21st (Ekushey) February of the Language Movement is the day of both gloominess and glory for the Bengali people. Every year this day comes as the revitalization for Bengali entity. 21st February urges for a spirit of patriotism, nationalism and enthusiasm. Ekushey also symbolizes our courage; lighthouse of our mentality. Ekushey has glorified the Bengali nation in many dimensions. In 1952, history that has been written in the blood of the Bengalis for the sake of dignity and rights of the mother tongue is the motivation for all the Bengalis not to bow down ever. With intervention from our honorable Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, in collaboration with UNESCO, this sacrifice for our mother tongue has become a status symbol for all the vernacular languages worldwide. Language is one of the primary means of communication among people. Language retains the existence of society. A common language plays vital role to unite a nation, build a nation, and develop nationalist ideas.
Sociologist Anthony Giddens said, 'Actually nationalism is a psychological concept, connected to human needs and demands'. And language is the vehicle of nationalist consciousness. Language is not a sole property, it is for common people. Native language is not just a communication medium, it is part of existence. Without the mother language, the identity of a nation becomes peripheral. It becomes week like a rootless tree. A nation moves forward, clinging to its mother tongue. Language is also essential to sustain economic development. There exists intensive relationship between language and production process. Language is the medium of communication between mass people without any discrimination. Denying people from that medium therefore eventually results in excluding them from the production process, making people worried about their survival. They feel that their survival is threatened, and therefore struggle to strengthen their safety. Speaking the same language implies becoming a part of each other's thoughts. Man gets knowledge about cultural senses and behavior of other groups or nations through language.
Mother tongue cannot be blocked or destroyed by any means. Every nation and race is determined to save the honor of their mother tongues. Any assault on mother tongue is considered to be an assault on self-respect. People stand up against it. For that reason, Bengali shed blood and gave their highest sacrifice to uphold the status of their mother tongue, a very unusual event in the world's history. All people around the world have same level of love for their mother tongue. So every nation's and tribe's demand for the preservation of their languages creates public emotion; the claim is justified.At the beginning of the first meeting of the newly formed Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in Karachi in 1948, Urdu and English were declared as official languages. In that meeting, a member from East-Bangla Constituent Assembly, DhirendranathDatta, proposed to adopt Bangla as the official language of the Constituent Assembly along with Urdu and English. He proposed an amendment to use Bangla in the statuary issues. But all the members from the West Pakistan and some members from the East Bengal rejected the proposal.
In the East Bengal, public resentment grew against this decision. Students protested with a slogan 'Bangla as a statuary Language'. Students, cultural workers and ordinary people outside Dhaka also participated in the protest.In response to Pakistan's Governor General Muhammad Ali Jinnah's attempt to impose Urdu as the statuary language, TamuddinMajlish and Muslim Chatra League in a meeting at FazlulHaque Hall of University of Dhaka formed 'All Party Statuary Language Movement Council' by expanding and reforming former Statuary Language Movement Council on 2 March 1948. They decided to strike in Dhaka on 7 March and a strike across the country on 11 March for the establishment of Bangla as statuary language. According to language solider (Bhashasoynik) GaziulHaque, 'The strike of 11 March spreads all over the East Bengal'. During the strike on 11 March, ShamsulHaque, Ali Ahad, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and some others were arrested while picketing outside the Secretariat, which was the first imprisonment for the language movement. Following release from imprisonment on 15 March, Sheikh Mujib went to FazlulHaque Hall. He became very angry while reading the 8-point agreement of Statuary Language Movement Council with Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin.
He said, 'What have you done? Where is the recognition for statuary language? I do not accept this agreement'. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed the 8-point agreement as meaningless. Some compromising student leaders made agreement with the Prime Minister by evading the recognition of Bangla as statuary language. If the 8-point agreement and the amendment are compared, the futility of the agreement and compromising behavior of some student leaders become evident. The next morning, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman arranged a meeting of Statuary Language Movement Council at FazlulHaque Hall, and a decision was made to propose an amended proposal of the agreement to the General Student Council. At noon, General Student Council, chaired by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, rejected the 8-point agreement, accepted the amended proposal, and sent that to the Prime Minister. After the meeting, students led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, surrounded the council building. Certainly, Sheikh Mujib revitalized the Language movement single handedly with prudent leadership. In October 1949, government arrested the newly formed Awami Muslim League's Joint Secretary Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for criticizing the government's failure in tackling price hike, and arranging a BhukhaMichchil (hunger procession) in Dhaka. He was in jail until the Language Movement.
When the Language Movement was further deepened in 1952, Sheikh Mujib expressed solidarity with the movement from prison. He influenced the movement with prudent advices from time to time. Bangabandhu's role in the Language Movement was quite unique and unforgettable.In the biennial council of Awami League on 18 January 1974 Bangabandhu said, 'Many make mistakes in interpreting the history. You need to know the true history of the Language Movement in 1952. I was imprisoned and undergoing treatment at Dhaka Medical College. I decided to fight against those who attacked our state language and our country on 21st February. Our plan was finalized in a secret meeting. Today, I can say because no police employee will lose his job; no government employee will lose his job. It was decided, to start a hunger strike on 16 February, and start the movement on 21st February. I started the hunger strike. I was transferred to Faridpur Jail. The language movement started'. (Atiur Rahman, Sheikh Mujib, Another Name of Bangladesh, Page 165)Although the language movement started to prevent the honor of Bangla as mother tongue, the main spirit was to establish self-respect and autonomy.
Language movement was the first treason against the Pakistani rulers' unjust treatment to the people of East Bengal. At that time farmer's sons and middle class youths sowed the seed of a secular, democratic, and multi-dimensional state graving the concept of Pakistan. As a result, Bengali nationalism originated and flourished rapidly. Bengali people started understanding that they would never prosper independently under the state structure of Pakistan. Their children would not be able to get good jobs, do business or build industry. Therefore, protest was the only way to gain anything from the Pakistani rulers. After the 21st February, the basic structure of the Pakistan state got ruined. Bengali people started dreaming of becoming citizens of an independent and sovereign state. They understood that they were being discriminated economically, socially, politically, and culturally. When these discriminations increased extensively, people raised their voice for freedom.
Language movement leads to the movement for self-autonomy, which later stimulates the War of Liberation. At every step of this movement the firm and prudent leadership of Sheikh Mujib is visible. The consciousness of the Bengali people on their rights grown after the Language Movement was clearly reflected in the 1954 election. The United Front of the Bengali leaders came victorious with huge margin. But the Pakistanis did not tolerate this democratic advancement of the Bengalis. They tried to demolish the victory through military rule. The charismatic and effective leadership of Sheikh Mujib evolved at this critical stage. Later, his leadership became the spirit of Bengalis in every movement against military rule and oppression of the Pakistani rulers. Language movement chronically leads to education movement in 1962, historic 6-points movement in 1966, 11-points programme of students, movement against Agartala conspiracy case, mass upsurge of 1969, historic win in 1970 elections, non-cooperation movement of 1971 and finally the Liberation War.
After the war, Bangla is honored as the state language in the third article of the constitution of independent Bangladesh. The United Nations has declared the 21st February as the 'International Mother Language Day' in recognition of the memory of sacrifices by our people for the mother tongue. The contribution of Salam and Rafique behind this recognition must be noted. In 1998, two Bengalese, living in Vancouver of Canada, Rafiqul Islam and Abdus Salam, applied to the Secretary General of the United Nations to observe the 21st February as the International Mother Language Day through their organization, 'The Mother Language Lover of The World'. Later, they informed Bangladesh UNESCO National Commission, and the Education Minister ASHK Sadeque about their initiative. When the minister enlightened the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina about this, she became very enthusiastic and instructed to reach the proposal to the UNESCO Headquarter immediate before the beginning of UNESCO meeting. At the UNESCO meeting in Paris on 17 November 1999, the 21st February was declared the 'International Mother Language Day'.
Afterwards, from the 21st February 2000, this day has been observed as the 'International Mother Language Day' with due respect in almost all countries of United Nations. 21st February is not a mourning day for the Bengalese only; it is the Mother Language Day for the world. This is our pride. The sacrifices of the language martyrs have not gone in vain. This recognition is their story of pride and success. We have to continue our advancement with pride through paying respect towards our mother language. Besides, Bangla there are other languages of small tribes in our country. We have to be careful to protect and respect their languages as well. Enormous research is required for the development and promotion of Bangla and tribal languages. A special research fund is very important to do that. Government can take initiatives to form such 'Endowment Fund' from the 'Research and Development' fund. Banking and other corporate organizations can also contribute to this type of funds as a part of their corporate social responsibility. Let us devote ourselves for the development of our mother language.
Dr. Atiur Rahman is a Bangladeshi development economist, writer and banker.