Bangla language -- lot more than a mother tongue

writes Shihab Sarkar | Published: February 20, 2016 21:06:47 | Updated: October 17, 2017 13:45:30


Busts of Language Movement heroes at Bangla Academy

Sixty-four years after the full-scale Language Movement on 21st February in 1952, many would like to have an in-depth look at the later fruits of the historic movement. It has long been an established fact that the movement left a distinctive impact on the Bengalee ethos. Apart from the demand that Bangla be declared a state language, the movement had brought to the fore a number of issues linked to the people's cultural identity. Alongside political ramifications, the nation's socio-cultural scenario also underwent a regeneration of sorts in the times following the movement.
Three clear literary-cultural trends emerged from the movement. The foremost one was focused on the character of Bangla literary journals. After the publication of the 1953 commemorative journal 'Ekushey February' edited by Poet Hasan Hafizur Rahman, the general character of literary magazines in East Bengal underwent a change. Dissent and a leaning toward the unconventional eventually turned out to be the vogue. This went in parallel with the exercise in pure literature. From the fifties onwards, a number of authors had been found to be passionately engaged in discovering newer forms and content.
Likewise, Bangla Gonosangeet (people's songs) appeared to have discovered a completely new mould, enriched with hitherto unknown lyrics and notation. Thus the music-loving people found a new genre in the songs based on the spirit of Ekushey, the short Bangla for the 1952 Language Movement. Like that of Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury and Altaf Mahmud, these songs wonderfully blended protest with pathos --- that stemmed from the killing of language heroes in police firing during the movement in Dhaka. Gonosangeet composers in the neighbouring West Bengal at that time were at the zenith of their popularity and innovative excellence. Yet, East Bengal's major composers like Abdul Latif, Samar Das et al made themselves distinctive from Kolkata's Salil Chowdhury or Hemango Biswas. Almost the same could be said about the new-generation East Bengal painters. Most of them emerged in the turbulent times of the fifties to take their voyage through the sixties and the seventies. They included Aminul Islam, Quayyum Chowdhury, Devdas Chakraborty, Murtaza Baseer, Hamidur Rahman, Rashid Chowdhury, Syed Jahangir and many others.  
In fact, the eventual outburst in 1952 of Bengalees' politico-cultural aspirations after its spark in 1948 became inevitable. It was also a sharp statement on the indomitableness of the period's Bengalee zeitgeist. This showed Bengalees cannot be made to play into the hands of political crooks and megalomaniacs.   
Blatantly vile attempts to wipe out the Bangla language from all state-level communications began in December, 1947. Pakistan, with its two non-contiguous wings, came into being on  August 14 that year. In just four months, the so-called two-nation theory was put into effect in its most ominous form. Muslim-majority Dominion of Pakistan had by then emerged as an independent country. The Dominion of  India became free of the British colonial rule on August 15.
That the rulers of the newly independent Pakistan will trivialise Bangla and the Bengalees in this brazen manner was beyond the furthest limits of the thoughts of the people in East Bengal. After an official decision was taken in December, 1947 to banish Bangla from the official activities including bureaucracy, as well as education, East Bengal rose up in vehement protest. In the same month, students of Dhaka University held rallies on the university premises, and took out processions. They denounced the Pakistani rulers' action of dropping Bangla from coins, stamps and recruitment tests. On  February 23 the following year, 1948, legislative assembly member Dhirendranath Datta demanded in a session of Pakistan Constituent Assembly that Bangla be made an official language of Pakistan. He argued that of Pakistan's total 69 million people, 44 million belonged to East Bengal, the eastern wing of Pakistan. Majority of this province's people spoke Bangla. In the following days, it became clear how the government of the Dominion of Pakistan through a diktat had already announced that Urdu would be the only state language of all government communications and the medium of education.
The ground for the launch of a massive movement had already been prepared. Students in Dhaka organised protest marches. The National Language Action Committee (Rastrabhasha Sangram Parishad) was formed. The students in all parts of East Bengal, including Dhaka, organised spontaneous strikes, rallies and processions on  March 11, 1948. They protested the Karachi-based central government's decision to declare Urdu as the only official language of Pakistan.  To the Pakistani rulers, Urdu became synonymous with the Muslim identity --- the bedrock of the two-nation theory. Perhaps inspired by this conviction, Pakistan's creator Mohammad Ali Jinnah branded the vanguards of the fight for Bangla as 'communists' and 'the enemies of Pakistan'. In his  speech at Dhaka's Racecourse Ground on March 21, 1948, he made it menacingly clear that Urdu would be the only state language of Pakistan, and no other language. He repeated this assertion at a students' function at Curzon Hall at Dhaka University on  March 24. The Governor General's speeches at both the gatherings were interrupted by protests coming mainly from the students.
It was Mr Jinnah who with his banal arrogance on the stance on Urdu as Pakistan's only state language drove the first nail on the coffin of the then united Pakistan.
 As things kept unfolding in Pakistan after the 1952 Language Movement, the country had been destined to disintegrate. Despite the uneasy lull on the political front in the remaining years of the 1950s, disaffection with the central government was growing. The 1962 student movement and a seven-year-long series of strikes and agitations eventually culminated in the watershed of 1969 mass upsurge. By that time the fate of Pakistan had been sealed. Sparked by the March 11, 1948 language strikes, and their strengthened reappearance in the 1952 Language Movement, the rebellious spirit of the Bengalees only became stronger throughout the whole decade of the sixties. During its eventful course, the earlier demand for Bangla's recognition as a state language turned into the demand for autonomy and, later, full independence. Along the way we, however, had to go through the periods of ordeals and agonies, deaths and persecutions. Before attaining freedom from the clutches of an illusory Pakistan, the new Bengalee nation had to fight an all-out Liberation War, undergo a brutal genocide and the martyrdom of three million people.
The emergence of Bangladesh from the ashes of the erroneously founded former Pakistan has apparently been dictated by history. At work in the historical process were the latent potential and strength of the Bangla language and culture, the redefinition of Bengalee nationhood, and the courage and wisdom of its nationalist leaders, especially that of Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The eventual petering-out of the once formidable two-nation theory was a fait accompli.
shihabskr@ymail.com        

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