roots.’’ Marcus Garvey.
It is a challenge for us to let our present and future generations to know about our race’s past,
our heritage, ethos and culture. The diaspora born and raised outside the mainland
Bangladesh is bound to not to know so many intricate historical events of our their ancestors.
Unless it is presented to them in their medium.
The language movement of Bangladesh ( erstwhile East Pakistan ) is one of the greatest of all
historical events for us all Bengalis all over the world. My quest is to perhaps let our present
and future generations to have an insight to as to what had happened on that disastrous day.
How that day has become the most respected yet so poignant day in the calendar of all
Bengali household all around the globe. Let me tell you how it all happened and that act of
extreme sacrifice of a few have made us all so determined to achieve a land for ourselves
snatching it back from the claws of foreign rulers and stand tall by engraving the name of our
motherland in the world atlas – this was the story ;
The rich lands of Erstwhile Bengal; the gateway to the two centuries long British colonial rule just saw
the sun of an independent country risen from the eastern hills and a beginning of new era. Full of
hopes, aspiration, resilience to build a nation state as a free country. How short lived was that dream
little did our grandfathers & fathers know.
It seemed to them that, they have just been thrown into a frying pan from the fire. The unification with
the Pakistani west and Bengali east was a recipe for disaster from the very beginning of its inception.
The inhabitants of the biggest river delta of the world was a fertile land with lush green paddy fields,
silky waves of its rivers and the riches of its Bengali language – was the icing on the cake, The
language, the paddy fields, the flowing rivers were a perfect compliments to each other as if ,these
three ingredients embodied the population of the land.
Bengali language, the language of dream, love, romance, the poetry, the folklore, the laughter, the
proverbs, the musical notes, the literatures were the biggest assets and passion for all the Bengalis
from all around the world ; the most sweetest of all verbal languages in the world. Bengal was always
perceived by the rest of the Indian Subcontinent as the land of poets, singers, musicians and
intellectuals. The then undivided and un- fragmented Subcontinent has held Bengal on the highest
podium for its literary excellence. Bengal was the first one in the eastern hemisphere to bring the
coveted Nobel Prize in 1913. By none other than our equivalent of William Shakespeare;
Rabindranath Tagore – who brought the language of Bengali – an international accolade and a seal of
approval by the world. It was the 12th year of Nobel Prizes inception and he was the first asian to win
it and he was the first Indian to receive this epitome of all prizes in the world ; the First Nobel Laureate
; A proud Bengali who for the first time stood tall in the world of literature.
In 1952 perhaps it was the 7th – 8th highest spoken language fall into the swords of the Pakistani
aggression and was threatened. The unilateral declaration and proposal by the West Pakistani rulers
that. Bengali will not be the state language of East Pakistan (Present day Bangladesh). This was
probably the biggest bolt out of the blue for our ancestors. The sleepy backwaters of Bengal sprung
out of anger, disenchantment, revolt and protest. All they wanted was a peaceful settlement of
recognising their beloved language as the one and only state’s official language for their motherland;
a motherland so fondly loved by all Bengalis. For us to this day, we perceive Bengali not only as our
race, Bengali not as my language but Bengal as our mother too. A mother gave birth to all of us
Bengalis dotted all over the world; where the present day geographical demarcations has not been
able to segregate a Bengali from Bengal.
The protest and disobedience of government orders, curfew and colonial era inherited exclusion by
the Pakistanis were so heavy handed and the students, teachers, officials, peasants, day labourers
all joined in unison to obliterate the ill conceived motives of the West Pakistanis to annihilate the
Language vis – a’ – vis the Bengali race by another pseudo aggression.
On the fateful day of the 21st day of the month of February 1952 those protests and blockades for a
peaceful demand of cancelling the proclamation turned violent; the Juntas of the West Pakistan
declared curfew to not to cross the picket lines and the agitated marching column were stopped by
means of firing live bullets and which resulted in 7 deaths. A colossal & mammoth loss of lives. An
unnecessary act of heavy handed Policing.
The whole country burst into tears for the loss of those – a stark reminder of colonial era mass killings
like the one that happened in 1919 in Jalianwala Bagh. Agitation and the avalanche of protests finally
forced the West Pakistani new colonial ruler to cave into the demands of the Bengalis. State and
official language of East Pakistan (Bengal) was established as Bengali. A price too heavy to pay;
perhaps we are the only race in the world who had to pay a very dear price to restore its own
indigenous language as its official state language. This language movement of 1952 perpetuated and
was the herald of the independence movement of 1971 to achieve today’s Bangladesh; an
Independent Country where everyone like me till today speaks, dreams, writes and sings in Bengali;
No wonder it make us all so proud as a Bengali.
Imran A. Chowdhury
[ a writer – public speaker and historian]