In March 1948, Muhammad Ali Jinnah addressed the students at the Curzon Hall of Dhaka University and said, ‘Pakistan’s provinces can use any language in their official work, but the state language will be only one, that will be Urdu. Some of the students present at Curzon Hall protested by shouting ‘No’ ‘No’ and later handed over the memorandum to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, many of whom were members of Jinnah’s Muslim League at the time. The memorandum cited examples of countries across the world adopting Bengali as one of the national languages.
The language movement started on March 11, 1948, under the leadership of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to protect the rights of the mother tongue. Bangabandhu wrote in the book ‘Unfinished Autobiography’, ‘We saw that there is a big conspiracy going on to make Urdu the national language by excluding Bengali. East Pakistan Muslim Chhatra League and Tammadun Majlish protested and demanded both Bengali and Urdu as state languages. We started the protest at the meeting. At that time, East Pakistan Muslim Chhatra League and Tammadun Majlis jointly convened an all-party meeting and formed the ‘Rashtra Bhasha Sangram Parishad’. In the meeting, March 11, 1948, was declared as ‘Bangla Language Demand’ day. District by district we went out.’ (page-91, 92).
On March 11, 1948, the student community of Bengal held its first protest program demanding one of the national languages. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and Mr. Shamsul Haque were among those who were imprisoned on the streets for the demand of their mother tongue. The leaders were imprisoned for five days from March 11 to 15. Reminiscing about the five-day prison life, Bangabandhu wrote, ‘Muslim girls’ school is outside the wall. During the five days we were in jail, at ten o’clock in the morning the girls would go up to the roof of the school and start chanting and finish at four o’clock. The little girls were not tired at all. “We want the national language Bangla”, “We want the release of the imprisoned brothers”, “Police oppression will not continue” and various slogans. At this time, I said to Shamsul Haque Saheb, Haque Saheb, look, our sisters have come out and you can’t do it without making Bengali the state language. Haque Saheb said to me, ‘You are right, Mujib’ (Page-93, 94).
Bangabandhu had incredible confidence in the people of Bengal! Who knew then that the independent and sovereign People’s Republic of Bangladesh would be born in the spirit of February 11, 1952, 1969 and 1971 along the path of March 11, 1948? But the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib knew! Because he was a visionary leader, setting goals and setting programs. The day Pakistan was established, he realized that this Pakistan was not for Bengalis; One day the fate of Bengal will be controlled by Bengalis and so, step by step, he prepared the entire nation for the final struggle.
On January 31, 1952, the All-Union Central State Language Struggle Council was formed in protest against the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Khawaja Nazimuddin’s statement that ‘Urdu and only Urdu shall be the state language of Pakistan’. The Sangam Parishad, convened by all political and cultural parties and Kazi Golam Mahbub, declared February 21 as ‘Language Day’ and called for a nationwide strike. On the other hand, the then Nurul Amin government issued Article 144 but on February 21, 1952, unjustly and undemocratically fired on the students gathered on the premises of Dhaka Medical College, as a result of which Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abul Barkat, Abdul Jabbar, Abdus Salam, Shafiur Rahman and many others were martyred.
Bangabandhu was imprisoned then. In jail, he went on a hunger strike expressing solidarity with the demand for Bengali as the national language. In the book ‘Unfinished Autobiography’, he also wrote, ‘No nation can tolerate insulting mother tongue. Even though 56 percent of the people of Pakistan are Bengali speakers, Bengalis do not want to make only Bengali the national language. They want Urdu to be made the state language along with Bengali, there is no objection to that. But this generosity of Bengalis is taken by many as a weakness.’ (page-198). The movement of February 1, 1952, had spread to the villages of the country. There were processions from village to village. There was massive and spontaneous participation of school students in that procession. The slogans of that time were, ‘May the martyr’s memory be immortal’, ‘I want Bangla as the national language’, and ‘My language is your language, the Bengali language is the Bengali language’.
In 1952, a statement by Maulana Bhasani was published in Daily Ittefaq. In that statement, he said, “If Mujib had not succeeded in making changes like Hossain Shaheed Suhrawardy for the Bengali language, not only the language movement, but the future of Awami League would have been uncertain.” This statement is proof of the impeccable contribution of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to the language movement. Bangabandhu was the first to be arrested for participating in the movement to demand Bengali as the national language. On March 11, he was arrested after participating in the program to observe ‘Bangla Language Demand Day’. On February 1, 1952, due to being in jail, he could not participate in the active movement, but the movement struggle was under his guidance and advice. Even in 1947, he participated in the campaign to collect signatures for the demand of the Bengali language with Rashtrabhasa Sangram Parishad.
After the creation of the state of Pakistan in 1947, the Western ruling class consciously wanted to take away the language rights of the Bengalis. They wanted to impose Urdu, the language of the minority people, as the state language. But Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the savior of Bengali, raised a roar against their inaction. After the birth of Pakistan in 1947, a number of political activists gathered in Calcutta to decide the future of East Pakistan. There a decision was taken to form a non-communal political movement and organization in Pakistan. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was involved in that process. In this context, Gaziul Haque mentions in the book “Role of Bangabandhu in Language Movement”, “The student leader of the day, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, read out the resolutions adopted by the conference committee.” The resolutions were, “Bangla language should be made the vehicle of writing and the language of law courts in East Pakistan.” The burden of discussion and decision-making on what should be the national language of the whole of Pakistan should be left to the people and the people’s decision should be accepted as final.’ Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman directly joined the language movement after his return from India to the then East Bengal. In December 1947, 14 linguists, including contemporary politicians, formulated a manifesto with 21-point demands including the first language movement.
The second demand among the 21-point demands in that manifesto was that Bengali should be the national language. This historic manifesto was published in the form of a small booklet, called ‘National Language-21 Point Manifesto-Historical Document’. The booklet is recognized as a historical documentary document in the history of the language movement. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s contribution to drafting this manifesto was undeniable and he was one of the signatories. The Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was imprisoned during the language movement of 1952.
Bangabandhu, while in jail before the 19th February language movement, realized that the political situation at that time was becoming increasingly unstable. From jail, he kept in touch with the leaders of the movement. He gave advice. On February 16, 1952, before and after going to Faridpur Jail, he sent letters to several leaders of the Chhatra League. Bangabandhu was in Faridpur Jail on February 11, 1952. As mentioned in his unfinished autobiography, he spent the day with anxiety and worry. At night, he received news of a great noise in Dhaka from the sepoys. Know that some people have lost their lives. In Faridpur, the students were chanting slogans like ‘I want Bangla as the national language, Bengalis will not be exploited, I want the release of Sheikh Mujib, I want the release of the prisoners’.
Bangabandhu was worried after hearing the news from Dhaka. He can know the details by reading the newspaper dated 22nd. Bangabandhu’s description of this was, ‘The first Bengalis in the world gave their blood in the mother tongue movement. Nowhere in the world has a language movement been shot dead. Even if section 144 was violated, it would have been possible if he had been arrested without firing. I thought I don’t know whether I will see it or not, but when the blood has been given by our sons, then there is no other way but to make Bengali the national language. When people fall, mistakes are made step by step. There is no way to deny Bangabandhu’s contribution even after his release. As a result of that continuous tide of the language movement, he was able to bring about the emergence of an independent country later on.
Bangabandhu was able to unite the entire nation on the basis of 11 points with the aim of establishing a beautiful, pure, torture-oppression-free exploitation-free social system. On February 11 of that day, he delivered a new message of freedom and independence to the homes of Bengal. The day was Friday. February 11 was the first public holiday to commemorate the martyrs. The program started on the day with the hoisting of the black flag, placing of wreaths at the tombs of martyrs at Azimpur graveyard, mourning procession and wreath laying at the central Shaheed Minar. On the occasion of Shaheed Day, an oath ceremony was conducted at the foot of Shaheed Minar under the initiative of Chhatra Sangram Parishad.
The leaders of Chhatra Sangram Parishad announced an extreme letter to the government and said in unison, “Before next March 3, all the rights of the countrymen will be established, the Ayub government’s resignation, the state vs. Sheikh Mujib case should be withdrawn, the full implementation of the 11-point demand, all the royal prisoners including the beloved leader Sheikh Mujib should be released within 24 hours. Unconditional release, removal of all restrictions on freedom of press and speech. No one should use Sheikh Mujib’s popularity as their political tool. Ayub Khan surrendered in a radio address to the countrymen in the evening after announcing the letter of extremism to the dictator. On February 22, Bangabandhu was forced to release all the royal prisoners including Sheikh Mujib and on the 23rd, the beloved leader was conferred with the title of ‘Bangabandhu’ in the presence of 1 million people on behalf of the Bengali nation at the Race Course Maidan (present Suhrawardy Udyan).
After the bloodshed of 1952 and 1969, February 1971 came. General Yahya Khan was engaged in various conspiracies on the issue of the handover of power to the majority party that won the historic election of 1970. Breaking all those conspiracies, in the early hours of February 1st, 1971, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said after offering a wreath at the holy altar of Shaheed Minar, ‘I will not let the blood of martyrs go in vain. We must prepare for the ultimate sacrifice. In memory of the brave martyrs of Janani Janmabhoomi, I swear that I will claim the independence of Bengal even with blood. The group of conspirators who have repeatedly killed the students-youth-farmers-laborers of Bengal since 1952. Those who have exploited Bengalis for 23 years are still conspiring to thwart Bengal’s independence movement and to enslave Bengalis forever. The spirit of the martyr is returning to the house of Bengal today, saying, “Bengali, don’t be greedy.” Claim your rights. Today I am also calling the people of Bengal from this martyr’s altar, if I am unable to give orders, get ready, if necessary, I will give blood. But there is no compromise on the issue of independence. We have fulfilled the promise of the father of the nation expressed in the Shaheed Minar during the observation of Amar Ekushey and have liberated our beloved motherland.
February 21 has been our source of inspiration for ages. Especially February 1952, 1969 and 1971 sit at a unique height in the history of the Bengali national liberation struggle. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with the flag of Ekushy spirit in hand, Bangladesh is progressing beautifully and achieving one goal after another.
21st February has now been declared as ‘International Mother Language Day’ by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization. This recognition is also an honor for us. If we cannot advance in education, and culture and develop human resources then we cannot glorify our language and country. I can’t move the country forward. In this case, steps should be taken to eliminate discrimination to ensure equality of opportunity and the new generation should be raised accordingly. Which is very important.
Hiren Pandit is a columnist and researcher.