Even today, we are relentlessly trying to make its proper manifestation in the state and society in the democratic consciousness, which is at the heart of the events that created the chapters that changed the nation’s course, like the Language Movement and Liberation War. As a result, UNESCO recognized February 21 as the International Mother Language Day in 1999 and since 2000, February 21 has been celebrated as International Mother Language Day every year in 193 countries. This is a big step in the process of globalization of Bengali.
The International Mother Tongue Institute has been established; it cannot be said that there is no progress in the introduction of Bengali. But it may not be as it should have been. To build a welfare state and establish good governance and justice, it is important to ensure uniform education to eliminate inequality. We should not confine these issues to only formalities and discussions in the month of language. At the same time, we have to keep in mind that we should not forget the promises of 1952 and 1971. If we want to build our desired Bangladesh, then we have to move forward with the consciousness of those chapters. The language movement of 1952 is an unforgettable chapter in the history of 23 years of movement and struggle of Bengalis for independence. Such examples of establishing the national status of a mother tongue through bloodbath are rare in the world. Not only in the history of Bangladesh, but the recognition of 21st February as ‘International Mother Language Day’ by UNESCO and the observance of the day with due dignity in 193 member countries of the United Nations since 2000 also made the language movement a glorious chapter in world history.
Bangabandhu made arrangements for his language to gain international recognition by giving a speech in Bengali at the United Nations. Speaking in Bengali, Bangabandhu not only introduced the Bengali language to the world community but also conveyed the message of establishing the status of mother tongue in return for the sacrifice of Bengalis through their characteristics and language-based nationalist movement. But how sustainable is the language that has so much movement, so much self-sacrifice to establish its status today? Not only in Bangladesh, but also in many countries of the world, the number of people forgetting their mother tongue is increasing. A significant number of educated youth in our country find Bengali more difficult than English. Due to the aggression of the English language, the language of many countries is now in crisis.
In 1947, the country was divided by capitalizing on a religion based on the two-nation theory. The people of East Pakistan at that time were the victims of thousands of discriminations in West Pakistan. The most glorious chapter in the accumulation of anger and self-respect of the people of East Pakistan began with the great language movement. The united movement for the realization of this right of mother tongue later took shape in the movement for independence.
The nation always pays homage to Rafiq, Salam, Jabbar, Barkat, and all those who were martyred in this Language movement. February is the month of language among Bengali speakers not only in Bangladesh but all over the world. There was a movement before, the movement that people fought for language. After the success of this movement, that is, after the recognition of Bangla as a state language, this movement came to an end. This event is held all over the world. When Bengali is the state language of an independent country, it should be made the language of science and technical education like English, French, etc. To teach science at the university level in Bengal, research and translation of foreign books are needed.
In this age of modern technology, the Bengali language should also be the language of modern technology. Otherwise, Bangladesh will fall behind in the era of the progress of world civilization. The Bengali language has to move forward. Ekushey February can give that impetus to the Bengali language to move forward. To preserve the language, linguists, as well as the state and technologists, must be active. The country must move forward using technology in its mother tongue. Our positive side is that a technology-minded government is in power. Some government initiatives based on expert knowledge should be taken to make Bengali language education and practice sustainable using technology.
We have to work to increase the use of the Bangla language in the digital world. The use of software and tools under the Bangla Language Enrichment Project of the Department of Information and Communication Technology will create opportunities for the globalization of the Bengali language in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Reading and translating into Bengali will be easier and better on digital devices.Countries that are at the forefront of IT innovation and application are all using their mother tongues in technology. China can be a great example before us. The Chinese characters are very complex, but they did not stop. Thanks to technology, the number of Internet users in China has long surpassed 500 million. However, despite the practice of the Bengali language in technology in our country, there is a lack of good content in Bengali at the moment. Therefore, keeping in mind the country’s more than 16 crore mobile phones, more than 13 crore internet users, and more than 5 crore social media users, good content and mobile applications will be created in the mother tongue. We will not only ensure an increase in economic activities and people-to-people contacts, acquisition of knowledge and access to information and services but also help to perpetuate the mother tongue among Bengalis.
Culture works as the human soul. We have created our cultural centre centred on the 21st of February. We are proud of our victory through the language movement. The main demand in the language movement was to preserve the mother tongue Bengali. But that was not the only purpose. Otherwise, the movement would not have survived even after the victory in the mother tongue movement. It can be said that gaining independence was also the main objective. Bengali has always been the language of the people of this country. But the language of the rulers before 1971 was always different. English was about two hundred years before forty-seven. Before that, the people of this country have been ruled by people of Sanskrit, Persian, or one of the European languages. If we had failed to achieve the final victory of the language movement from the forty-seventh to the twenty-first of February, then perhaps foreigners or people of different languages would have ruled.
We celebrate Ekushey February with the passion of the Bengali language. But our year-round activities do not reflect that emotion. We could have made this day special by introducing Bangla language to all levels of state and society. According to Article 3 of the first part of the constitution, Bengali will be the state language of the republic. The ‘Bangla Language Introduction Act, 1986’ has been introduced. Under Section 3 (1) of this Act, ‘after the introduction of this Act, documents and correspondence, quizzes and other legal functions in all areas of Bangladesh, including government offices, courts, semi-government, autonomous bodies, except communication with foreign countries. Of course, it must be written in Bengali. ‘Since the enactment of this law, all the laws of the Jatiya Sangsad are being framed in Bengali. According to this law, there are instructions to write in Bengali all over Bangladesh. But in reality, it is not happening. The Bengali language is almost neglected in offices, courts, education, business, and commerce. Language martyrs also do not get the status they deserve, in other words, we cannot give.
There are also court and government orders for the introduction of the Bengali language. But it is not being fully implemented. Therefore, the government, as well as the general public, must come forward to come to the same platform. If we can do all this, the celebration of International Mother Language Day will be successful and meaningful. Through many sacrifices, we have been able to keep our mother tongue Bengali alive in exchange for a sea of blood. It is our moral duty to protect this achievement that has been achieved in return for so much sacrifice. Bengali spelling and Bengali pronunciation need to be presented correctly. In this case, we will always keep the latest dictionary prepared by Bangla Academy aside. We will be more careful about pronunciation.
Bengali is a rich, melodious, and simple language. One can be proud of the abundance of words in the Bengali language to express the emotions and thoughts of the mind. Such incidents of self-sacrifice for mother tongue are rare in the history of the world. With so much self-sacrifice and struggle, the language that has been given the right to speak nationally, we greatly despise.
The social media trolls or some entertaining videos on YouTube contain a mixture of perverted words as well as obscene, dirty, and vulgar words and insults. Sad but true, many are interested in these ugly trolls or videos. In some cases, its popularity is enviable. The use of obscene words along with impure distorted Bengali spelling in writing status on social media, especially Facebook, is going on in a horrible form. Many are consciously using obscene and vulgar words to entertain their friends. The situation is such that the expression of their feelings is not complete without obscene words!
Thought or language also works behind the creation of literature, music, art, etc. Thought or language works in the sense of all human activities. The labour force is driven by the power of thought. Thoughts and language are identical.
We need to realize that the existence and development of Bengali as the state language is essential for the existence and development of Bangladesh as a state. If the Bangla language does not survive as the state language, Bangladesh as a state will not last long. There will be land, soil, people, plants, animals, birds, rivers, sky, and air but the state will not exist.
Efforts are being made by the government and NGOs to improve the mother tongues of forty-five small ethnic communities in Bangladesh. The use of Bangla language through digital should be increased. Everything that needs to be done for this has to be done. We have to work consciously for the overall national development. We have to launch a propaganda movement to introduce Bengali to all levels of the judiciary. Those who are inside the judiciary can play a leading role in this. Everyone can play the role of collaborator. The use of Bengali in higher education and research should be kept increasing. It is necessary to create a new consciousness in favour of Bangladesh and the Bengali language among students and teachers in schools, colleges, and universities.
The development activities are carried out without considering the development of Bangladesh as a state and Bangla as a state language. We need a new renaissance and a new mass uprising for the evolving state that we want to pass. Moral awareness is essential.
At the time of Bangabandhu, the population of the country was seven and a half crores. At present about 17 crores. At that time the literacy rate was 20 percent. At present, it stands at 63 percent. The biggest achievement is women’s education. At the higher secondary level, it is now more than 50 percent. The country has entered the digital age. It is important to take initiative to ensure the application of Bangla words in the naming of products, services, buildings, institutions, or anything else at the public-private and individual level. It is seen that many people do not speak pure Bengali or use many foreign words in one-minute’s speech, which negatively affects people. The Ministry of Education needs to consider teaching English as well as Bengali in schools with equal importance. At the same time, they have to be introduced to the unconventional Bengali words from children’s class. The stories that are in the textbook for them can be done through the presence of such words. Not only that, they need to be made more accessible to the Bengali language, tradition, and history so that they do not become indifferent to the Bengali language in their personal and professional lives. Along with the theoretical examination in the Bengali language, the practical examination should be arranged in every class in the school. With this, the attendance of students in schools on national days including Ekushey February, and participation in competitions and discussions on language and our history in the days may be made compulsory.
At the primary and secondary levels, there is a system of providing education through Bangla for the general public only. Many new plans need to be adopted politically and socially to implement the promise of the language movement. Strengthening political commitment and cultural activities is essential to establish secularism and nationalist ideology. The question of developing national consciousness is involved in such activities. Similarly, to establish the Bengali language in the educational activities and the socio-cultural arena, both political will and determination are required. But we have to keep pace with the present world or else we will fall behind and the fear of isolation will remain but of course, the mother tongue will prevail. Everyone has to work on this.
The writer is a columnist and researcher