Bangla in the challenge of diversification21 February 2023
Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed :
From 1858 to 1947, it was a part of the British Raj under brutal and exploitative British colonial rule. Decades of anti-colonial build-up led to the creation of the Mountbatten Plan, where the British decided to split colonial India into 2 independent states - the division being determined by religion. The Partition of 1947 resulted in the creation of the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan - a splitting of Hindus and Muslims. The Dominion incorporated newly established West (present-day Pakistan) and East (present-day Bangladesh) Pakistan. East and West were lumped together as a single country, ignoring the 1600km and the differences in culture, ethnicity, customs - and language - between them.
Consequently, most decision makers and personnel in positions of authority came from West Pakistan. At an education summit in 1947 in Karachi, the West-Pakistani dominated government established that Urdu would be the only language used in media and taught in schools. Furthermore, Bangla was removed from being an approved school subject, and was taken off official currency and stamps. This gave rise to what has since become known as the Bengali Language Movement - grassroots organizing to fight systemic cultural and linguistic discrimination and oppression. The Governor-General of Pakistan, widely recognized as the Father of West Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Dhaka during the height of political unrest and sought to squash the Movement. He stated that the promoters of Bangla were seeking to divide Pakistani Muslims, calling them "enemies of Pakistan".
The Language Movement came to a head in 1952 when the Pakistani leadership again reiterated that only Urdu would be the official language of Pakistan. This declaration caused uproar in East Bengal and led to the declaration of widespread protests to be held on February 21st by various student groups. In response to this protest call, the Pakistani government prohibited the gathering of more than 3 people. Yet students defiantly began gathering on the morning of February 21st at the University of Dhaka and faced-off with armed police who awaited them. Police fired tear gas to ward off students as they attempted to break through police lines and arrested several students. These arrests sparked further protests, with demonstrators gathering at the East Bengal Legislative Assembly seeking to have their voices heard by politicians. During an attempt to storm into the legislature, several student protesters were shot and killed by police. Inevitably, the deaths of these students sparked furor and led to further demonstrations and widespread disorder across the capital over the next few days; adults and working professionals from all walks of life joined the students in protest of Pakistani oppression.
The Bengali Language Movement continued for years after the events of February 21st, 1952. It continued to gain momentum and eventually catalyzed the rise of nationalist movements in East Bengal, leading to the declaration of independence of Bangladesh. The Bengali Language Movement sought to have the linguistic and cultural rights of an entire population recognized and respected. In that same vein and in honour of it, on the 17th of November 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared February 21st as International Mother Language Day - and was ratified by the UN General Assembly a decade later - "to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world".
The basis of Bengali nationalism is the 52' language movement. The importance of the language movement behind the establishment of independent Bangladesh is undeniable. There is a historical background behind the Bengali language movement. Even though Bengali is the mother tongue of the majority of the people of Pakistan, attempts were made to impose Urdu as the state language in East Bengal in a completely undemocratic manner. Because of which a massive movement for the establishment of Bengali as the state language began on 2 September 1947 with the formation of 'Tamuddun Majlis'. With the initiative of some teachers and students of Dhaka University, the final success of that movement came on 21 February of 1952.
The implications of the language movement were multifaceted and far-reaching in the social, cultural and political life of Pakistan and later on in Bangladesh from 1971 onwards. The language movement began in 1948 (though the origin of the issue could be traced further back in time as many historians did) and came to a closure with the event of February 21, 1952, when Bangalee youths laid their life for the demand of Bangla to be one of the state languages of Pakistan. Though the language movement had begun in some form in late 1947 and early 1948, the movement of 1952, despite the continuation of the same demand, was different in its vastness, significance and the involvement of people.
The supreme sacrifice of the martyrs of the language movement on February 21 (1952) became an epitome of the inspiration for sustaining self- consciousness and dignity as a nation. It established the only nation in the globe which is named after its language, Bangladesh. February 21 was such an epoch making event that it has been immortalized by global recognition as International Mother Language Day. In 2000, UNESCO declared February 21 as International Mother Language Day for the whole world to celebrate, in tribute to the Language Movement and the ethno-linguistic rights of people around the world. We as a nation feel proud today that Bangladesh, Bangla and the supreme sacrifice of our language movement are being pronounced, much-admired, gratefully remembered and honored worldwide.
It is no doubt that Bengali language and nationalism are compliments to each other. Again in regards to the Use of Bengali languages we have its challenges. The language movement was a student movement. The students protested, the students marched and the students went to jail. Our expectation to the new generation is that the students who led the language movement in Bangladesh will be conscious of establishing the truth and will strive to establish the glorious history for getting the status as an official language of the United Nations.
Diversification and globalization of language are complements to each other. Though, the Bengali language is facing its challenges in globalization and diversification. However, it is in the process of globalization in the midst of problems. Bengali language got its identity after struggle of bloodshed and movement which is rare in the world history. And finally UNESCO declared 21st Feb. as the international mother language day. We hope that one day Bengali language will be also declared as one of the official languages of UN. and survive prestigiously in the world arena.
(The writer is former Deputy Director General, Bangladesh Ansar and VDP).