We must not see this day as just a Language Martyrs Day but a day when we wove the seed of having a free nation and a country
Communication is the key to grow a civilization. In the olden times when people had no language, they drew pictures to express their feelings to each other. Gradually humans learnt to speak. Today, we have about 6500 languages to speak in. Yet Bangla is the 7th on the list of most spoken languages of the world.
Bangla language is dear to us all. Even then we find that young people are sometimes unable to speak proper Bangla these days. Either they speak a dialect or because they study in English medium schools, they are more at ease with English. Somehow we have failed to instill what it takes to be compassionate about our language in our children.
A few years ago I wrote an article about the use of distorted Bangla in radio programs. There was hullabaloo regarding the issue, which was taken to the High Court. Of course, the court gave a verdict that distortion of Bangla has to be stopped. Since then, things have improved but while listening to the radio, one still gets a distinct feeling of Bangla spoken in a kind of a foreign way.
This could be because we have not been able to communicate how Bangla became the state language of Bangladesh.
We know that in 1999 UNESCO declared 21st February as the International Mother Language Day. However, way before that, Bangalis wanted Bangla to be the official language and language used in education of East Pakistan in 1948. Mohammad Ali Jinnah stated that Urdu shall be the only state language of Pakistan. He said that twice; once, in the Race Course and again at the Curzon Hall and on both occasions, the people present there protested "no, no, no '' in unison.
That escalated the need to have Bangla as the state language. During that time, there were only a few institutions, like the University of Dhaka, Ahsanullah Engineering College and a few other colleges, and they all agreed on this matter.
There was a meeting of Muslim nationalist Tamuddin Majlish in Fazlul Haque Hall of University of Dhaka three months after the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Habibullah Bahar, editor of Bulbul and erstwhile health minister and poet Jasimuddin were speakers at the program. Abdul Karim, Sahitya Bisharod, Leela Ray and many more students were present at the meeting.
Even though 56 per cent of people of Pakistan spoke Bangla, the elite tried to force the Bangalis to speak in a language that they barely understood. So East Pakistan Muslim Student's League and Tamuddin Majlish demanded that both Urdu and Bangla be Pakistan's national languages.
Rastrobhasha Shongram Parishad was established and they declared 11th of March as the Bangla Language Demand Day. Thousands of students protested on the morning of 11th March in 1947. They were beaten up, jailed. The people began their protest with vigour. The girls who were hardly allowed to go out would chant slogans, "we demand Bangla should be our state language."
This was the beginning of the birth of a new nation - a country called Bangladesh. This led to what we saw later on the 21st of February in 1952. Four students died on the day of the shooting, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was in a prison in Faridpur on a starve-till-death campaign at the time. Even in his frail health, he vowed to make Bangla this country's state language.
So we must not see this day as just a Language Martyrs Day but a day when we wove the seed of having a free nation and a country.
Jackie Kabir is a writer and a translator.
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