by Omer Selim Sher in Ottawa
Some great days sometimes bring the possibility of epoch. 21st (Ekushey) February is such a day in the national life of Bengalis. This day, marked by the memory of defending the dignity of the Bengali language, shines brightly in the blazing flames of struggle and glows with the glory of bloody self-sacrifice.
This day is not just a faded date of history, it is a day that is constantly moving, vibrant and significant in the course of our national history. The consciousness that was born in the Bengali nation through the bloody struggle of the historical language movement centered on this day was an indestructible consciousness.
Ekushey’scognitions was born in a historical context. In 1947, the existence and destiny of the people of East Bengal were linked with the artificial and communal state of Pakistan in a long journey of ethnic, social and cultural development.
Although Bengali was the spoken language of 57% of the people in Pakistan at that time, the Pakistani ruling class was involved in a conspiracy to make Urdu the state language of 8% of the population. In 1947, Urdu was declared the only state language. East Bengal roared in protest. Accumulated protests began to erupt demanding that Bengali be made the state language. Between 1949 and 1951, the demand for the status of Bengali language became stronger. That became the main issue of the political movement in East Bengal.
At the beginning of 1952, the movement became strong. On the 21st of February of that year, it was decided to hold a ‘State Language Day’ and a general strike at the demand of the state language Bengal. To suppress the movement, the Pakistani government issued section 144 banning public gatherings, rallies and processions. Police opened fire when the students violated Section 144 in an organized manner. Salam, Rafiq, Jabbar, Barkat and many others were martyred.
The whole of East Bengal erupted in protest. The next day, the Shaheed Minar was built in memory of the martyrs. When the police demolished it, the Shaheed Minar was rebuilt. This Shaheed Minar is a symbol of Ekushey’s mourning, struggle and oath. It has become the driving force of secular, democratic, progressive and nationalist movement in our national life.
Ekushey’s consciousness was born in the Bengali nationalism through that historic language movement of 1952. This consciousness is the seed mantra of self-sacrifice in our national life. Later, the language movement has acted as the driving force of every mass movement. It was through this movement that the first organized struggle of the disenfranchised people of East Bengal came to light
Later, that movement has acted as the inspiration of every mass movement. The inauguration of the self-awareness and self-identity of the Bengalis at that time centered on the language movement took shape in the struggle for independence and freedom through various movements and struggles. Since then, we have repeatedly crossed the cycle of crisis along the path of Ekushey. We got the seeds of our liberation war from the great language movement.
The significance of Ekushey’s consciousness is multifaceted. First of all, crystal clarity has given twenty-one to the national consciousness of Bengalis. Twenty-one has inspired us to unite in a national consciousness against the ethnic exploitation and oppression of the Bengalis by the West Pakistani rulers. It has made us aware, active and motivated in secular, democratic and progressive political consciousness. Ekushey’s consciousness gradually turned into the spirit of freedom.
Second, Ekushey’s contribution to the discovery of the nature of Bengali nationality is outstanding. Through the language movement, narrow religious bigotry was overshadowed by ethnic consciousness. That consciousness has made us aware that we are Bengalis. We know that Bangla language is the promise of our existence, Bangladesh is our country. Inspired by the spirit of Ekushey, we have fought for the liberation of our identity, our address and patriotism in 1966, 1969 and 1971. Independence has come along the path of Ekushey.
Since 1953, while celebrating Martyrs’ Day, the progressive activists of the time have been carrying out programs like hoisting black flags, barefoot morning procession, laying wreaths at martyrs’ graves and martyrs’ minarets, singing Ekushey songs in the morning procession, painting alpana at Shaheed Minar etc. These programs have become a symbol of the renaissance of the Bengali national consciousness. Now these are part of our cultural heritage.Ekushey’s consciousness and spirit has had a far-reaching impact on our literary arena. Has produced innumerable literary materials.
A special aspect of Ekushey’sspirit was the spread of Bengali language in all walks of national life. This means that men and women of all ages, from children to adolescents, will become proficient in Bengali; Bengali will be used in primary to higher education. Bengali language will also be introduced in the high court. The constitution of Bangladesh clearly states that the state language of the republic is Bengali. But this aspiration for the introduction of Bengali at all levels has not yet been realized. On the contrary, in many cases the Bengali language is being neglected by the Bengalis.
Possession of English language is increasing in the field of education and office-court, business and commerce, media and advertisement. The importance of Bengali is gradually diminishing as a result of the expansion of English medium educational institutions and the introduction of English lessons in general education. On the other hand, due to the impact of globalization, the influence of foreigners is increasing in our mentality. Its symptoms are seen in the use of foreign language in naming various institutions including educational institutions, use of foreign language in wedding or birthday invitations, mixing of foreign words in daily conversation, predominance of foreign language in advertisements and circulars.
In fact, many of us have forgotten that mother tongue development is inextricably linked with socio-economic development. And perhaps that is why our backwardness in this place is becoming more and more evident. Many of us are forgetting that the basis of Bengali identity is its linguistic identity. I have forgotten that if the Bengali language is not given due importance in the socio-economic life, its power will gradually weaken.
Despite these setbacks, we must not forget that Ekushey’s consciousness is the motivation for us to overcome all kinds of obstacles. It should be remembered that the great Ekushey February, which is associated with the immortal memory of the language movement, is no longer a blood-colored day in our history, it has now received world recognition. Received the status of International Mother Language Day. For us, this is an outstanding glory and an inexhaustible inspiration.
In fact, 21st February is our pride;21st is our innumerable source of inspiration. In the development of our cultural spirit and consciousness, immortal 21st is simultaneously history and tradition, glorious songs and life bloods. Independent-sovereign Bangladesh is the product of Ekushey’s spirit and consciousness. That is why the indestructible spirit of21st February inspires us even today. We have to keep this spirit and consciousness alive and move forward on the path of all kinds of welfare and progress of the nation. The Bengali language must be spread in all walks of life. We have to go ahead to keep the flag of 21st February spirit high.
Omer Selim Sher is a retired Professor of Economics at Algonquin College, Ottawa, Canada, and a researcher on South Asian politics.