Bangladesh India Social Issues Top

International Mother Language Day – A Tribute


February 21st – this date holds a significant position in the history of mankind. This day is celebrated as the International Mother Language Day, first announced by UNESCO in 1999. Since 2000, the day has been observed as the International Mother Language Day to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, and multilingualism. Its observance was also formally recognized by the UN General Assembly in 2008 as the International Year of Languages.

The International Mother Language Day traces its origin in present day Bangladesh. It represents a day in 1952 when demonstrating for the recognition of their mother language Bengali, many students were killed by police near the Dhaka high court, the capital of present day Dhaka.

go The Background

However, the roots of this movement can be traced back to 1947 when creation of Pakistan was imminent. A debate took place in the months of June-July between the proponents and opponents, of Urdu as the “only” state language of Pakistan. It was Dr. Mohammed Shahidullah, a renowned Bengali scholar who vehemently protested the advocacy. In a thought-provoking article titled Pakistaner Bhasha Shamashya (The Language Problem in Pakistan), Shahidullah emphasized that with more than 55% population speaking Bengali, Bengali ideally deserves to be the state language. Various progressive political forces started mobilizing the support.

In 1947, once Pakistan became a reality, the language controversy surfaced and this time the protests were more severe. Anti-Bengali policies of the government began to be frowned upon. 1948 witnessed the foundation of East Pakistan Students’ League (EPSL) that played a crucial role in the Bengali Language Movement. Agitations continued to grow with students becoming a significant part of the movement.

Incidents on 1952 are quite significant; several students of East Pakistan rose up in protest against the Pakistani government for declaring Urdu as the national language. On 21st February 1952 they assembled at the premises of Dhaka University;  police gathered and unrest grew; many students died while defending their mother tongue. Unrest continued to rage across East Pakistan until in 1954 the provincial assembly elections were held. In 1954, the constituent assembly granted official status to Bengali and Bengali was recognised as the second official language of Pakistan.

Although the question of language was settled for the time being, Bengalees from East Pakistan continued to be under-represented. As economic imbalances continued to grow, Bengali ethnic sentiments continued to grow as well. One significant demand was East Pakistan be called Bangladesh that subsequently led to the Bangladesh Liberation War.

The Language Movement had a huge cultural impact on the Bengali Society. It has inspired the development, conservation and celebration of the Bengali language, literature and culture.

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