Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ekushey February: The Bangla Language Martyrs


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

We call them bhasha shaheed (language martyrs). Why do we call them shaheed or martyrs? We call them so because they sacrificed their lives for a greater cause, that is, for defending the status of Bangla (Bengali) -- their mother language. Being about 56% of the total population of Pakistan, the Bangalees of East Pakistan were about to lose their language at the national level. Urdu -- a language of the minority population and a language with a different writing script -- was being imposed on them as the only state language of Pakistan.

The Bangalees did not want to impose their own language on others, they simply demanded that Bangla be recognized as one of the two state langauges along with Urdu. For this just and right cause, these persons had to face bullets and die.

Above all, in spite of having their own beautiful and efficient alphabet or script, the Bangalees were being asked to abandon it and write Bangla in the Arabic script. What an insult!

How many martyrs were there? No one knows. The students and others present in rallies and demonstrations say that there were many more martyrs than the ones we celebrate today. The East Pakistan government through its police force had snatched away a good number of the wounded and dead resulting from their shootings. To hide the real situation, the government did not keep a complete record of the wounded and dead.

Now let's see the life-sketches of the language martyrs whom we celebrate every year:

  • Abul Barkat (1927 - 1952):
Popularly known as 'Barkat' and also nicknamed 'Abai', he was killed in Dhaka on February 21, 1952. He was born on June 16, 1927, at Babla Village of Bharatpur Thana in Murshidabad District (presently in West Bengal, India). His father was Shamsuddin. He passed the Matriculation Examinations(Grade 10) from Talibur High School in 1945 and the Intermediate Examinations (Grade 12) from Bahrampur Krishnanath College in 1947. After independence of Pakistan, he migrated to Dhaka in 1948. In 1951, he passed his B.A. (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Dhaka. In 1952, he was an M.A. final-year student of Political Science. Abul Barkat, a bachelor, joined the student procession on the Dhaka Medical College Hostel premises. He was killed in the police firing of February 21, 1952 and was buried at the Azimpur Graveyard. The Government of Bangladesh, in recognition of his sacrifice, awarded him the Ekushey Padak (medal) posthumously on February 21, 2000.

  • Abdul Jabbar (1919 - 1952):
Popularly known as 'Jabbar', he was killed in Dhaka on February 21, 1952. He was born at Panchua Village (others call it, Panchuara Village) under Gaffargaon Thana of Mymensingh District. His father was Hasan Ali and mother Safatunnessa. After completion of his five-year study at Dhopaghat Krishibazar Primary School, being upset for something with his father one day, he left home and reached Narayanganj town by train. With the help of an Englishman, who was the captain of a ship, he went to Rangoon (presently Yangoon) of Burma (Myanmar). After working there for 12 years and being a little bit proficient in English, he returned home and was helping his father in farming. On February 20, 1952, he came to Dhaka with his mother-in-law and got her admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Next day he saw agitated students and other people demonstrating in demand of Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan. He joined them and was in the front line of fire. When the police started firing, he was one of the first to get the bullets. He was taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries at night. The Bangladesh government awarded him the Ekushey Padak (medal) posthumously on February 21, 2000 in recognition of his sacrifice.

  • Shafiur Rahman (1918 - 1952):
Popularly known as 'Shafiur' or 'Shofiur', he was born on January 24, 1918 at Konnagar Village of Chobbishpargana District of West Bengal, India. His father was Maulovi Mahbubur Rahman. He migrated to Dhaka in 1948. He was a High Court Accounts Section employee and an evening student of Law at the University of Dhaka. He was killed on February 22, 1952 by West Pakistani troops who fired upon demonstrators (who were mourning the ones killed by police fire on February 21) beside the Khoshmahal Restaurant near Rathkhola on Nawabpur Road. He was married.

  • Rafiq Uddin Ahmed (1926 - 1952):
Popularly known as 'Rafiq', he was born on October 30, 1926 at Paril Village of Shingair Thana in Manikganj District. His father was Abdul Latif Miah and mother Rafiza Khatun (others say, Khanom). He was a second-year student of Commerce at the Manikganj Debendra College. Accompanied by his nephew, he had come to Dhaka for his upcoming wedding shopping. On February 21, 1952 he was fired upon along with other demonstrators and he was killed. The armed police and armymen snatched his dead body away from Dhaka Medical College Hospital morgue at the dead of the night of February 21 and dumped it at the Azimpur Graveyard. Next day, thousands of grieving people went there and paid their last respect to him and others.

  • Abdus Salam (1925 - 1952):
Popularly known as 'Salam', he was born at Lokkhipur Village of Feni District in 1925. His father was Mohammad Fazil Miah. He was a bachelor and an office peon (errand boy) at the government Industrial Directorate in Dhaka. On February 21, 1952, he joined the rally in front of the Dhaka Medical College Hostel demanding Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan and was wounded by police firing. He died from his wounds at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital on April 17, 1952. In recognition of his service, the Ekushey Padak (medal) was bestowed upon him posthumously on February 21, 2000.

  • Abdul Awal (1926 - 1952):
He was an unmarried rickshaw-puller who was killed when the police truck used for dispersing the condolence-rally on February 22, 1952 in front of the present Old High Court in Dhaka. His father was Mohammad Hashim. No other information on him is available.

  • Ohi Ullah ( - 1952):
Of an eight or nine years of age, Ohi Ullah (also called Ahi Ullah) was killed in the police firing near Rathkhola on Nawabpur Road on February 22, 1952. His father was Habibur Rahman, a home builder. Other information on him is unavailable. His dead body was snatched away by armed police and dumped in an unknown place.

  • An Unknown Boy ( - 1952):
This unknown boy was killed, like Abdul Awal, under the police truck used for dispersing the condolence-rally on February 22, 1952 in front of the present Old High Court in Dhaka. The then government never acknowledged his death.

Sources: www.21stfebruary.org/

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