Thursday, February 18, 2010

Omur Ekushe

Bangla is the official language of Bangladesh. It is also spoken in West Bengal. Bangalees protected Bangla from the clutches of Pakistani oppressors in 1952 by preventing Urdu from being the state language of East Pakistan where a vast majority of people spoke in Bangla. Bangalees had to sacrifice lives for their mother tongue on 21st February, 1952. 21st February being declared International Mother Language Day by UNESCO, Bangla reached the peak of maturity.


Bangla's direct ancestor is a form of Magadhi Prakrit or Middle Indo-Aryan which descended from Sanskrit or Old Indo-Aryan. Bangla evolved mainly from Sanskrit. Also Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, English--all contributed lots of words and terms to form this language.

The Origin of Bangla Alphabet

Bangla alphabet originated from Brahmi alphabet of the Asokan inscriptions. The Bangla script in its present printed form took shape in 1778 when printing types were first cast by Charles Wilkins. There still remained a few archaic forms and these were finally replaced in the middle of the nineteenth century.

The Oldest Records

For old Bangla the only record is Charjapad discovered from a palace in Nepal by Haraprasad Shastri. It is a collection of the oldest verses thought to be the oldest records of Bangla literature. The language of Charjapad is basically vernacular, but at the same time it is also something of a literary language.

Two Styles

Bangla at the present day has two literary styles. One is called "Sadhu Bhasha" and the other "Chalit Bhasa". The former is the traditional literary style based on Middle Bangla of the sixteenth century. The later is practically a creation of the present century, and is based on the cultivated form of the dialect and day-to-day talks. The difference between the two literary styles is not very sharp. The vocabulary is practically the same. The difference lies mainly in the forms of the pronoun and the verb. The Sadhu Bhasa has the old and heavier forms while the Chalit Bhasa uses the modern and lighter forms. The former shows a partiality for lexical words and for compound words of the Sanskrit type, and the latter prefers colloquial words, phrases and idioms. The Chalit Bhasa was first seriously taken up by Pramatha Chawdhury at the instance of Rabindranath Tagore during the early years of the first World War. Soon after Tagore practically discarded Sadhu Bhasa, and Chalit Bhasa is now generally favored by writers who have no particular fascination for the traditional literary style.

International Mother Language Day

The UNESCO has declared 21st February as The International Mother Language Day to be observed globally in recognition of the sacrifices of the Bangla language martyrs who laid their lives for establishing the rightful place of Bangla. The proclamation came in the form of a resolution unanimously adopted at the plenary of the UNESCO at its headquarters in Paris in November 1999. In its resolution the UNESCO said-' 21st February be proclaimed International Mother Language Day throughout the world to commemorate the martyrs who sacrificed their lives on this very day in 1952’.

It is a great tribute and glowing homage paid by the international community to the language martyrs of Bangladesh. The genesis of the historic Language Movement which ensued since September 1947 with the students in the vanguard backed by intellectuals, cultural activists and patriotic elements was the first spurt of Bangalee nationalistic upsurge culminating in the sanguinary events of February 21, 1952 and finally leading to the war of Liberation in 1971.

The UNESCO in its resolution said-the recognition was given bearing in mind that all moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness about linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

Henceforth UN member countries around the world will observe 21st February as the International Mother Language Day. The historic 21st February has, thus, assumed new dimension. The sacrifices of Rafiq, Salam, Jabbar, Barkat and other martyrs as well as of those tortured and repressed by the then authoritarian government of Pakistan for championing the cause of their mother tongue have received now a glorious and new recognition by the November 1999 resolution of the UNESCO.

Countries who gave support to the proposal of Bangladesh Govt. for declaring the 21st February as The International Mother Language Day are Banin, Bhahama, Balaroush, Comoros, Chili, Dominic Republic, Egypt, Gambia, Honduras, Italy, Iran, Micronesia, Oman, The Philippines, Papua Newgini, Pakistan, Paraguay, Russian Federation, Sir Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Surinam, Slovakia, Vanuatu, Indonesia, India, Ivoricost , Lithuania, Malaysia

The following persons worked hard for bringing this international recognition to Bangla.

Rafiqul Islam, Abdus Salam, Albart Vinzon, Carman Cirstobal, Zason Morin, Susan Hozinos, Dr. Calvin Chow, Nasrin Islam, Rinata Martins Karuna Zosh.

UNESCO's declaration of 21st February as the International Mother Language Day has brought fresh glory and prestige to Bangladesh which is making significant strides towards peace, progress and prosperity at home and discharging international obligations abroad. After 1952, the people of Bangladesh have been observing every year the 21st day of February as their glorious and unforgettable Language Martyrs Day. What happened on 21st February 1952 is widely known. Still let me very briefly recount the fateful happenings of that day and the circumstances that led to and followed them.

In August 1947, a new state called Pakistan, comprising two far-flung wings in the west and east, separated by 1600 kilometers of foreign territory, emerged on the world map. The ideological basis of that strange phenomenon was the absurd and pernicious two nation theory of Mr. Jinnah that ignored such basic elements as language and culture and considered religion as a bond strong and sufficient enough to transform a people into a nation.

The language of the people of eastern wing of Pakistan, and they were the majority, was Bangla. It had a rich tradition of literature of over a thousand years. The Bangalees also had a highly developed culture that had little in common with the culture of the people of western wing of Pakistan. The Bangalees' love for and attachment to their language and culture were great and when in 1952 the neo-colonial, power-hungry, arrogant rulers of Pakistan declared that 'Urdu and Urdu alone would be the state language of Pakistan, they sowed the seed of its future disintegration.

The people of the then East Pakistan, particularly the students, rose in angry protest against the vicious undemocratic designs of the government. Those designs really amounted to the destruction of Bangla language and culture and imposition of the language and culture of the people of western wing on the people of eastern wing. The reaction was strong and spontaneous.

The government decided to quell protests by brute force. The police opened fire on 21st February 1952 on unarmed peaceful protesters, most of whom were students, resulting in the death, among others, of Rafiq, Barkat, Jabbar and Salam. As the news of those deaths spread, the entire people of the eastern wing felt greatly involved emotionally. Those who lost their lives to uphold the prestige defend the rights of their mother-language became hallowed martyrs.

Their sacrifice at once tragic glorious and the indignation of the people against an autocratic government had far reaching effect. 21st February became a symbol and attained mythic properties, it nourished the concepts of democracy and secularism. It also contributed significantly to the flowering of Bangalee nationalism. It led to the dawning of the realization in the minds of the Bangalees that they constituted a separate nation and their destiny lay not with Pakistan but elsewhere as an independent country. The subsequent democratic mass movements of the late fifties, throughout the sixties and the seventies, and finally the struggle for independence and the war of liberation owed a great deal to 21st February.

From 1953 onwards, starting from 21st February 1953, the immortal 21st February has been observed as a great national event all over Bangladesh, and also beyond the frontiers of Bangladesh: in several places of India, UK, USA, Canada and elsewhere, wherever there is a sizeable concentration of Bangla speaking people. Yet so long, it has been mainly a national event of Bangladesh. But with the declaration of 21st February as the International Mother Language Day, it has transcended the national borders of Bangladesh and acquired an international significance and a global dimension.

At the initiative of the United Nations and its various organs, a number of specific days have been declared over the years as international days for observance by the people of the whole world. All these days highlight some values, events and issues and are intended to generate a healthy awareness in the people of the world about them with the ultimate aim of making this world a better place to live in for the entire human population. Thus we have the international literacy day, international women's day. international children's day, the international day for eradication of racial discrimination, international day for ensuring pure drinking water, international habitat day, international day for preservation of environment and many others.

Some of these international days are linked with certain specific events that took place in some specific countries. While observing these days, the people of the world recall those events and those countries as a matter of course. The world is thus brought closer providing peoples of the world with the chance to get out of their insularity.

International Mother Language Day is particularly significant in the sense that it has a cultural importance. From now on, 21st February — so long observed in Bangladesh as the Bangla Language Martyrs' Day — will be observed here simultaneously as the Bangla Language Martyrs' Day and the International Mother Language Day. And in nearly 200 countries of the world, various peoples speaking various languages and belonging to various national cultures will observe 21st February as the International Mother Language Day. They will naturally celebrate their own mother languages, but while doing so, it is more than likely that they will refer to Bangladesh and the Language Movement launched by her people that reached a climactic point on 21st February 1952.

The declaration made by the UNESCO in November 1999 designating 21st February as the International Mother Language Day has placed Bangladesh on the cultural map of the world with a highly positive image. We, people of Bangladesh, should now do all that we can to further develop our mother language Bangla in all branches of knowledge so that it can play a worthy role in the community of world languages. We shall love, cherish and promote Bangla, our own mother language, but we shall not indulged in any kind of chauvinism.

While devotedly serving our own language, we shall respect the languages of all the peoples of the world make 21st February - The International Mother Language Day - a great day, to be observed worldwide in the new century and the millennium that we have recently stepped into. Long live 21st February the International Mother Language Day!

Observance of the day since 1953

The nation to immortalize 21st February has termed this day as ‘Amar Ekushay’ (immortal 21st) and commemorates its historical significance by observing it with due solemnity paying tribute and homage to the sons of soil for their heroic sacrifice to uphold the dignity of mother tongue. The Amar Ekushay extents into what is popularly known as the ‘Shaheed Day’ (Martyrs Day) that reflects upon the language movement on 21st February and the grand scale uprising to establish the due position of Bengali as the official language of the country.

As the clock strikes 00:00 hours, the Honourable President and Prime Minister begin the procession of the nation that pays its tribute to the martyrs at the Shaheed Minars (Monuments for Martyrs) all over the country. People from all walks of life wearing black badges and bare footed throng at the Shaheed Minar to show their respect to the sons of the soil. The children, youth, young and old, men and women walk towards the Shaheed Minar singing "Amar Bhaiyer Rakte Rangano Ekushey February Ami Ki Bhulite Pari" (21 February a day immersed in the blood of my brothers, can I ever forget it). The mass of people at every corner of the country lay wreaths of flower as a token of their respect and pledge a fresh vow to translate the dreams of the martyrs into reality towards establishing a democratic order, of a society free from exploitation and of economic emancipation of the nation.

Source: Prof Rafiqul Islam.
Rally of female students in front of DMC on 4.02.1952
Source: Prof Rafiqul Islam.
Dawn March (Probhatferi) of female students on 21.02.1953.

A central coordinating committee draws up an official program for the observance of 21st February. Accordingly, the Honourable President of the country is the first to place wreaths at the central Shaheed Minar at one minute past midnight, followed by the Prime Minister and other ministers. The Shaheed Minar and its surroundings are decorated with Alpana (traditional painting on the roads), banners and festoons. Different political, educational, government, private, socio-cultural and professional organizations chalk out elaborate programs for the day that consists of placing wreaths, cultural functions and discussion sessions. The day is a public holiday and the national flag flies at half-mast atop all government and private buildings. Starting from midnight till the end of last hour of February 21, the central Shaheed Minar stands in glory in the midst of thousands of people and enormous flower wreaths.

Its significance transcends from language movement to symbolize the struggle for emancipation from the oppression of the oppressors. Through the sombre but intrinsically native observance the day continues to define the national and cultural identity that set Bengalis apart as a nation of independent people. It stands as a monumental pride for Bangladeshis who refused to accept domination and culminates into their victory for the mother language and the map of Bangladesh in the globe.

Source: Bangabandhu Foundation
Rally on 21.02.1954 by Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman marching barefoot to pay their tributes.