UNESCO’s declaration of 21st February as the International Mother Language Day has brought fresh glory and prestige to Bangladesh which is making significant strides towards peace, progress and prosperity at home and discharging international obligations abroad. After 1952, the people of Bangladesh have been observing every year the 21st day of February as their glorious and unforgettable Language Martyrs Day. What happened on 21st February 1952 is widely known. Still let us very briefly recount the fateful happenings of that day and the circumstances that led to and followed them.
In August 1947, a new state called Pakistan, comprising two far-flung wings in the west and east, separated by 1600 kilometers of foreign territory, emerged on the world map. The ideological basis of that strange phenomenon was the absurd and pernicious two nation theory of Mr. Jinnah that ignored such basic elements as language and culture and considered religion as a bond strong and sufficient enough to transform a people into a nation.
The language of the people of eastern wing of Pakistan, and they were the majority, was Bangla. It had a rich tradition of literature of over a thousand years. The Bangalees also had a highly developed culture that had little in common with the culture of the people of western wing of Pakistan. The Bangalees love for and attachment to their language and culture were great and when in 1952 the neo-colonial, power-hungry, arrogant rulers of Pakistan declared that ‘Urdu and Urdu alone would be the state language of Pakistan, they sowed the seed of its future disintegration.
The people of the then East Pakistan, particularly the students, rose in angry protest against the vicious undemocratic designs of the government. Those designs really amounted to the destruction of Bangla language and culture and imposition of the language and culture of the people of western wing on the people of eastern wing. The reaction was strong and spontaneous.
The government decided to quell protests by brute force. The police opened fire on 21st February 1952 on unarmed peaceful protesters, most of whom were students, resulting in the death, among others, of Rafiq, Barkat, Jabbar and Salam. As the news of those deaths spread, the entire people of the eastern wing felt greatly involved emotionally. Those who lost their lives to uphold the prestige defend the rights of their mother-language became hallowed martyrs.
[Barkat] [Rafiq] [Saifur]
Their sacrifice at once tragic glorious and the indignation of the people against an autocratic government had far reaching effect. 21st February became a symbol and attained mythic properties, it nourished the concepts of democracy and secularism. It also contributed significantly to the flowering of Bangalee nationalism. It led to the dawning of the realization in the minds of the Bangalees that they constituted a separate nation and their destiny lay not with Pakistan but elsewhere as an independent country. The subsequent democratic mass movements of the late fifties, throughout the sixties and the seventies, and finally the struggle for independence and the war of liberation owed a great deal to 21st February.
From 1953 onwards, starting from 21st February 1953, the immortal 21st February has been observed as a great national event all over Bangladesh, and also beyond the frontiers of Bangladesh: in several places of India, UK, USA, Canada and elsewhere, wherever there is a sizeable concentration of Bangla speaking people. Yet so long, it has been mainly a national event of Bangladesh. But with the declaration of 21st February as the International Mother Language Day, it has transcended the national borders of Bangladesh and acquired an international significance and a global dimension.
International Mother Language Day is particularly significant in the sense that it has a cultural importance. From now on, 21st February – so long observed in Bangladesh as the Bangla Language Martyrs’ Day – will be observed here simultaneously as the Bangla Language Martyrs’ Day and the International Mother Language Day. And in nearly 200 countries of the world, various peoples speaking various languages and belonging to various national cultures will observe 21st February as the International Mother Language
Day. They will naturally celebrate their own mother languages, but while doing so, it is more than likely that they will refer to Bangladesh and the Language Movement launched by her people that reached a climactic point on 21st February 1952.
The declaration made by the UNESCO in November 1999 designating 21st February as the International Mother Language Day has placed Bangladesh on the cultural map of the world with a highly positive image. We, people of Bangladesh, should now do all that we can to further develop our mother language Bangla in all branches of knowledge so that it can play a worthy role in the community of world languages. We shall love, cherish and promote Bangla, our own mother language, but we shall not indulged in any kind of chauvinism.
While devotedly serving our own language, we shall respect the languages of all the peoples of the world make 21st February – The International Mother Language Day – a great day, to be observed worldwide in the new century and the millennium that we have recently stepped into. Long live 21st February the International Mother Language Day!