Friday, February 27, 2009

Ekushey February: A Timeline -- 5

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1952 (February 3):
In an All-Party Committee of Action protest meeting, Maulana Bhasani, at the advice of Abul Hashim, announces February 21 the 'Bangla State Language Day' and calls for a hartal (an all-out general strike), meetings and demonstrations throughout the province on that day, when the East Bengal Assembly is to meet for its budget session.

1952 (February 4):
Thousands of students rallied around Dhaka city and after the procession they gathered at the Beltola of the University of Dhaka. In that meeting, leaders called on the people of East Pakistan to make February 21 hartal a success.

1952 (February 20):
In the late afternoon, the government of Chief Minister Nurul Amin (a Bangali and a Muslim League party member) announces throughout the city by miking that all types of public gatherings, processions and demonstrations have been banned on February 21 under the Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Pakistan.

Members of the political parties, who were in the All-Party Committee of Action, decide not to violate the public gathering ban thinking that any confrontation with the police or any untoward incident may give the government of East Pakistan an excuse to postpone the coming election. The students of the Dhaka University, however, express their determination to defy the government ban on public gatherings and demonstrations. Students campaign throughout the city in favour of the hartal.

1952 (February 21):
From 8:00 a.m. onwards, small groups of school students from different parts of Dhaka city march toward the University of Dhaka and assemble at the Arts Faculty foyer. [It is important to note that at that time the Faculty of Arts of the University of Dhaka was housed in a section of the present Dhaka Medical College Hospital building. There was an old mango tree near the entrance. That was the famous Amtola where many student protest gatherings were held. Another section of the same building housed the Dhaka Medical College and a third section was used as Dhaka Medical College Hospital.] College students do the same around 9:oo a.m. By 9:30 a.m. several thousand students from different halls of the University and Medical and Engineering College hostels join the assembly. By 11:30 a.m. there were 20,000 to 25,000 students there. The slogan, "We demand Bangla to be the state language", reverberated the university campus.

Armed police were patrolling the streets in front of the Arts Faculty and behind them were tear-gas squad, waiting for intruction to make their move.

In the meantime, news reached the students' agitating group that there was a tear-gas attack on a section of students' procession near Lalbagh of the old section of Dhaka. Abdul Matin, the convenor and Gaziul Huq, the President of the Dhaka University State Language Action Council gave speeches and asked all to break the Section 144 prohibitions.

At the suggestion of Abdus Samad Azad, students in tens began to go out of the campus towards the Provincial Assembly building. Habibur Rahman Shelly let the first group, Abdus Samad Azad the second group, Anwarul Huq and Obidullah Khan the third group. University girls were in the fourth group. After the girls, there were several boys' groups. The police were arresting them group by group and students did not give a fight.

So far so good, but the police's violent interference turned the situation into a worse one. After few groups of students passed throught the gate, the police, without any provocation, started to baton-charge on the students at the gate and on the road in front of it. The riot police then started to lob tear-gas shells on the campus. Many students rushed towards the pond to wash their burning eyes and brought with them wet handkerchiefs to counter further police attack. Then the students began to throw bricks and stones at the police. Gaziul Huq, hit by a tear-gas shell, became unconscious and was taken away to the girls' common room. This attack and counter-attack continued for hours. When cornered by the police, students broke down the brick wall between the Arts Faculty and Medical College. The fight then spread to the Medical and Engineering College areas. The number of injured students were countless.

Around 3:00 p.m., the police, at the instruction of the District Magistrate Qureshi, with a sudden move entered the Medical College hostel and took position on the ground there and opened fire. Some bodies fell on the street. Among the dead were Mohammad Salauddin, Abdul Jabbar, Abul Barkat, Rafiquddin Ahmed, and Abdus Salam.

The news of the shooting on the demonstrators spread like a wildfire throughout Dhaka. Thousands of students and general public rushed to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital to pay their tribute to the martyrs. They are called 'martyrs' because they sacrificed their lives for a greater cause, a cause that would preserve the dignity of Bangla -- their mother language -- and give it a special place nationally.

When the news reached the East Bengal Assembly, six opposition members urged the government to adjourn the House and at the same time they demanded an inquiry into the shootings. Chief Minister Nurul Amin brushed aside their request and asked the House to proceed with the planned agenda for the day. The opposition members then walked out of the House in protest.

In the evening, curfew was imposed in the city and the military started to patrol the streets. To provide an efficient leadership, the "All-Party State Language Action Committee" was reformed and a full-day strike, Gayebana Zanaza (prayers for the departed) and a procession were announced for February 22.

Dead bodies were taken to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital morgue. Thinking that the police may try again to move away dead bodies from the morgue, as they did earlier in the day from the tear-gas filled situation, students stood on guard at the morgue gate. At late night, a group of armymen, escorted by police, stormed the morgue gate and took away dead bodies. Few determined students followed them stealthily on foot and saw them bury the dead in nearby Azimpur cemetary. As soon as the police and army personnel left the cemetary, students rushed in and marked the spots of the language martyrs. Next day thousands of mourning people paid their tributes to martyrs in the cemetary.

(Continued)

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