In India, the idea might sound utterly ridiculous but a revolution for the right to speak in a language is encrypted in history. Post partition, the British colony India became two independent nations: India and Pakistan. But those who carved the boundaries left a serious flaw in their design. The dominion of India was sandwiched between East and West Pakistan. It is a different story that East Pakistan, now, is known as Bangladesh and is a free nation in itself.
After creation, Pakistan decided to house its government, law enforcing bodies and secretariat in West Pakistan. Then Education Minister of Pakistan decided that Urdu would be the National Language of the country. However people living in East Bengal vehemently opposed this decision. Students were at the forefront of this movement and Dhaka University became the epicentre of the protests.
While the agitation gained momentum, Queid E Azam Pakistan, Mr Jinnah himself committed that the matter would be looked into seriously. A committee was formed which suggested that Bengali be written in Urdu script! That decision too met with strong opposition. “Ora Amader bhasha kere nite chaye (They want to steal us off our language)” was the chant across East Pakistan. After Jinnah’s death, his successor backtracked on the suggestions of the committee and argued in favour of “Urdu only” policy.
On 21 February 1952, an “all out protest” was announced in Dhaka. Students clashed with police and the armed forces and Section 144 was imposed in the city. A group of students marched towards the Bangladesh Legislative Assembly and met with stiff resistance while trying to enter the premises. Police opened fire and four students Abdus Salam, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abul Barkat and Abdul Jabbar led down their lives. Ever since, 21 February is commemorated as Bhasha Shahid Divas. The martyrdom of the four young men at the prime of their age bore fruit finally in 1954 when Bengali was granted status of National Language in Pakistan.
Bhasha Mancha in Kolkata
Embracing new cultures and assimilating new languages is a process by which civilizations progress. It is but natural that with time the fervour of linguistic nationalism has become quiet. However on days like this we must stop, take time out and think. Of our roots, our heritage and our future. We must move forward but carry the legacy of the four Bhasha Shahid with us. While loving one’s own language is important, we can never demean someone else’s. And some extremist factions in India definitely must take a lesson from the four brave souls.
“Amar Bhaiyer Rokte Ranga 21se February, Aami ki bhulte pari?”
Written by: Agnivo Niyogi for Team M3.tv