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The reminiscence of '52 Language Movement and its aftermath

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21st-Feb-2018       
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Prof. Anwarul Karim PhD :
What happened on the day :  I am now almost 80 years old and I am trying to recollect what happened on the day of 21st  February, 1952. I was then a student of class Eight at Tejgaon Polytechnic High School Dhaka. It was located by the side of the present Holy Cross College. Tejgaon Polytechnic School was much older than Holy Cross College. The name although, was a Polytechnic, there was, however, nothing technical when we had been students of that school. I came to know of Language movement when the veteran journalist Sirajuddin Husain, my maternal uncle used to come to see my mother at the official residence of my father who was an Agriculture Officer at Dhaka Agricultural Farm in 50's. My mother had a 'Shoi' (Bangla) or a very bosom, and close friend. She was the eldest sister to Sirajuddin Hussain. He used to address my mother as 'Boro bu' (eldest sister). The Farm Gate in Tejgaon area and Khamarbari still bear the legacy of the past and stands as a mute monument of the forgotten agricultural farm that had several thousand acres of land covering the areas of the whole of Parliament Bhavan, and the present Agricultural University which was an Agricultural College in the 50's.Sirajudddin Hussain was a friend and classmate to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. My cousin Habibur Rahman who used to live with us from his childhood, before my birth, was a student of Animal Husbandry department of the Veterinary College, Tejgaon. He was also the President of the Student Union of his College. My cousin used to talk to Siraj Mama regarding language movement. There were two others, one named Ameer Ali, the son of Mr. Wazed Ali, the Vice Principal of the Veterinary College and a student leader of Dhaka University and Mr. Rezaul Karim, a former Ambassador, who too was also a student leader during language movement. My cousin used to have discussion with them and moved together with them to Dhaka University for attending meetings. As a student we came to know of the language movement from our teachers, who, after they passed out from Dhaka University, joined our school temporarily. As far as I recollect there were teachers named Abdul Jalil, Abdul Wahed, Babu Parimal. They were students of Dhaka University. Dinesh Dutta and Azizul Haq were teachers of Bengali language. Azizul Haq Sir was a poet. His poems were published in contemporary Bengali newspapers and Journals. My father occasionally wrote poetry for Muhammadi. But never he wrote afterwards. I not know why. However, I still remember, how my teachers used to talk before us about language movement. They were emotional and also made us emotional. I remember, Mr. Abul Kashem, a veteran footballer of Victoria Sporting Club in his University days and a resident of Tejgaon. He was junior to Doctor Ahmed Rafique who passed out as an MBBS doctor in 1952 and Kashem bhai was an M.sc in Soil Science from Dhaka University in 1956. Both of them were directly involved in language movement. Both were in jail in the 50's.Doctor Ahmed Rafique knew Kashem bhai closely.
In fact, it was Muhammad Ali Jinnah's declaration as a Goverrnor General when he came to East Pakistan and addressed a public meeting at Ramna Race Course that "Urdu and Urdu only shall be the State Language of Pakistan" amidst uproar and protests. The students of Dhaka University were very vocal. On the occasion of the language movement of 1952, Nurul Amin was the Chief Minister of East Pakistan. East Pakistan Assembly was in session. Muslim League was the ruling party, while Awami league was on the opposition. Maulana Bhashani was the President of Awami League. The Muslim League government promulgated section 144 of CRPC on February 20,1952. Efforts were made to go to the Provincial Assembly near Jagannath Hall and Engineering College to protest against Urdu as the State Language breaking section 144 of crpc. From morning of 21st February, 1952 people started coming from different parts of the Dhaka city and also from Narayanganj. Hundreds of police cordoned the Provincial Assembly. My cousin Habibur Rahman led the procession of students of Veterinary College from Tejgaon to Dhaka Medical College on foot early in the morning.
On the same morning of 21st February, 1952, we also gathered at our school premises beside the Holy Cross College. And we moved towards Dhaka Medical College on foot to attend the protest meeting in a very big procession. It should be mentioned here that the procession of students was joined by members of the public belonging to cross section of people. Dhaka University was then located at the annex building of the Medical College. My cousin Habib bhai, Ameer Ali and Rezaul Karim bhai were there much ahead of us. We crossed the Karwan Bazar with placards and festoons. I remember Anwar Hussain bhai and Reaz bhai of my school leading us along with our teachers.
There then existed Medical College hostels in tin sheds and looked like barracks. There I had one of my maternal uncle named Kazi Obaidul Haque, a student of Medical College and lived in the Medical College hostel. He was a cousin to my mother. I visited his hostel a number of times when he was a student. There was a food corner nearby. Kazi Obaidul Haq was actually a student of Calcutta Medical College and he had to leave his College when Hindu Muslim riot began on August 16,1946. He escaped with the help of police who rescued him from a road where the rioters were about to kill him. He was, however, killed by the Pakistani army at his house in Jessore town, where he was a Medical practitioner, for being a member of Awami League. His elder brother, Kazi Obaidur Rahman, an Engineer by profession, was also killed by the Pakistani army at his house in Jessore town.
When we crossed the present TSC of Dhaka University which was at that time a mangrove and was near the Medical College hostel where other processionists assembled, we heard several rounds of gun-shots. However, we braved the police firing and moved towards the Dhaka Medical College hostel. We then faced a contingent of police force who made 'lathi charge' and fired teargas shells .. We were then forced to take shelter nearby. At that time when the whole procession was moving towards the East Pakistan Assembly Hall, the police lathi charged and lobbed tear gas shells on the procession injuring students and others. There were shouts and slogans, 'Rastrobhasha BangIa chai' (We want Bangla as our State Language) 'Amader dabi mante hobey' (You, the government, must comply with our demand), 'Bhashar jonye jibon debo' (We shall sacrifice our life for Bangla language) etc. all around. The students resorted to brickbatting against the police. Later the police opened fire on the procession killing five on the spot. They included, Salauddin, Abdul Jabbar and Abul Barkat. They were students of Dhaka University. The rest two Rafiquddin and Abdus Salam were outsiders. They were all in the procession and moving towards the Provincial Assembly for demonstration against the government of Nurul Amin. Police arrested several hundreds. Many students were injured. More people were reportedly killed but the police reportedly picked them up and none could get the number of these 'Shahids' thus killed. The news of killing was spread all over like wildfire. Tens of thousands rushed towards Medical College, but the police did not allow them to enter into the hospital. Meanwhile students of the Medical College made a Shahid Minar working throughout the night. On the following day hundreds of students including local people thronged at the Shahid Minar. The police again fired upon the angry mob. Some people were killed but the number was unknown because the police with army picked up the dead. I joined the procession and moved in a procession throughout the Dhaka city covering. The police again demolished the 'Shahid Minar' which was again rebuilt by students. On January 25,1952 Dhaka University was closed sine die.
In Dhaka and also in other areas 'Gayebana Janaja' were held.
Protests continued for several days and we, too, joined the mass protests and paraded the Dhaka city including Sadarghat, Islampur, Patuatuli, and Chawkbazar and Nazimuddin road. A drama named 'Kabar' written by Munir Choudhury was also staged at Curzon Hall.
There were many killed by the police firing as told by my cousin Habibur Rahman and Siraj mama. These dead bodies were taken out by the police. In Medical College Hospital there were hundreds who were injured. Police cordoned the area and none could know how many were killed. The dead were buried in Azimpur graveyard under police cordon.
A brief history of Language Movement : History speaks that the attack on Bengali language first came from the Aryans who conquered and ruled Bangladesh during the period of the Sena dynasty in Bengal. When Laksman Sena was the king, it was declared that Bengali language of the non Aryans (Prakrito) as most unholy and anybody who would be found talking in bangla, would be thrown into a burning hell named 'rourovo' after death. These Aryans considered the Bengali language of the non Aryans as language of outcastes and untouchables. They preached Sanskrit as their State Language.
When the Turkish Sultans and the Mughals conquered the land from the Sena kings (Aryans) the Bengali language and culture became free from being unholy and received wide patronage from them. The Turkish Sultans became blessing to the Bengali language and literature. The Sultans also translated 'Amritkundo' a Sanskrit work into Arabic.
During the Muslim period, there were Muslims of Bengal who upheld Arabic and did not take interest in BangIa and they were condemned by Bengali merdieval Muslim poets like Abdul Hakim who strongly reacted to their attitude in the following words by saying:  Whoever lives in Bangla and looks down upon Bangla language, is no better than a bastard.
Bengali people never tolerated any attack on the language they speak as mother tongue by any body however powerful they might be. The Turks and the Mughols could understand from the reading of the holy Quran that languages which people had learnt to speak from the beginning of civilization was the creation of Allah. The same way was the race, colour and clothes. Men learnt how to use them on earth by generations.
Jinnah on creation of Pakistan brought in the case of Urdu as State Language for Pakistan ignoring which was the mother tongue of both Hindu and Muslims of East Pakistan. The moment Jinnah declared this in Dhaka that Urdu would be the State Language of Pakistan, there came a very high volley of protests and people of East Pakistan (East Bengal) in an united effort  later forced Pakistan to accept Bengali as one of the State Languages.
Below I give a brief background of language movement.
In view of the situation that India would be divided into two parts as Hindustan (Bharat dominion) and Pakistan dominion on the basis of the Two Nation theory where religion played a decisive role, the leaders of East Bengal (East Pakistan) thought about Bangla as one of the State Languages of Pakistan beside Urdu in 1946 much ahead of the creation of Pakistan. But the Urdu speaking Muslim leaders, however, opposed the idea.
Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed, a former Vice-Chancellor of the Aligarh University of India expressed that Urdu should be the State Language of the future state of Pakistan. Dr. Shahidullah, the noted Bengali linguist from Dhaka University vehemently opposed it. The controversy got a momentum when the division of India on the basis of Two Nation theory became imminent. Chowdhury Khaliquzzaman, a Muslim Leaguer, declared at an Urdu Conference held in Hyderabad on 17 May 1947 that the national language of Pakistan would be Urdu as India had decided that Hindi would be the State Language of India after independence. This was corro borated by Dr. Ziauddin, the Vice Chancellor of Algarh University The Muslim Leaders of East Bengal like those of Nawab Khawaja Salimullah and Khawaja Nazimuddin accepted it on a plea for national integration.
Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah, a renowned Muslim linguistic researcher and a respected Bengali scholar from Dhaka University, rejected the proposition of Chowdhury Khaliquzzaman. Bengal Muslim League Leaders like Abul Hashim, Maulana Akram Khan, Abul Mansur Ahmad, Hamidul Haque Choudhury and many others strongly protested it. Abul Hashim, the then General Secretary of Bengal Provincial Muslim League had then an election manifesto to make Bangla as the State Language of Pakistan. Abul Mansur Ahmad, Hamidul Haque Choudhury also played a great role in language movement at the initial stage.
Abdul Haq of East Bengal also opposed the proposal of Choudhury Khaliquzzaman and wrote an article on 'BangIa Bhasha Bishoyok Prostab', the first article in which Haq argued for BangIa as Pakistan's state language, and this appeared in two instalments in the Calcutta daily of Ittehad on June 22 and 29, 1947.
Mean while, the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan which was then in session in Karachi from February 23, 1948 proposed that the members would have to speak either in Urdu or in English at the Assembly and it was strongly protested by Dhirendra Nath Dutta, a Congress member from East Pakistan. He moved an amended motion to include Bangla as one of the languages of the Constituent Assembly.
The first movement on language issue was initiated and mobilized by the Tamuddun Majlish headed by Abul Kashem, the founder of Tamuddun Majlish.
He was ably supported by Dewan Mohammad Azraf, Shahed Ali and Abdul Ghafur. Later others, particularly the non-communal and progressive organizations joined this movement which turned into a mass movement comprising Hindu-Muslim and other communities. Shamsul Haque, Muhammad Nurul Haque, Gaziul Haque, Ali Shad,Abdul Matin, Kazi  Golam Mahbub and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman organized a mass movement against Pakistan. They held meetings in Dhaka University on December 6, 1947 and agitation started demanding Bangla as the state language of Pakistan. The first Rastrobhasha Songram Porishod (State Language Action Committee) was also formed then.
Later, when Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Governor General of Pakistan came to East Pakistan on March 19, 1947, he declared publicly at Ramna Racecourse ground that Urdu would be the only state language of Pakistan. Instantly people, mostly students of Dhaka University, strongly protested before him rejecting his declaration. Tamaddun Majlish and other social and cultural organizations organized movement throughout the country and the movement rose to the climax on 21st February, 1952 when a big procession in the city assembled at the Medical College near the East Pakistan Assembly House to demonstrate rejection of Urdu as State Language of Pakistan from Dhaka Medical College, the police opened fire against the students and a number of students were killed including Salam, Barkat and Rafique. The bloodshed of people and their big protest ultimately forced the government of Pakistan to accept Bangla as one the state languages along with Urdu.
Justification of Language Movement : The movement safeguarded East Pakistan of her rights to self determination as a part of Pakistan and also protested against exploitation of East Pakistan by West Pakistan from political, social, economic and cultural dimension. East Pakistan was full of natural resources and if Urdu was made State Language then it would have helped facilitate an easy way for exploitation by West Pakistan through various means including providing jobs to the Urdu speaking people and controlling the administration by creating a vested group of civil servants as it happened during the British rule. The Hindus got the upper hand over the Muslims for learning English language getting jobs and other facilities from the British government. There had been influx of Urdu speaking people from Bihar to East Pakistan immediately after the division of India through Two Nation theory. This also unsettled the Bangali Hindus who were forced to migrate from East Pakistan to India.
War of Liberationa and Independence of Bangladesh : Finally the language movement paved the way for East Pakistan of her right to self determination as a nation under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Leader of Awami League when he was denied the right to form the government of Pakistan being victorious obtaining votes of the absolute majority.
The Six Point demand of Bangabandhu was also turned down by the central government headed by General Yahya Khan. On the 25th March, the Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was taken to custody and there had been a massacre of people of East Pakistan by the Pakistani army killing people men, women
and children and this could only be compared to Jalianwalabag massacre by the British. A ninemonth long War of Liberation made the country free of Pakistani rule and Bangladesh became the single nation in the world made free as a country through her fight for mother tongue.

(The writer is Pro-Vice Chancellor, Northern University Bangladesh.  Formerly Visiting Scholar, Divinity School, Harvard University)

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