Monday, March 16, 2009

The Villains of the Bangla (Bengali) Language Movement -- 1


Layout © Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Here we are speaking of the villains -- the antagonists who caused problems rather than solving them -- regarding the Bangla language movement in the then East Pakistan (presently Bangladesh) in the early days of the newly-independent Pakistan. If they were of understanding personalities, if they had a little love and feeling of equality, events would not deteriorate and cause martyrdom of some Bangalis (Bengalees) for defending the status of the Bangla, their mother language. Instead, they were adamant and wanted to impose Urdu, the language of the minority, on the Bangalis, the majority (about 56%) population of the then Pakistan.

One Who Goes to Lonka, Becomes the Rabon

Mind you, these very leaders fought with the British to claim the rights of the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent. When they came to power in the the Muslim homeland of Pakistan, instead of serving the people, they trampled upon the East Pakistanis' aspirations and rights and imposed on them their own whimsical wishes in the name of Islamic brotherhood and unity. In Bangla, we have a saying, "One who goes to Lonka (enemy territory), becomes the Rabon" (adversary; abuser of power). That's what happened in this case.

Now let's see who these people are.

  • Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876 - 1948):

After the independence of Pakistan in August, 1947, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (called Quaid-e-Azam -- 'the Great Leader' in Pakistan) became the Governor-General of the Dominion of Pakistan, comprising East and West Pakistan. From the very inception of Pakistan, the leaders -- mostly Urdu, Farsi and Punjabi speaking -- had decided to have the Urdu as the only state language of the country.

Demand for Bangla as the State Language and Its Rebuff

The Bangalis were acutely conscious of the status of their mother language even before the independence of Pakistan. In July, 1947, educationist-writer-philologist Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah first proposed with solid reasoning that Bangla and, not Urdu, should be the state language of the upcoming independent Pakistan.

On September 15, 1947, the Islamic Tamaddun Majlish, shortly called Tamaddun Majlish, a cultural organization in Dhaka, in a pamphlet titled Pakistaner Rastra Bhasa: Bangla Na Urdu? (Pakistan's State Language: Bangla or Urdu?), demanded that Bangla and Urdu be made the state languages of the Central Government of Pakistan and Bangla as the official language of East Pakistan.

In November, 1947, Pakistan's Education Minister Fazlur Rahman -- a Bangali from Calcutta with no roots in East Pakistan -- convenes the Pakistan Educational Conference in Karachi with a large number of West Pakistani representatives in contrast to a few from East Pakistan. In this conference, Minister Fazlur Rahman not only made disparaging remarks on Bangla language and its alphabet but also got the unilateral resolution passed recommending Urdu to be made the only state language of Pakistan! This conference also in its decision introduced Urdu as the compulsory subject in Pakistani schools.

On February 23, 1948, Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah presided over the first session of the Muslim League-dominated Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in Karachi. It was proposed there that members either speak in Urdu or English only. Dhirendranath Datta, East Pakistan Congress Party member and an opposition member of the house, moved an amendment motion to include Bangla along with Urdu and English as the languages of the Assembly. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and East Pakistan Chief Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin openly opposed the motion.

All these rebuffs against Bangla stirred an agitation in East Pakistan, especially among the Dhaka University students and intellectuals. These anti-Bangla statements and actions of the political leaders caused rallies and demonstrations in Dhaka.

"Urdu, and only Urdu" To Be the State Language of Pakistan

Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah arrives in Dhaka on March 19, 1948, in the height of language-based unrest. On March 21, 1948, at a civic reception at the Race Course Maidan (present Suhrawardy Uddyan), he announces: "Let me make it very clear to you that the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other langauge. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of Pakistan. Without one state language, no nation can remain tied up solidly together and function. Look at the history of other countries. Therefore, so far as the state language is concerned, Pakistan's shall be Urdu." (Jinnah 1948:89, Language and Civilization Change in South Asia by Clarency Mahoney)

He also mentioned that a 'fifth column' (indirectly meaning the Indian intelligence and certain East Pakistani Hindus, including Dhirendranath Datta, the member of the Constituent Assembly who had moved a amended motion earlier in favour of Bangla) designed the language issue. He further declared that "Urdu, and only Urdu" embodied the spirit of Muslim nations and would be the state language. There were protestation against his remarks.

On March 24, 1948, at the convocation ceremony of the University of Dhaka at the Curzon Hall, Jinnah reiterates his earlier position and declares again that the language of East Pakistan province can be Bangla, but the state language of Pakistan will be Urdu. He states: "There can be only one state language. If the component parts of this state are to march forward in unison, that language in my opinion, can only be Urdu." (Jinnah 1948:95, Language and Civilization Change in South Asia by Clarency Mahoney). A few students, including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, present at the ceremony, make a spontaneous verbal protest and they get arrested.

Jinnah later called a meeting with the State Language Committe of Action that totally disagreed with him resulting in the fiasco. He also overruled the contract that was signed by Chief Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin with the students previously. Before leaving Dhaka on March 28, 1948, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in a radio speech, reasserted his "Urdu-only" policy.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah's anti-Bangla position greatly polarized the Bangalees in their demand for making Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan along with Urdu. He was also instrumental in strengthening the Bangla language movement in East Pakistan. "Jinnah embraced the northern Indian Muslims' demand for the designation of Urdu as the national language of Pakistan, although he was more at home in English and his mother tongue was Gujrati. The Urdu-Hindi controversy contributed to the deteriorating relations among Hindu and Muslims of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Urdu was brought to the west wing by a large number of refugees [from India] in 1947; Urdu came to the east wing by a large number of Biharis." (Bangladesh by Craig Baxter, p.63)

Life-Sketch of Mohammad Ali Jinnah

The person, whom we know as Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had the real name of Mahomedali Jinnahbhai. He was born in Karachi, presently in Pakistan, on December 25, 1876. His father was Jinnahbhai Poonja, an Ismaeli Khoja or Khwaja (Agakhani muslim) of Kathiawar, presently in India. Like other Khojas, his father was also a prosperous businessman.

His early education was at Sindh Madrasatul-Islam and later at the Christian Missionary Society High School, where his parents thought his restless and unserious mind could be focused. As his father did joint business with some British, he got a chance to go to England. Before leaving for London in 1892, his parents got him married at the age of 16, but his wife later died when he was still in England.

He earned his law degree from the Lincoln's Inn and becomes a barrister 1896. While being there, he got his named changed to Mahomed Ali Jinnah in April, 1895. While studying law, he developed an interest in politics and would often go to the House of Commons and listen attentively to the powerful speeches made there by the British politicians.

On his return, he practised law in Bombay, where he was very successful. He joined politics as a member of the Indian National Congress that was working for autonomy from the British rule. Due to differences of opinion, he left the Hindu-dominated Indian Congress and joined the Muslim League in 1913. The Muslim League was formed earlier to represent the interests of the Indian Muslims in a predominantly Hindu India, and by 1916, he was elected its president.

After the provincial elections in 1937, the Congress refused to form coalition administrations with the Muslim League in mixed areas. Relations between the Hindus and Muslims began to deteriorate.

In 1940, a Muslim League session in Lahore, famously called the Lahore Resolution, the first official demand was made for the partition of India and the creation of a Muslim state of Pakistan with autonous provinces.

He was insistent on safeguarding the rights of the Muslims . Through negotiations with the British government he got Pakistan as the Muslim homeland on August 14, 1947 with the partition of India.

He then becomes the first Governor-General of the Dominion of Pakistan, with Liaquat Ali Khan as the Prime Minister. He died of tuberculosis on September 11, 1948.

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