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21 February International Mother Language Day

Taslim Ahammad:

Conflict, confrontation and interaction the tradition with one another is going on all around for many causes. However, Bengali language, only a history of fighting and sacrificing lives for mother tongue in the world and Bangladesh born out of that fight over language. Hence, this peace on language movement of 21 February 1952, with a great respect and remembrance for those who sacrificed for our mother tongue.

Earlier coming of the Aryans the people of the ancient settlements in Bengal developed a social and cultural life. It is the oldest socio-cultural picture of Bengal. According to the scholars, their language was called ‘Nishad’. Afterward, the ancient people of Bengal mixed with another race called Alpine. They together developed the culture of Bengal before the advent of the Aryans. Thus after the Aryan culture, the third change in culture brought about by the Buddhist culture during the reign of the Gupta kings.

The people of the ancient Bengal did not differ much from the present day people in their food habits, social rites and rituals. Their main food at the time were rice, fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, milk, curd, butter oil, and so on. Verities of good items were served on the occasion of festivals. Different kinds of homemade cakes and sweet rolls were also prepared. Water was made fragrant by mixing camphor in it and spiced betel leaves after meals. The common dress for men at that time was the ‘Dhuti’ and women generally wore the ‘Sari’ of Bengali speaking people. The people of East Bengal (British period) used to relish Hilsa and dried fish as well, then the land was named so-called East Pakistan.

The language of the original inhabitants of Bengal was Austric. This language gradually pass away after the coming of the Aryans. The name of the language of the Aryans was Ancient Vedic Language. The scholars turned the Vedic language into a language of literature. As the old language was reformed, this new language was named as the ‘Sanskrit’ language. Many are of opinion that the Bengali language originated from the Sanskrit language.

The modern scholars, however, have not accepted this view. In the ancient time, the common people did not use this language, only the Brahmins used it. The name of the language of the common people was called ‘Prakrita Bhasa’. As time passed, changes began to come over the language. It gained excellence and quality through the writing of books. Two languages were born of the ‘Prakrita’ language. One was ‘Pali’ and the other was ‘Apabhransha’. The language of the common people, however, remained as ‘Prakrita’ language.

In Karachi (Pakistan), the representatives of East Bengal attending the Pakistan educational conference, oppose Urdu as the only national language. The demand for Bengali as one of the state language gathered the spontaneous support of the Bengali civil servants, academics, students, and various groups of people. Several members of the provincial assembly, including some ministers, were reportedly active in supporting the movement. By the end of February 1948, the controversy had spilled over on the streets. The East Pakistan student league, founded in the first week of January leaded by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was in the forefront of the anxiety.

That government shortly imposed Section 144 on February 20. Students gathered at the premises of the Medical College Hostel and began to protest Sec 144.  At one point of the clash, the police open fired on the students. The bullets took many young lives, making a sacrifice of Salam, Borkot, Rafiq, Sofiq, Jobbar and others. In protest of the shootings, hartal was observed all over the country on Feb 22. There was more shooting that day at a demonstration near the High Court, and more protesters killed and injured. Many more were arrested, military was deployed in different parts of the city.

The actions of 21st February1952 proved that a nation which is strong and powerful politically cannot destroy a brave civilized nation if they have a unifying language like Bangla. This movement ultimately ended in the adoption of Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan in 1956. In line with the spirit of Language Movement, Bangladesh achieved its long cherished freedom through a nine month long armed struggle under the charismatic leadership of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who proclaimed the country’s independence on March 26, 1971. Hence, in the life of every Bengali 21st February is the symbol of grief, strength and glory.

Later, International Mother Language Day (IMLD) is a worldwide annual observance held on 21 February to promote awareness of linguistic, cultural diversity, inherent right and heritage and to promote multilingualism. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) professed the day as International Mother Language Day, on November 17, in 1999.

Taslim Ahammad

Assistant Professor, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University (BSMRSTU), Gopalganj, Bangladesh.