The significance of 21st day in February is close to the heart of every Bangladeshi.
When Pakistan was formed in 1947, it had two regions, East Pakistan (the present day Bangladesh) and West Pakistan, (the present-day Pakistan) split along cultural, geographical, and linguistic lines.
In 1948, the Pakistan Government ordained Urdu as the sole national language, sparking extensive protests among the Bengali-speaking majority of East Pakistan.
Facing rising tensions and mass discontent, the Government outlawed public meetings and rallies. The students of the University of Dhaka and other political activists organised a protest on February 21, 1952. The movement reached its climax when the police killed student demonstrators. The deaths provoked widespread civil unrest throughout the country.
The exact number of deaths caused by the Language Movement was never determined because the Government suppressed all information.
Several witnesses confirmed that the Police picked up some dead bodies from the streets, while the Pakistan Army soldiers seized some bodies from the Dhaka Medical College morgue at night.
Two brave students of Dhaka Medical College dared to follow the army personnel, leading to the discovery of the graves of a few martyrs. Some of them were identified as Abdul Awal, Abdul Barkat, Abdul Jabbar, Abdus Salam, Rafiquddin Ahmed and Shafiur Rahman.
It is because of their sacrifice and dedication that we are able to keep our beloved mother tongue ‘Bangla’ alive.
The Language Movement catalysed the assertion of Bengali national identity in Pakistan and became a forerunner to Bengali Nationalist ideals, including the Six-Point Movement, leading to the War of Liberation in 1971.
In Bangladesh, February 21 is National Holiday, observed as Language Movement Day, a national holiday. Leaders including the President, Prime Minister, Ministers, foreign dignitaries and thousands of common people assemble at the ‘Shaheed Minar,’ located in the heart of the Capital City Dhaka.
It was a moment of glory and gratification when UNESCO declared (on November 17, 1999) that the world will observe February 21 as International Mother Language Day (known in Bangladesh as Mohaan Ekushey) as a tribute to the Language Movement.
The Auckland based Bangladesh New Zealand Friendship Society Inc (BNZFS) will observe the ‘International Mother Language Day’ on February 19 at Mt Albert War Memorial Hall, from 7 pm.
On behalf of our Association, I invite all Indian Newslink readers to join us at the event, which will include cultural performances.
Sadaf Wahid is Treasurer of the Bangladesh New Zealand Friendship Society.