Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ekushey (21st) February and International Mother Language Day

(L-R): The writing of "Ekushey February" in Bangla (Bengali),
and the Central
Shaheed Minar (Language Martyrs' Memorial)
in Dhaka

Graphic Design (Toronto: February, 2009) © Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Today is the Ekushey (21st) February, the great Language Martyrs' Day in Bangladesh, observed with high spirit, respect and splendor. Bangladeshis go to their shaheed minars (language martyrs' memorials), built in different cities and towns to pay homage to the martyrs and lay flowers and wreaths. Ex-patriate Bangladeshis elsewhere in the world do the same in their makeshift shaheed minars.

The Ekushey February symbolizes the struggle and ultimate victory of the East Pakistanis (presently Bangladesh people) who broke the chain of political, economic and social domination perpetrated by the West Pakistanis (presently Pakistanis) at that time in the name of Islam.

Language Used as a Means of Domination

If we look at the history, we see that people of any domineering group or victors always want to impose their own language over the dominee group to make their sway complete. This happened with the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Aryans, Portuguese, Spanish, British, French, Dutch, Italians and the like. The West Pakistanis at the time wanted to do the same over the East Pakistanis. They wanted to make Urdu the only state language of Pakistan, although the eastern wing of Pakistan had more people than West Pakistan and their language was Bangla (Bengali).

The Ekushey February of 1952

When the Pakistani ruling class was adamant in imposing Urdu over the East Pakistanis, a hartal (an all-out general strike) was called in Dhaka on February 21, 1952. The government imposed Section 144 prohibiting a gathering of more than four persons in one place. Although opposition East Pakistani politicians at the last moment backed down, majority students of the University of Dhaka decided to defy the prohibition. From the present Medical College Hospital area students tried to move in procession towards the East Pakistan Provincial Assembly building (present Salimullah Hall of the university) where East Bengal Legislative Assembly was about to begin. Police, by firing blanks, tried to disperse the students and general public, but they failed. Then they directly fired at them and killed Abul Barkat, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abdul Jabbar and Abdus Salam. At this news, schools and colleges in other cities and towns brought out protest demonstrations and rallies. Later this language movement gained more momentum and with the victory of the United Front in 1954 election, Bangla was recognized as on the one of the two (the other being Urdu) national languages of Pakistan.

International Mother Language Day

At the initiative of Bangladesh, the proposal of February 21 as the International Mother Language Day was accepted by the UNESCO General Conference in Paris. From the year of 2000, this day is officially being observed throughout the world in recognition of the sanctity and preservation of all vernacular languages in the world. Bookmark and Share