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The first battle

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21st-Feb-2018       
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Prof. Zahurul Alam :
Our Liberation War was a logical consequence Independence movement of the people of Bangladesh. Latter by itself was a combination of various movements, starting from 1947 in response to Pakistani repression and exploitation. Those broadly included Language Movement, Education Movement of 1962, Six points Movement of 1966, Mass Uprising of 1969, and the Liberation War of 1971. The initial movements of the people of East Bengal hardly had separation as an agenda. Bengal in 1947 was not yet thinking about independence, self-emancipation or even provincial autonomy. Despite already evident deception, vandalism and treachery of the West Pakistani rulers the Bengalis yet tried to attain their rights and equality being integral part of Pakistan. The ill motives of the military-political alliance of Pakistan aimed at instituting colonial relationships under the mask of 'religious brotherhood' became clear already in 1948 with the declaration of Mohammad Ali Jinnah that Urdu would be the only State Language of Pakistan. Neither Jinnah, nor his companions could ever justify the relevance of Urdu to be the only State Language of Pakistan.
Of the 75 million people of Pakistan at that juncture Bengali was the mother tongue of 42 million, while Urdu was never a native language of any of the nations of Pakistan. Bengali language by 1947 was one of the prominent languages of the world with first in Asia Noble Prize for literature conferred to great Bengali poet Rabindra Nath Tagore in 1913. The renaissance of Bengali literature continued with the emergence of Nazrul, Jibonananda, Bankim, Swarat Chandra, Shukanto and many other geniuses.
Apparently the Pakistani rulers were least knowledgeable about the rich cultural heritage of Bengal and most of them used to be blindfolded by the curtain of their vested interests that could only be materialized via discrimination, autocracy and conspiracy. These limitations led the political course of Pakistan to conspiracies, unconstitutional power captures and oppression. Seven Prime Ministers, four Governor-Generals, and one President were forcefully removed during the first decade of Pakistan. Of the 23 year East-West alliance, the country experienced 13 years of direct military rule. Despite the fact that the people of Bengal supported the formation of separate states in India based on Lahore Resolution of 1940 more than any other nation of the Sub-continent, they became the worst victims of the evil politics of newly emerged Pakistan during their 23 years alliance with West Pakistan. "The history of Pakistan movement suggests that all provinces of Pakistan except Bengal and Sindh rejected the idea of creating Pakistan. Bengal was the first to support the creation of Pakistan and it was the first to separate itself by correcting the mistake that was done in 1947.
Mr. Jinnah had the opportunity to visit East Bengal only once in his lifetime and that single visit of March 1948 yielded adverse results both for him and for Pakistan. His speech of 21 March at the Race Course clearly demonstrated intolerant attitude of the political elites of Pakistan towards East Bengal. The demand of the people of Bengal for recognizing their rights of language was explained by Jinnah as the 'activities of subservient elements' against the unity of Pakistan. Jinnah even mentioned that the demands concerning Bangla language was nothing but conspiracy by the communists and fifth columnists to destroy Pakistan! Jinnah declared on that day: 'Let me make it very clear to you that the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of Pakistan...the state language of Pakistan shall be Urdu.'
Two days later on 24 March at Carzon Hall of Dhaka University Jinnah reaffirmed his earlier arguments while speaking at a Convocation ceremony. This time Jinnah expressed his views even more aggressively. He branded all those who initiated and continued language movement as the enemies of Pakistan and traitors. Jinnah linked the language issue with provincialism and branded that as an activity of the Indian agents. He said: 'Our enemies, … have set about actively encouraging provincialism in the hope of weakening Pakistan and thereby facilitating the re-absorption of this province into the Indian Dominion'. As historical events at later stages of development of Pakistan's politics demonstrate the saga of Indian aggression continued to play important role in Pakistani politics. The military rulers tirelessly instigated anti-Indian propaganda linking that with religious sensitivities of the people of both the wings of the country to divert attention of the people from internal deficiencies in governance, democracy and human rights.
The Bengali society, including the politicians, academics and the students severely condemned Jinnah's remarks at the Race Course. Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq suggested that Jinnah was rude and wrong. On the other hand by labelling the Bengalis enemies of Pakistan, Jinnah clearly put a psychological demarcation between Bengal and the western provinces of Pakistan. The people of Bengal expected matured and balanced attitude from the founder of Pakistan regarding language issue, but in vain. The leader clearly was bias in his approach to State Language. Thus already in 1948 Jinnah linked religion and patriotism with Urdu and dismissed the idea of a parallel second State Language, which the people of Bengal suggested to overcome the stalemate.
However, Mr. Jinnah's aggressive connotations in Dhaka did not remain unanswered. In his whole career as a lawyer and a politician Jinnah never had bitterer experience that he experienced on 24 March at Dhaka University. His utterances were interrupted by strong and determinant protests from the audience. The students completely dismissed Jinnah's suggestion of Urdu as the only State Language of Pakistan. Many students stood up on their seats and recorded strong protest against Jinnah's declaration. Despite that Jinnah continued his speech by repeating the same thing that he had been pronouncing so far.
Aggressive and non-compromising attitude of the 'Great Leader of Pakistan' towards the Bengalis broke the myth and illusion of 'brotherhood and equality'. Jinnah's March 1948 visit to Bengal was in fact an acid test of the relationship between the people of Bengal and the West Pakistani rulers. It was clear to the people of this land that West Pakistanis would not even share a bit from their own with Bengal. The activities of the Pakistani rulers in subsequent years would demonstrate that the Pakistani politicians and the military rulers never considered Bengal more than a colony meant for exploitation and domination. While Jinnah and his successors would undertake all out measures to punish the 'boisterous' Bengalis in the following years, whenever and by whatever means possible, the Bengalis advocating for the creation of Pakistan in the pre-1947 period now started cherishing the seed of self emancipation expressed in their defiance throughout the subsequent history of its alliance with Pakistan. The 24 March of 1948 unveiled the fact that the Bengalis were a separate nation who had very little in common with the West Pakistanis apart from religion.
During his Dhaka visit in 1948 Jinnah did not have any meeting with the prominent politicians of Bengal : A.K. Fazlul Haque, Suhrawardy or Bhashani. This attitude of Jinnah also demonstrated his lack of respect to the politicians of Bengal who were once his comrades. This was demonstrative of his unwillingness to recognize political strength of Bengal beyond subservient Muslim League mediocre in Dhaka. Jinnah was too confident about his ability to materialize his diktat in Bengal as he had been doing so far with all others in the Sub-Continent.
In the meantime in Dhaka the students formed the Shorbodolio Rashtrobhasha Songram Porishod (SRSP). Prior to the formation of SRSP on 1 September 1947, immediately after the emergence of Pakistan, Tamaddun Majlish was formed under the guidance of Principal Abul Kashem. This forum launched a vigorous campaign against the ill motives of the government against Bangla language. Apart from discussion meetings in and outside Dhaka University campus the Tamaddun Majlish collected thousands of signatures in favor of their demand for recognizing Bangla as the second State Language of Pakistan, and submitted a memorandum to the government. In the Parliament Member of Legislative Assembly Dhirendra Nath Datta proposed legislation to allow members to speak in Bangla and allow its use for official purposes. But amidst opposition by the radical Muslim Leaguers, especially by the then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, the proposal was defeated. Khawaja Nazimuddin, the Chief Minister of Bengal at the instruction of Muhammad Ali Jinnah tried to reach an agreement with the Shorbodolio Rashtrobhasha Songram Porishod prior to latter's visit to Bengal. Notably, Mr. Jinnah was aware of the language issue from his prior experience in Lucknow in 1937 while the Bengali delegates opposed the proposal for making Urdu as the lingua franca for the Indian Muslims. Prior to his visit Jinnah expected that Khawaja would be able to sign an agreement in favour of Urdu. However, Khawaja could not convince the members of the Shorbodolio Rashtrobhasha Songram Porishod and agreed to all their demands that clearly did not satisfy Jinnah. Later, at the instruction of Jinnah Nazimuddin denied most of the points agreed upon three weeks earlier and declared the agreement null and void.
Contrary to the agreement Nazimuddin moved his resolution involving only one point: to grant Bangla the status of an official language of Bengal provided that English is dropped. This was a clear violation of the signed with the Porishod agreement. The adopted resolution proclaimed that i) Bengali shall be adopted as the official language for replacing English in the province of East Bengal; and it will be implemented as soon as the practical difficulties are resolved; and ii) The medium of instruction in educational institutions in East Bengal shall, as far as possible, be Bengali, or the mother tongue of the majority of scholars in the institutions.
Jinnah's meeting with the Porishod in the evening of 24 March was fruitless since he refused to accept the demand for Bengali as one of the State Languages of Pakistan and declined to accept Bengali as the second State Language of Pakistan. The Porishod members were also unmoved to Mr. Jinnah's single State Language proposal. Till the last day of his life Jinnah was committed to his extraneous designs. At the end of his Bengal visit of 1948, Jinnah reiterated his idea of Urdu as the only State Language of Pakistan over Radio from Karachi.
Historical evidences clearly demonstrate that the process of disintegration of Pakistan started with the distrust and conflict perpetrated by the first and last visit of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The policy of cultural, economic and political disparity between East and West Pakistan that Pakistani rulers proliferated as ingredients of its unity virtually served as the main reasons for its destruction. Those were the reasons behind subsequent popular movements in Bengal leading to the War of Liberation in 1971.
Thus, the main reason for breaking of Pakistan lied in its unusual emergence that tried to create an artificial pledge between two nations that had greater dissimilarities than bonds. The strong national components that had already been created in Bengal based on language, culture, custom and economic and social characteristics were not to be removed by an alien culture in the name of religious resemblance. West Pakistan's hegemony instigated the differences between the two wings by amplifying antagonisms. The mask of religious brotherhood appeared to be too primitive and crude for the Bengalis who had much higher cultural and intellectual level than the Pakistanis supposed.
Jinnah died in September 1948, six months after his speech at the Race Course.  But the political philosophy that he planted and nurtured was embraced by all his successors.  All Pakistani politicians always suspected conspiracies in the legitimate demands of the people of Bengal, when those concerned rights, democracy and equality. Despite considerable changes in the leadership structure of Pakistan's politics following Mohammad Ali Jinnah's death in September 1948, no positive development was visible in the language policy of Pakistan. Khawaja Nazimuddin the non-Bengali Muslim Leaguer from Dhaka became the Governor General, while Nurul Amin was appointed as the Chief Minister of East Bengal.  
Although the language issue remained in a lie dormant position during 1948-1951, the people of Bengal never abandoned their demand for recognizing Bangla as a State Language of Pakistan. Dhaka University Central Student's Union (DUCSU) accorded a reception to Liaquat Ali Khan the Prime Minister of Pakistan on 27 November 1948 during his 10 day visit to Bengal. The memorandum that was presented to Ali Khan said: "We have accepted Urdu as our Lingua Franca but we also feel very strongly that, Bengali by virtue of its being the official language of the premier province and also the language of the 56 percent of the population of the state should be given its rightful place as one of the State Languages together with Urdu. Otherwise, we in East Pakistan shall always be under a permanent handicap and disadvantage". Liaquat Ali Khan remained unmoved to the reiterated demand for recognizing Bangla as a state language. Thus the successors of Jinnah remained true to the distressing philosophy of their deceased leader.
One of the most devastating conspiracies against Bangla language was the attempt to replace Bangla scripts by the Arabian. The proposal for so called 'Arabization of Bangla for the sake of Islam' was placed by Fazlur Rahman, the Education Minister of Pakistan in the All Pakistan Education Conference of Teachers held on 27 December 1948 in Karachi. The supporters of 'Arabization' felt that all the 'regional' languages needed to be written in Arabic script to upheld Pakistan's national unity and solidarity and to promote advancement of general education in Pakistan.
Thus, from the very beginning of Pakistan's emergence, the Pakistani politicians and the military that captured state power several times and remained in power for long years always justified all their ill motives and unfair actions by linking those with the interest of Islam. They pretended to be the saviors of Islam who believed that they had the 'responsibility' to oppress people (of Pakistan) in the name of Pakistan's solidarity, unity, freedom, independence and Islam. The life styles of these self-proclaimed 'saviors' of Islam had hardly anything to do with Islam though. The language issue and the issues of democracy, rights and governance were always looked at by these policy makers and power capturers from predetermined perverted viewpoints. For this reason it always was difficult to protect rights of the people of all provinces and ensure equity and justice within the frame work of Pakistan.
In February 1949 the Education Advisory Board of Pakistan recommended use of only Arabic script for all languages of Pakistan. Notably, the proposed change implied change of scripts of Bangla language only, because all other languages of Pakistan already used Arabic script. The Pakistanis started openly spread strange anecdotes regarding Bangla language saying that Bangla literature and even alphabet are full of idolatry! The Pakistanis saw great future of our language through Arabization. In response, however, the agitated students of Bengal sent protest memorandum to the Education Advisory Board branding proposed Arabization as an attack on Bengali language, literature and culture.
The next conspiracy against Bangla was step of the government to edit the style and diction of Bangla language. In 1949 the East Bengal Government formed 'East Bengal Bhasha Committee' presided by Moulana Akram Khan and 16 other members. The idea was to get a recommendation from the committee in favor of 'Arabization' of Bangla. The Committee submitted its report by December 1950, which was published in 1958. The report was another step towards 'Arabization' of Bangla and was rejected by the people of Bengal. The design by the government to 'desanskritize' the language by replacing Sanskrit words by Urdu, Arabic and Persian as suggested in the report of the Bhasha Committee of Akram Khan was another provocation against Bangla. Each step of the Pakistan government concerning Bangla language appeared as a new conspiracy with ambitious political designs to strengthen West Pakistan's political, social, economic and cultural domination over Bengal. Thus the already sharpened antagonism between the Bengalis and the rest of Pakistan multiplied by many fold by 1951.
Paying little or no importance to the dissatisfaction of the people of Bengal the government of Pakistan established around 20 adult education centers throughout Bengal for teaching Bangla in Arabic script. Initiatives were taken to print and distribute free of cost Bangla reference books in Arabic script. Awards were declared to writers of Bangla books in Arabic script.
The attempted 'Arabization' of Bangla undoubtedly was a senseless design of the government. Even at the time 'when Persian was the state language in this region, Bangla was written with Bengali script. It was so during British period when English became the state language' wrote Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah on 5 February 1952.  Even after the recognition of Bangla as the State Language of Pakistan this senseless endeavor did not stop. During Ayub regime the anti-Bangla efforts by the government and Muslim League even intensified, which in turn prompted anti-autocracy movements in Bengal. Pakistani regimes' historical mistakes put nail after nail in the coffin of Pakistan throughout the history of Bengal's alliance with Pakistan.
In fact the discriminatory language policy of the Pakistani rulers aimed at establishing foundation for their long term economic and social dominance over East Bengal by making the educated and potentially educated people of this wing incompetent for public services, business and politics. Opposing such motive the intelligentsia of Bengal continued to organize mass awareness programs, political and social rallies and gatherings throughout the country. On 31 December 1948 in 'Purbo Pakistan Shahity to Shommelon' Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah made clear declaration regarding the composition of Bangla society: "It is reality that we are Hindus and Muslims, but the greater reality is that we are Bengalis... Mother- nature has put such indelible mark on our appearance and language that no camouflage of Hindu and Muslim external markings could hide this basic reality. We need as free citizens of post-independent East Pakistan a properly developed literature covering every branch of it. Such a literature will be invariably in the mother-tongue Bengali. No nation can thrive on literature in the world written in a foreign tongue." This important declaration was perhaps one of the most important expressions of Bengali nationalism.
Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah's declaration was completely approved by the progressive section of Muslim League, especially its emerging leadership including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The formation of Awami Muslim League in 1949 and subsequent nationalist political movements in East Bengal and East Pakistan, landslide victory of Jukto Front in the 1954 elections were demonstrative of the fact that Bengali Nationalism became the most important political stronghold of the Bengalis.
Strengthened Bengali nationalism eventually led to the humiliating defeat of Muslim League in the 1954 elections in East Bengal. However, the defeated Pakistani politicians instead of learning any lesson from the downfall started hatching 'palace conspiracy' against the Bengali nation. These historical mistakes committed by the West Pakistanis propelled disintegration of Pakistan at the end of the day.   
Started as a cultural movement our language movement eventually transformed into a strong political movement that led to all subsequent nationalistic, democratic and rights movements. This movement reached its culminating point on 21 February 1952 when the streets of Dhaka were blood-stained. The people of all walks of life fearlessly came out to sacrifice their lives to uphold the sanctity of their mother language and thus created a new chapter in human history. Simultaneously, the first chapter of our Liberation War was written in blood.

(The writer is President, Governance and Rights Centre (GRC),  E-mail: zalam111@yahoo.com)

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