Contribution of Language Movement to Independence of Bangladesh

Hiren Pandit: 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 speaking people not only in Bangladesh but all over the world. After the success of this movement, that is, after the recognition of Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan, this movement came to an end. This event is celebrated all over the world.

Seventy years ago, in 1952, the Language Movement catalyzed the assertion of Bengali national identity in then Pakistan and became an indication to Bengali nationalist movements, including the emergence of self-rule consciousness in the 1954 general election, the student movement in 1962, 6 point –movement, mass uprising in 1969 and finally the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. The supreme sacrifice of the martyrs of the language movement on 21 February 1952 led to raising awareness of the people about self-dignity as a nation. It led to the establishment of a nation-state on the globe. The 21 of February has been such a momentous incident that it has been immortalized by global recognition as the International Mother Language Day. We as a nation feel proud today that Bangladesh, Bangla and the supreme sacrifice of our language movement are being pronounced, much-admired, gratefully remembered and honoured worldwide.

Bangladesh is the only country in the world whose people have had to shed blood for the right to speak their language. We are the brave nation that has defeated a well-trained, well-equipped Pakistan army. In 1947, the British government granted independence to Pakistan on 14 August and the people of East Bengal joined Pakistan with a hope of economic prosperity. But the Pakistani ruling class continued to exploit the people of East Bengal culturally, politically and economically. Urdu, the language of only 8% of Pakistanis was declared the state language of Pakistan whereas Bengali, the language of more than 56% of the population was neglected. The people of East Bengal strongly protested against this decision.

Although two separate independent states, Pakistan and India, were born from the British in 1947 based on the two-nation theory, the Bengalis were a completely different ethnicity. East Bengal became a meeting place of non-communal consciousness. On that day, people from all walks of life, starting from students and people, formed mass resistance irrespective of religion and caste. The day was March 21, 1948. On the racecourse ground in Dhaka, Jinnah dealt a severe blow to Bengali nationalism. He said Urdu, and not any other language, would be the state language of Pakistan. The same announcement was made again at the convocation of Dhaka University on 24 March. “Urdu and only Urdu will be the state language of Pakistan,” he said. The students present at the time started protesting.

On 21 February 1952, the sons and daughters of the soil gave their lives to protect the dignity of their mother tongue. The seeds of our nationalism were sown by pouring fresh blood on the streets of Dhaka, which finally inspired us and gave us courage.

We have had to fight and fight to uphold the dignity of our national pride. As far as the Bengalis are concerned, the aspiration to break free from the shackles of exploitation gained a lot of momentum in making it a reality. When the world witnessed the political movement of the sixties, the 11 point demands of the Awami League were adopted in the six-point charter, the mass movement of 1969 and finally the liberation war of 1971 which was the birth of Bangladesh.

The importance of the language movement in awakening the consciousness about rights and freedom of the Bengalis is immense. The language movement of 1952 has always directly and indirectly influenced all our political, social and cultural activities. The influence was so far-reaching that a relationship was established between ordinary and political people. Confidence in each other was established, which accelerated the liberation struggle of the nation.

It was through the language movement that the first rebellious attitude against the rule and exploitation of Pakistan grew in the hearts of the Bengalis. It can be said that the language movement was the beginning of the realization of all our rights. Through the language movement, the people of Bengal began to be aware of their demands. The language movement instilled morale and confidence in the minds of the people which awakened the spirit of nationalism. The education movement of 1962, the six-point movement of that year, the mass uprising of 1969, the election of 1970 and the independence struggle of 1971 created the spirit and strength of language consciousness in every field.

In 1969, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had raised the issue of full regional autonomy for East Pakistan. In the 1970 elections, the Awami League-led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won absolute majority in the National Assembly to form the government. But that was never to be. On the night of March 25, 1971, the Pakistan Army launched Operation Searchlight and the world witnessed brutality that is rarely seen in the world. In the great war of liberation, we have lost 3 million freedom fighters and freedom-loving people and 2 lakh mothers and sisters have been subjected to humiliation. But the people of Bangladesh have not given up and they have won. They have gained their freedom. The people of Bengal have been able to establish their rights and our mother tongue came out victorious.

In 1951, the demands of the language movement were increasing. On 23rd February, East Bengal educationists, writers, journalists and intellectuals submitted a memorandum to the then Chief Minister Nurul Amin for the introduction of the Bengali language at all levels. On February 21, 1952 Section 144 was issued all over the country. From that morning onwards, students started gathering in groups in front of the Faculty of Arts of Dhaka University. The objective was to be vocal in demanding the Bengali language and to ensure full rights of our mother tongue. ‘I want Bangla as the state language’ can be heard in the air all around. The procession was taken out in violation of section 144. Police opened fire on the procession.

An unforgettable chapter in the history of the Bengali movement and struggle for independence is the language movement of 1952. Such struggles for establishing the national status of Bengal through bloodbath are rare in the world. Not only in the history of Bangladesh, the recognition of 21st February by UNESCO as ‘International Mother Language Day and the observance of the day with due dignity in 193 member countries of the UN since 2000 made the language movement a glorious chapter of the 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 self-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 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.

It has been 70 years from 1952 to 2022. Bangladesh has faced many major obstacles; we have overcome them and we are still standing straight and we will remain indomitable as long as we remember our history and culture.

Bangladesh has now established a respectable and strong position on the world map. Bangladesh today is a model of development. In the new world, Bangladesh is facing new challenges and is successfully addressing them efficiently. We must always move forward with the spirit of nationalism. Bengalis have never lost in the past, nor will they lose in the future. With the cooperation of all, regardless of party affiliation, Bangladesh must stand tall among different nations of the world.

The writer is a researcher and columnist

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