Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ekushey February and the Catholic Monthly 'Pratibeshi'


(L-R): A sample cover of the monthly Pratibeshi (December, 1949)
and Father Jacob Mongla Dessai, Editor-in-Charge

Photos Courtesy: The Pratibeshi
Layout by Joachim Romeo D'Costa

We have already said in our write-ups on the Ekushey February how the Bangla language movement started and how it came to a head on Ekushey (21st) February of 1952. The government of East Pakistan, headed by Chief Minister Nurul Amin, at the instruction of the West Pakistani ruling elite, was out there on the streets of Dhaka in force to suppress the activists of the Bangla language movement.

So, on February 21, 1952, when the University of Dhaka students along with members of the general public began to defy the ban on processions and gatherings, the armed police fired upon them. On this day, three students got killed and many were wounded. Numerous other students willingly let the police arrest them. In protest to this killing and wounding of many, February 22 was declared a hartal (all-out strike) day all over East Pakistan.

In response to this call as well as lending their support to the cause, offices and shops remained closed and there was no movement of vehicles on the streets. On reading the Morning News of February 22, some students and people got so enraged at the biased news of the previous day's killing that they attacked the Jubilee Press, from where this daily was printed, and set it on fire. Printing machines and type-setting section along with the manuscripts were severely damaged in the fire. The police again resorted to firing on the enraged crowd, killing at least two persons and wounding others.

The Monthly Pratibeshi on the Ekushey February

The Bengali section of the Jubilee Press used to print the Pratibeshi (neighbour), the monthly mouthpiece of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dhaka on contract basis. All its hand-composed types and manuscripts were also destroyed in the fire. In spite of its losses, this monthly paid a tribute to the language martyrs and supported the language movement.

Father Jacob Mongla Dessai, a Bangali (Bengali) priest, was the editor-in-charge of the Pratibeshi at the time. Dealing with the February 21 events, the monthly in its March, 1952 issue mentioned: "Getting education in one's mother language and giving recognition to the peoples' tongue as the state language are integral to freedom. To snatch away the people's tongue and keeping it repressed is tantamount to doing away with the freedom of the people. A thinking and living nation can never let it happen. The struggle of the students of East Pakistan for making Bangla the state language will remain as a glorious history."

Father Dessai in the editorial wrote: "On February 22, Friday, our printing press -- the Jubilee Press -- has been burnt down as a result of the Dhaka students' rage. All the materials of the Pratibeshi were also destroyed in this fire. As a result, it has taken a very simple presentation. No one should think that the students' rage fell on our innocent monthly Pratibeshi. Their rage was against the Morning News daily that was printed in the Jubilee Press. The news it published on the previous day's events was against the interest of the students. As a result, there was the fire. In this fire, all composed matters of the Pratibeshi and its manuscripts for the March issue have been destroyed. We regret that we have to deprive our readers from reading the remaining portions of the "to be continued" articles of the last issue. For these very reasons we got delayed in publishing this issue. In spite of its poor presentation, the Pratibeshi deeply sympathizes with the dead, wounded and imprisoned and their bereaved families. Our Pratibeshi's mother tongue is Bangla and its only pride is also Bangla. Those who sacrificed themselves for this language, will automatically receive our sympathy...."

It is noteworthy that, at this critical juncture, when most of the large newspapers failed to play a courageous role, the Pratibeshi, by lending its all-out support to the Bangla language, left an important contribution in the national life of the Bangalis.

Source: Bangladeshey Catholic Mondoli (The Catholic Church in Bangladesh) by Jerome D'Costa (Dhaka: Pratibeshi Prakashani, 1988), pp.213-216.

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