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International Mother Language Day History


Do you know the history of the International Mother Language Day movement? Friends, this information may be known to many. February 21 is celebrated every year with great pomp and ceremony as the International Mother Language Day. However, the history behind this day may not be known to many today. The United Nations has launched a day to unify the diverse languages ​​and cultural diversity of countries around the world that are truly worth mentioning. Why we celebrate this day with so much importance, it is very important for us as Bengali speaking people to know the real truth of it.

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History of the International Mother Language Day movement


Until UNESCO declared this day as International Mother Language Day in 1999, this day was observed as Martyr’s Day in Bangladesh. International Mother Language Day is also known in Bengali as Language Martyr’s Day. An unprecedented movement centered on language took place in East Pakistan. Which is now known as Bangladesh. And it was through that movement that the Bengali nation was united. After winning that battle, some Bengalis established the status of Bengali language.


Sowing the first seeds of the language movement


Friends, the history of this language movement is known to many of us Bengalis and Bangladeshis. But there is a history of many more struggles behind setting the stage for this movement.

The language movement has been centered on the mother tongue since the birth of the state of Pakistan, combining the ethnicity of two different languages ​​in two lands located at a distance of about two thousand kilometers, and this language movement is considered as the first step towards the creation of Bangladesh.


The beginning of the language movement


The controversy over language actually started before India was divided on the basis of biracial theory in 1947. Exactly one month after the partition of India, on 15 September, there was a demand for recognition of Bengali as one of the languages ​​in East Pakistan. Along with Urdu and English, Bengali language should be recognized. To that end, a statement was issued in the East Pakistan Parliament on 23 February 1948 on behalf of the opposition parties.

Language warriors Abdul Matin and Ahmad Rafiq wrote in their book Language Movement-History and Significance – “The first battle was mainly confined to the field of literature and culture”. Abdul Matin and Ahmad Rafiq wrote, “The language movement is not an isolated event. It started decades before the original movement began and worked behind the secular nationalism of Bengali .”

At that time Bengali writers, teachers and politicians had different views on the pros and cons of Bengali, Urdu, Arabic and English.

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The beginning of the language debate


In 1947, Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed, the Vice Chancellor of Aligarh University, proposed to make Urdu the state language of Pakistan. Then the controversy over language reawakened. By that time the self-exploration of the Muslim Bengalis had begun.

After the formation of the state of Pakistan was confirmed, the Urdu-Bangla debate came to a head again. An editorial in the important Millat magazine of the time stated, “There can be no greater slavery than to accept a language other than the mother tongue as the state language.”


Accumulated hatred


Within a few months of partition in 1947, Urdu and English were used, excluding Bengali, from Pakistan’s first currency, postage stamps, train tickets, postcards, etc. Following the announcement of the Pakistan Public Service Commission, a protest rally of students and intellectuals was held in Dhaka.

Bengali officials of the commission staged a protest demanding the use of Bengali language in government work. The Chief Minister of East Pakistan at the time of the formation of Pakistan, and later the Governor General of Pakistan, Khwaja Nazimuddin, told the Legislative Assembly in 1948 that these had been printed before the language debate began. Although not everyone accepted his statement.


Economic and political context

Gradually, economics and politics became part of that debate. In 1947, Abdul Haq, a writer and journalist in the daily Azadi, wrote, “As soon as Urdu is declared the state language, every Urdu-educated person will qualify for the job, and every Bengali-speaking person will become unfit for the job.”

Bengali-speaking people were also concerned about the cultural differences between the people of the two territories located at a distance of two thousand kilometers. Many were wondering how much religion could connect them.


The cause of the manifestation of the language movement


1. Jinnah’s dictatorial attitude

In the state of Pakistan at that time, Bengali speakers were more majority than Urdu speakers. Even then, on a visit to East Pakistan on March 21, 1948, Muhammad Ali Jinnah made it clear at a rally at the Racecourse Ground that ‘Urdu would be the only state language of Pakistan’.

Many present at the rally immediately protested. This declaration can be said to be the beginning of breaking the dream of Bengalis about the new state. Jinnah has been adamant from the outset about establishing Urdu as the state language.

2. Distrust of Bengali speakers

The motive behind making Urdu the state language was to establish political and economic domination over the Bengalis and to exploit them. Fear of distrust towards Pakistan was created in the minds of Bengalis.

3. Cultural differences

Language and cultural differences were becoming more pronounced. The idea of ​​nationalism of Bengalis, not religion, began to become clear. On the other hand, the fact that the Urdu-speaking people of that time considered Bengali culture as ‘Hinduani’ is another reason for their distaste for Bengali language.


The first stage of the movement

Then, on 21 March 1948, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah of Pakistan, at a function at Dhaka University, came to Bangladesh and directly refuted that demand. He said that no language other than Urdu would be recognized as the state language in Pakistan. And those who make such claims will be branded as enemies of this country.

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Formation of Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad

At that time, the intellectuals expressed concern that if Urdu was used instead of the mother tongue, the next generation of Bengali speakers would become uneducated and the very existence of Bengali language would be jeopardized. This is considered to be a big blow to the practice of mother tongue independently.

The feeling of anger in the minds of Bengalis about these things has been building since then. Towards the end of that year, ‘Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad’ was formed.

Nurul Haq Bhuiyan of Tamaddun Majlis, an Islamic cultural organization at the time, then MP Samsul Haq, Oli Ahad, founder of the East Pakistan Muslim Students League, later Syed Nazrul Islam, the first interim president of Bangladesh, and Mohammad Toaha, founder of the East Pakistan Students Federation. Conducted activities.


The beginning of the language movement

From that time onwards, the language of East Pakistan and Bangladesh started to burn more and more. Despite being a citizen of Pakistan, a section of the people started slowly cracking their throats in opposition to Pakistan. Exactly four years later, in 1952, Urdu became the state language in East Pakistan and Bangladesh. Since then, the movement in Dhaka city has intensified. Meetings and processions continue one after the other.


The birth of a terrible fire spark

Even after Jinnah’s death, various proposals and counter-proposals regarding the state language continued. From the time of partition till the beginning of 1952, the Bengalis have strongly expressed their hostility towards the state language Urdu.

The movement has been going on intermittently in response. However, the most fierce spark in the movement was born when the final decision was taken in the Assembly of Pakistan on January 26 to make Urdu the sole state language.

Despite being a resident of East Bengal, Khwaja Nazimuddin came to Dhaka on 27 January 1952 and repeated Jinnah’s words at a rally in Paltan. At that time also the slogan ‘I want Bangla as the state language’ was raised in strong protest.


Battlefield Dhaka

The city of Dhaka became a battlefield. And most importantly, one of the focal points of the movement was the students. The movement spread to different colleges and universities of Bangladesh. The students started clashing directly with the administration. And through this protest movement, five students were killed in police firing. They were Mohammad Salauddin, Abdul Jabbar, Abul Barkat, Rafiquddin Ahmed and Abdus Salam.


What happened on the day of 21st February?

It is said that the position and speech of Khwaja Nazimuddin, taken for political reasons, added a new dimension to the language movement. With his announcement, the feeling of deprivation in the minds of the Bengalis of East Pakistan became stronger.

Rejecting Khwaja Nazimuddin’s statement, spontaneous strikes and demonstrations started in East Pakistan from the next day. So that the students of Dhaka University have played an important role.

Led by Bhasani, the conference was attended by people from the political, cultural and professional communities of East Pakistan. A general strike was declared on February 21. Section 144 was issued in and around Dhaka University to prevent the strike. Which was born in violation of Martyr’s Day.

On that day in 1952, Muhammad Mahfuz Hossain was working in the emergency department of the hospital as a student of Dhaka Medical College. In an interview given to BBC Bangla three years ago, the image of that day has come to light in his description.

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In that interview, he said, “I took the three people who were shot at noon on the 21st of February to the hospital. Rafiq, who was shot in the forehead, was pronounced dead, and Barkat, who was shot in the thigh, died at night, right before my eyes. ”

Students were shot near Dhaka Medical College.

He was saying, “We could hear a lot of noise from outside then. We heard many people were injured in the shooting. At that moment, the emergency ward was full. Many of the injured died, and the emergency services rushed to the scene. ”

The exact number of martyrs in the language movement is not yet known. Apart from Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar and Shafiur, many others were martyred in the police firing that day and the next day.



After their self-sacrifice, the government of Pakistan was forced to recognize the Bengali language. And on 26 February 1956, the first constitution was passed in East Pakistan, where Bengali was recognized as the state language.


Demands in the United Nations

In 1998, Rafiqul Islam, a Canadian, wrote a letter to Kofi Annan, the then Secretary General of the United Nations. There, he demanded that February 21 be recognized as Mother Language Day. When the proposal was later raised at the UN General Assembly, it was accepted with the consent of almost all countries. And every year since 1999, February 21 has been celebrated as International Mother Language Day.


Sowing the seeds of independent Bangladesh state

The killings did not dampen the movement for mother tongue rights. It was in this movement that it became clear that the feeling of oneness in the minds of the inhabitants of a state created by combining the ethnicities of two different languages ​​in two territories at a distance of two thousand kilometers would probably not awaken.

However, more than two years after this incident, on 7 May 1954, the Parliament of Pakistan recognized Bengali as a state language and adopted the resolution. According to the constitution, the recognition of the state language took two more years to take effect. It was in this movement with mother tongue that the seeds of an independent state called Bangladesh were sown in the heart of the world.


Creating the context of the liberation war

In this context, it is worth mentioning that the context of the war of independence or liberation war was created through this language movement. And within a decade and a half of which Pakistan emerged from the shackles of its rule and emerged as an independent country on the world map.


Our last word


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