ekushey February, 1952. Also, it is a small wonder that this sacrifice by a few bangal-i half a century ago smothered the nation affectionately with the Ekushe spirit and slogan- be it a TV station or a book fair.
Let the memory of that supreme sacrifice of the bangal-i youth linger in the minds of millions living in the deltaic land of Bangla. বাংলা ভাষার জয় হোক! (Long Live Bangla language!)
In 1999, February 21 was declared the International Mother Language Day by the United Nations.
The second bangla language movement in Barak valley, Assam
In what may be called the second language movement by Bengalis (of Bangal origin) for their right of mother tongue, the post-partition movements in the Barak valley of Assam must be recounted. The people of Surma Valley (known during the time of British India) saw two political partitions in a century – one isolating them from their ethnic link with gangetic Bengal and ensuing a forced merger with the Assam state by the then British Rulers. The second partition that created Pakistan in 1947 truncated the Valley by taking away 4 out of 5 subdivisions of Sylhet district. So the Surma division was lost for ever and newly defined Barak Valley came into being comprising Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts. The partition of India brought to the people of Barak Valley an insurmountable economic hardship, cultural alienation and separation from their nearest kins living on the other side of the international boundary. Added to all this, the people’s wrath was further aggravated when Assam Legislative Assembly introduced a bill to make Assamese the only official language of the state. It meant denial of Bengali, the second major language spoken in Assam and which constitutes the major language group in Barak Valley. Consequently, people of Barak Valley set off a democratic language movement for due recognition of their mother tongue.
The movement reached its pinnacle in 1961 in Silchar (previously Sylhet in Individed Bengal, now Cachhar district of Assam, India). When the Assam Government, under the then chief minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha, passed a circular to make Assamese mandatory, Bengalis of Barak Valley protested. On 19th May, 1961, Assam Police opened fire on unarmed protesters at Silchar Railway Station in which 11 youth agitators died. Coming under intense pressure, after the bloodpath and ensuing popular revolt, the Government withdrew the legislation. Bengali was ultimately given official status in the three districts of Barak Valley.
The demand for Bengali language came to the forefront once again when Gauhati University sought to introduce Assamese as the only medium of instruction at University level. This led to another mass movement at Barak Valley which saw similar repression and killing. Two youths at Karimganj were killed by police on 21 July 1986, many suffered jail confinement while some were injured and rendered incapacitated.
These incidents remain surprisingly little-known to the present-day Bengalis, compared to the event of Ekushey. We hereby salute the language martyrs of Silchar and Karimganj.
Bangla in the present world
Currently, Bengali is the national and official language of Bangladesh and one of the 23 official languages recognised by the Republic of India. It is the official language of the states of West Bengal and Tripura. It is a major language in the Indian union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which incidentally saw a lot of settlement post-1947 migration. Bangla was made an official language of Sierra Leone in order to honour the Bangladeshi peacekeeping force from the United Nations stationed there. It is also the co-official language of Assam, which has three predominantly Sylheti-speaking districts of southern Assam – Cachar, Karimganj, and Hailakandi.
Ekusher prothom kobita – Mahbub Ul-Alam Chowdhury (Source: Youtube)
4. Silchar Language movement : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bengali_language, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silchar, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bengali_language#cite_note-Assam2-20, http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Assam-University
5. For more information on the Bengali language movement in independent India, check this article at Sachalayatan.
Main Article – Brishti Syed
Poem – Somnath
Compilation – Jhuma, Sohini, Debarshi