February 1952 - An epochal month in Bangladesh’s history

Overcoming enormous difficulties, we have accumulated extraordinarily rich experience in the affirmation of our identities and the construction of our societies and a country.

by Anwar A. Khan

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. - William Shakespeare

We forsook the British colonial rule in 1947 and created Pakistan, divided into two parts of the country, East Pakistan and West Pakistan. People of East Pakistan consisted 54% of Pakistan’s total population and our mother tongue is Bangla. But Punjabi dominated Pakistan state forcefully imposed on us “Urdu” as the state language in utter disregarding the mother tongue of the majority population of Pakistan. We abandoned one colonial rule, but we again got into another colonial rule of Pakistan which lasted more than two decades. But an entirely different episode or a movement of great gravid in the history of Bangladesh took place on 21February 1952…. incredible as it may seem.

This movement brought all people in Bangladesh together. Wikipedia says, “The Language Movement, was a political movement in former East Pakistan advocating the recognition of the Bengali language as an official language of the then-Dominion of Pakistan in order to allow its use in government affairs, the continuation of its use as a medium of education, its use in media, currency and stamps, and to maintain its writing in the Bengali script.” Russel Hoban has taught us, “Language is an archeological vehicle ... the language we speak is a whole palimpsest of human effort and history.”Along the same lines, some legendary figures played a pivotal role in giving momentum to struggle for establishing Bangla language for the majority people the-then East Pakistan.

Fidel Castro said, “I began the revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I would do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and a plan of action.” And if history is a record of good deeds, it is filled with our heroes. Born and growing up in Bangladesh, I saw and often heard the names of these historical figures. Later I understood: If some Bengalis have kept certain ideals, it might be due to the actions of some of these prominent figures, whose legacy will definitely endure the centuries.

It is well known that we have been ruled more by deceit and force by the Pakistani colonial rule; a falsifier, conspirator, liar, coward, looter, killer. Edward Gibbon once said that “History is the register of the follies, crimes and misfortunes of mankind.” You might think he was exaggerating. But Gibbon, the most prominent world historian, was not bluffing. Overall, our Language Movement was obtained and maintained at the price of cold-blooded killing of activists of the movement by the Pakistani ruffians.

The rapidity and timing of that dramatic change were the result of a combination of long-building tensions in Pakistani colonial rulers. There were some of our fiery orators whose speeches often made our audience cry of emotion. The themes of the struggle for establishing Bangla language as a state language focus on sensuality, love, patriotism, all of which are expressed in the idealisation of this movement. It is showing a history of harmony and cohesion among the people in the world of Bangladesh.

We believe that aesthetic, philosophical and political tendencies of the most varied sort could find common ground during that time. Victor Hugo aptly said, “Human society, the world, and the whole of mankind is to be found in the alphabet.” It is the Language Movement of 1952 that catalysed the assertion of Bengali national identity in the-then East Pakistan, and became a forerunner to Bengali nationalist movements, including the 6-Point Movement and subsequently the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. In Bangladesh, 21 February is observed as Language Movement Day, a national holiday. The Shaheed Minar(Martyred Minaret) monument was constructed near Dhaka Medical College in memory of the movement and its great fallen heroes.

The Language Movement had a major cultural impact on Bengali society. It has inspired the development and celebration of the Bengali language, literature and culture. 21 February, celebrated as Language Movement Day or Martyrs Day, is a major national holiday in Bangladesh. A month-long event called the Ekushey Book Fair is held every year to commemorate the movement. EkusheyPadak, one of the highest civilian awards in Bangladesh, is awarded annually in memory of the sacrifices of the movement.

Songs, such as, Abdul Gaffar Choudhury's “Amar BhaierRokteRangano…(my brother’s maculated blood redden)”, set to music by Shaheed Altaf Mahmud, as well as plays, works of art and poetry played a considerable role in rousing the people's emotions during the movement. Since the events of February 1952, poems, songs, novels, plays, films, cartoons and paintings were created to capture the movement from varied point of views. UNESCO recognised 21 February as "International Mother Language Day” on 17 November 1999.

Bangladesh in the 1960s and 1970s underwent a profound and often violent process of political movements. Those movements in Bangladesh’s history have been marked by some dramatic and significant developments on the country’s political terrain. There was several decisive moments in our history which have raised the idea that the human being is, individually or collectively, the maker of his own history.

The concept of reason thus appears indissolubly linked to that of emancipation. Emancipating reason is expressed in a classical triptych: liberty, equality and patriotism. In fact, the glorious Language Movement has pealed the bells of freedom for our independence in 1971. Ernesto Che Guevara said, “Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this battle cry may have reached some receptive ear and another hand may be extended to wield our weapons.” As a matter of fact, it happened in Bangladesh during our glorious Liberation War in 1971.

Bangladesh’s politics, as indeed, politics elsewhere in the world, are in a permanent state of evolution. The ideological slogans that underpinned the framework were that of nation-building. These are massive and conclusive expressions of the fight for a better future. Men are necessary for changes, institutions to make changes live …There are no premature ideas, there are timely moments one should know how to wait for ...Men do not accept changes except out of necessity: they do not see necessity excepting a crisis. This experience cannot but be evoked as we gather in Bangladesh, more than four decades later, to reflect on the forms of cooperation among the societies in the country.

Today, like yesterday, it is imperative to erect spaces of cooperation that will contribute to the strengthening of our societies and to the development of our country. If in the 1960s it was the revolutionary upsurge that boosted our people, we are now summoned by the urgency of strengthening our academic and scientific communities, creating the conditions that will allow the development of critical thinking and the generation of knowledge to be placed at the service of man and of the construction of solidarity, equitable and fair societies, inspired by the past glorious struggles for freedom.

By making the generation and appropriation of knowledge into one of the main instruments of domination, it is clear that it has also been turned into an arena of struggle for emancipation. One of our tasks is to create conditions so that, through cooperation among the societies and countries of the world, we can shape channels that will allow us to acquire greater strength in these fields, creating robust academic and scientific communities.

We know the indelible marks of domination, poverty, exclusion, but also libertarian struggles and the notable capacity to develop strategies for survival in the midst of poverty and exclusion. Overcoming enormous difficulties, we have accumulated an extraordinarily rich experience in the affirmation of our identities and the construction of our societies and a country.

For historical and political reasons, we continue to look to the West as the sole horizon and we have magnified it into the goal and the arrival point, within a perspective that under values our traditions and experiences. It is indispensable for us to turn our regard back toward our traditions and experiences. It is not a question of ignoring or undervaluing what the West has contributed in their fields, but of establishing a relation that will allow us to develop a virtuous circle in which it is possible to enrich ourselves with the knowledge and analysis of our realities, the dialogue among them, and their critical assimilation.

Our societies and the country must work united based on to develop new forms of cooperation on the basis of the study of our history, culture, forms of organisation and projects for society, and of the exchange and circulation of our scientific and technological knowledge. The strengthening of cooperation for knowledge about our histories, and the development of relations on the basis of the differences, is a fundamental contribution to the consolidation of our identities and the search for shared horizons that will allow us to face and overcome the challenges derived from the manner in which our country and societies have been configured, and a path for advancing in the collective construction of societies based on solidarity that will make equity, social justice and freedom in real sense of the terms.

On this International Mother Language month, people in Bangladesh, should take a vow and get together on the basis of the true ideals and spirits of our glorious Liberation War of 1971 to fight back the remnants of the defeated forces of our 1971 war and reduce them to ashes. Joy Bangla (Victory of Bangladesh). Joy Bangabandhu. Joy Bangladesh.

-The End –

The writer is an independent political observer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh whowho writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs.


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