Bangladesh Commemorates 65 Years of Language Movement

At midnight on February 21, Bangladesh paid tribute to the Bengali heroes who lost their lives during the Language Movement in East Pakistan in 1952. These honored men had fought for the recognition of Bangla as a state language and were martyred during a protest in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Shaheed Minar

The Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka was magnificently decorated in preparation for the observance. As the clock struck midnight, President Abdul Hamid, followed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, initiated the event by adorning the monument with wreaths. They then stood in silence in honor of those national heroes who sacrificed themselves in the struggle to have Bangla acknowledged as one of the state languages of Pakistan, just under a decade after its founding.

On February 21, 1952, people from all walks of life, particularly students, took to the streets of Dhaka to protest under the banner of the All-Party Students Action Committee. They resented the Pakistani government’s refusal to recognize Bangla as a state language and the imposition of Urdu as the only official language of Pakistan. This struck a bitter cord with many in East Pakistan, where the majority of the country’s population resided yet which was not given accurate representation in the West Pakistani government. During the protest in 1952, many important political figures and students embraced martyrdom, when the police opened fire at the procession in front of Dhaka Medical College College and Hospital.

This only increased the motivation of the supporters of the Language Movement and eventually resulted in the government being forced to instate Bangla as a state language beside Urdu on February 29, 1956. Even this decision, however, could not quell the protests by the movement against the surprisingly colonialist policies of the Pakistani government. It was the continued friction between the two parts of the new country, divided geographically by hostile territory, that led to the 1971 secession war and the emergence of an independent Bangladesh.

To commemorate the success of the Language Movement that began in 1952 and to honor the lives of its martyrs, people throughout Bangladesh place wreaths of flowers on the various Shaheed Minars in the country. The largest celebration took place in Dhaka at the Central Shaheed Minar in front of the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, exactly where the heroes of the Language Movement were martyred 65 years ago. People thronged the streets, humming the famous nationalist song “Amar Bhaiyer Rokte Rangana Ekushe February 21.” This song, the title of which translates to “my brothers’ blood spattered on February 21,” was written by the Bengali writer Abdul Gaffar Choudhry, to mark the tragedy that took place on that day. February 21, now referred to as the “Shaheed Dibash,” has since become a public holiday in Bangladesh and has been recognized worldwide as the International Mother Language Day since 1999, after the declaration by UNESCO.

Both the president and the prime minister issued special messages during the event to convey their grief and pay homage to the martyrs. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, after placing her own wreath, did the same on behalf of her party, the Awami League. Many other government officials also participated in paying tribute, including the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, as well as the Leader of the Opposition. Once all the VIPs had placed their wreaths around 1:30 am, the Shaheed Minar was made open to the public.