Dr. Md. Shairul Mashreque and Dr. M. Abul Kashem Mozumder :
The Language Movement was a seminal movement growing immediately after the birth of Pakistan in 1947. The movement proclaimed the recognition of Bengali as an official language of the state 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". Needless to mention Pakistan was comprised of "various ethnic and linguistic groups, with the geographically non-contiguous East Bengal province (that was renamed in 1956 as East Pakistan) having a mainly Bengali population." In 1948, the government of Pakistan declared Urdu as the only national language, whereas Urdu was the language of the microscopic minority. The declaration sparked 'extensive protests among the Bengali-speaking majority of East Bengal. Facing rising sectarian tensions and mass discontent with the new law, the government outlawed public meetings and rallies. The students of the Dhaka university and other political activists defied the law and organised a protest on 21 February 1952. The movement reached its climax when police killed student demonstrators on that day. The deaths provoked widespread civil unrest. After years of conflict, the central government relented and granted official status to the Bengali language in 1956. In 1999, UNESCO declared 21 February as International Mother Language Day in tribute to the Language Movement and the ethno-linguistic rights of people around the world.
'The Language Movement catalysed the assertion of Bengali national identity in East Bengal and later East Pakistan, and became a forerunner to Bengali nationalist movements, including the Six-Point movement and subsequently the Liberation War .In Bangladesh, 21 February is observed as Bhasa Andolon Dibosh, a national holiday. The Shaheed Minar monument was constructed near Dhaka Medical College in memory of the movement and its victims.
Now celebration marking our Bangali legacies are going on since 1st February 2017. According to news reports : Kristine Carlsson, a Swedish poet visiting Dhaka, was found engrossed in poetry as he listened to the poems being read out on the dais. The event was the annual open-air session of poetry for 2017. Under the title of Jatiya Kabita Utsab (National Poetry Festival), it is being organised since 1987 on the eastern premises of the University of Dhaka. Initially a formal outlet of protests against the then autocratic regime, it has continued as a literary platform to denounce oppression, be it orchestrated by the sitting governments or parochial forces. The National Poetry Council, the organising body, has been firm in its conviction to promote progressive thoughts, and peace. The first-ever theme of the festival was 'Poetry for breaking shackles'. The theme this year was 'Poetry against savagery'. Befittingly enough, the poetry festival chose February, the month of the Bangla Language Movement, for its holding.
In its over three decades' journey, the festival has also been dedicated to pure literary messages. Some of these themes or slogans : 'Let poetry be triumphant on being bathed in mother-tongues'; 'Poetry festival celebrates truth and beauty'; 'Poetry must bring better times'; 'Let us reach the horizons of poetry and future', etc.
In spite of its identity as an occasion to assert the poets' socio-political commitment, the festival has in the recent years promoted the pure arts. As part of its predominant character nowadays, it welcomes the all-encompassing contents of poetry. As a result, love poems or those dealing with urban melancholy and ennui have been attached the same importance as that denouncing the decadent conventions. The reason Kristine Carlsson was found attentively watching the poets read out their poems in mostly Bangla was the poets' spontaneity of expression. He had no trouble understanding the poems' meanings, as there was no dearth of local poetry lovers around. In their broken English, they helped the Swedish poet get to the essence of the poems being read out. Himself a consummate poet, he appeared to have been immensely impressed by the massive occasion dedicated to poetry. To prove his love for poems, Carlsson took part in a session of discussion on 'poetry in translation' on the opening day. Apart from it, several paper presentations and discussion on them featured the 2-day poetry festival.
On the inaugural morning, the mega festival began with the participation of Bangladeshi poets and a number of poets from abroad. The foreign countries included Russia, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Argentina, Puerto Rico and India. All the foreign poets were visibly moved by the large audience enjoying poetry reading for two long days.
The sprawling area around the Dhaka University Arts Faculty was found throbbing with beats of the arts last week. The whole swaths witnessed the opening of one or another cultural event. Apart from the poetry festival, there were the ceremonial openings of the month-long Ekushey Book Fair and the 3-day International Literary Festival at Bangla Academy. Another important part of the Academy's February 01 programme comprised the handing over of Bangla Academy Literary Prizes to the award winners. The eagerly-awaited Ekushey Book Fair, held annually in honour of the Bangla Language Movement Martyrs of 1952, will continue through the whole month of February. The fair venue had been at the Bangla Academy compound for four decades until it was shifted to the spacious Suhrawardy Udyan ground. Given its rising number of visitors and the participating publishers, the book fair can be expected to emerge soon as one of the largest book-related events in the region. The strong presence of electronic gadgets in today's popular culture, undoubtedly, is a phenomenon. Yet traditional books and other entertainment objects are set to enjoy their premier status for a long time to come. From this point of view, the dominant presence of printed publications at the country's largest book fair is destined to remain in place for a long time.
As part of these formal and ceremonial inaugurals, a number of venues in the Dhaka University (DU) area remained bustling for three days with festivities centring on creativity. All these activities emerged as a great relief to the people feeling choked with many a foreboding for over the last six months. Thanks to the people's strong urge to come out in the open to bask in the celebrations of the arts, culture in the broader context, the spectacle has changed almost overnight. And then by mid-February, long queues being seen at the entrances of the book fair and swarms of people at events of music and plays at the Central Shaheed Minar.
Over the last few years, the opening of the cultural fiesta in the Dhaka University area has been a remarkable event. The upsurge of youthfulness, coupled with creative and performing feats, has eventually become an annual cultural rite. It received a jolt after the gruesome terror-killing incident at Gulshan in the city last July. Thanks to the resilience of the culturally oriented people, the dreadfully fraught atmosphere subsided in no time. Despite an insidious feeling of unease, the area from the Teacher-Student Centre (TSC) to the Central Shaheed Minar has got back its usual February fervour. By the beginning of the 2nd week of February, the air of Dhaka University area was filled with its unique festivities, which stem from purely arts-related activities. The most notable aspect of the literary-cultural assemblages this year is the presence of overseas authors. Many would like to define it as the universal appeal of the arts. This instinct defies both tangible and intangible fears and threats in responding to the calls of events of the arts far from one's own land.
Perhaps just to prove this truth, overseas litterateurs were found gracing the events of the International Literary Conference on February 2, 3 and 4. The three-day colloquiums and reading sessions were held at the open-air venue at Bangla Academy with the participation of foreign and local poets, novelists, essayists and academics. Seminars and lively discussions on various topics marked the festival. The foreigners' participation in literary events began this year with their attendance at the main event --- the inauguration of the book fair by the Prime Minister. And what a wonderful opening it was! On February 01, it was quite pleasant to hear most of them trying to speak Bangla. Of the foreign guests present on the dais, Chinmoy Guha, the Vice Chancellor of Rabindrabharati University in Kolkata in West Bengal, was the only Bangla-speaking academic. The mother-tongues of the other foreign guests ranged from Chinese, German (Austria) to Spanish (Puerto Rico). They appeared to have taken extensive preparations before coming to Dhaka. Thus Dong You Chen told the enthralled audience in Bangla that he was in Bangladesh with a 'humble' offer: a 33-part Chinese translation of the writings by Rabindranath Tagore. Perhaps it will be the largest anthology of Tagore's work so far published in a foreign language. All the foreign litterateurs attending the literary festival have spent large parts of their careers serving the Bengali literature and language.
In order to have a deep understanding of the importance of February, the month of Language Movement, one has to be in Dhaka. Despite the grisly happenings, the city couldn't be severed from the outside world, and its own glory days. Here, the unassailable cultural ethos plays the role of a great catalyst.
While observing Ekushey our emotion only highly moved us. We are a nation only confined in symbols and festivities. There are festivals like Boi Mela, vising Shaheed Minat to place flowers and staging recitation and literary meet and other cultural shows like singing folk songs and dancing and decorating with Alpona. After the end of Ekushey month we seldom think for establishing Bangla in our institutions and thinking of Bengali life style.
There is a little reflection of our language and culture in real life. To cite News Paper report:
In his praised poem Bongobani, middle age's poet Abdul Hakim expressed his doubt about the birth origin of those who despite being born in this country feel irritated about speaking in Bangla language. The poet prescribed that those who are not satisfied with Bangla language should go abroad and live there. He indicated that Bangla language is something which is closely tied with our self-identity. After becoming free from the British raaj, the Bangalees of East Pakistan stood up to defend the honour of their mother tongue when the Pakistanis tried to establish Urdu as the only national language of the country, ignoring the 56% Bangla speaking majority completely. The Bangalees didn't hesitate to sacrifice their lives to defend the honour of Bangla. 1952's glorious Language Movement was a battle to ensure the practice of a thousand years old language. The same spirit ultimately inspired us to liberate our country in 1971. 'Bangladesh', the name of our country, depicts our deep love for Bangla language. After the Liberation War, we finally found an independent state to speak Bangla and practice Bangalee culture. After sixty-four years of the glorious Language Movement and forty-five years since we achieved Independence, let us investigate about the use of Bangla in our everyday life.For its unquestionable necessity in the era of globalisation, today English is widely accepted across the world. Following that trend, Bangladesh included the teaching of English besides Bangla in its education policy. Today the use of Bangla has not reached where it should have. Being the only nation in the world, who selflessly sacrificed lives to safeguard the honour of mother tongue, we didn't act well enough to ensure the proper practice of Bangla in all stages of our life.From the early nineties, English medium schools began to appear in our country. From the very beginning to the present days, the respective governments hardly formatted any proper guidelines for these schools. Some critics have pointed out that education policies submitted by different education commissions were not implemented by various regimes in power to advance their political agenda, ideology and to continue a corrupt practice. English medium schools follow the British curriculum, so naturally there is no requirement of involving Bangla language in their academic syllabus. At maximum English medium schools, Bangla is taught to the students only to provide them the basic knowledge about the language. As there is no subject about Bangla language and literature in "O Level" and "A Level" examinations, tender aged students have no real interest in learning or practicing Bangla language. As a result, a significant portion of our young generation is growing up without adequate knowledge about their age-old language and culture. As many English medium schools do not have sufficient teachers of Bangla, the practice of Bangla language, in maximum of them, is limited.
Heartening is the fact that use of Bengali has been on increase in public institutions and NGOs. Now the incumbents are beginning to use Bangla office files. Bangla also find place in computer. It is good sign.
(The writers are Professor, Public Administration, Chittagong University and Professor of Public Administration, Jahangirnagar University and Member PSC respectively)