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Sloppy Bangla—when a people suffer from amnesia

Shihab Sarkar | Published: February 23, 2017 20:24:24 | Updated: November 11, 2017 12:40:45


Perhaps no other recognised language in the modern world ever meets the same pitiable fate as Bangla. The language is spoken by over 210 million people in Bangladesh, India's West Bengal, Tripura and Assam states. For over a couple of decades, Bangla has fallen into a quagmire of anarchy and neglect in Bangladesh. In this country the language enjoys the status of the state language. The wholesale use of the language in wrong forms, the whimsical changes in spelling, etc., blurs the centuries-old fact --- Bangla originates from a strong branch of the Indo-Aryan linguistic family. It's no orphaned offshoot of any dominant language. Like German, French or English, Bangla has been present in a uniquely dominant form for over a thousand years. It enjoys the 6th position among the world's widely spoken languages. Days are not far when Bangla will be recognised as an official language of the United Nations. Given the chaotic state in which Bangla has lately been thrust into in this country, its status as the nation's state language might appear to be illusory to many.
From official files to textbooks to even newspapers, wrong Bangla rules the roost. It creates the backdrop for a wholesale orgy of corrupting the language. The cycle of polluting Bangla continues unabated. These days, the five-year Language Movement in the 1940s and 1950s in the erstwhile East Pakistan at times emerges as an exercise in sheer vacuity.  The popular struggle for ensuring the due honour for Bangla was a desperate and last-ditch one. No other major language in the world has been heard of ever passing through such a series of critical phases. In the case of the Bangla Language Movement, the air smelt of disdain and defiance over the rulers' stratagem to disgrace Bangla. The struggling students and the intelligentsia in East Bengal were able to realise that a nasty plot was being hatched by the oligarchic rulers in the then West Pakistan. They vowed it shouldn't be allowed to go unchallenged. In their opposition to the demand for Bangla's recognition as one of the state languages of Pakistan, the rulers couldn't hide their hatred for the very people of the then country's eastern wing. The students and the masses could decipher the motive.  It added to the strength of their determination to press ahead with their demand. It did not elude the student and political activists in East Bengal that by trifling with their mother-tongue the rulers were executing a long-term plan: the rulers' eventual goal was nipping in the bud any blossoming of nationalistic feeling in the then East Pakistan. As a nation with a culturally rich past, the Bengalees were not ready to concede to the rulers' fiat on state language.
The protests, confrontation and the final brutal attack and the students' martyrdom only added to the dignity and splendour of Bangla. The final recognition of the language came all the way through a blood-strewn, tortuous path. The indignity and dishonour now Bangla is subjected to in independent Bangladesh in a way points to a latent character of this nation: its amnesic propensity. Or else, perhaps few nations can turn out to be this oblivious to a highly critical phase of its turbulent history. Moreover, the Language Movement of 1952 sparked the beginning of the Bengalees' future movements for a distinct nationhood. That Bangladesh is the fruit of the Language Movement is an oft-repeated, but astounding, truth. The sparking off of protest against the rulers' decision to subjugate Bangla on December 06 in 1947, only four months after the creation of Pakistan, glaringly displayed the invincibility of the language spoken by 99 per cent people in East Bengal. Apart from the absurdity of the two-nation theory foisted on the Bengalees, the organised protests and movements from 1948 to 1952 unfailingly underscored the Bengalees' resolve to make Bangla a state language of Pakistan. In an inevitable twist of history, the Language Movement kept assuming the shape of a greater movement which ended in the independence of Bangladesh. Given the nation's great debt to the Language Movement, trifling with Bangla can only be defined by the term unconscionable.
In a nation where Bangla enjoys the glory of the state language, the sloppy treatment being meted out to Bangla might prompt a lot of distressing questions. Have the people of the erstwhile East Pakistan ever had a genuine love for Bangla, or have they been just got carried away by torrents of emotion and thus demanded that it be declared a state language of Pakistan? Or else, why is this carelessness in the use of the language in all segments of life --- including school-level education? Many point the finger at a new breed of conspirators. We should not be oblivious to the fact that the five-year Language Movement only featured the resolve to surge forward without the least compromise and the unflinching bond of camaraderie. Apparently, it had no place for fifth columnists. But to our misfortune, attempts to conspire against Bangla had surreptitiously been concomitant with the progress of the movement. The people behind these dirty games were born in this soil. Philistine Bengalees in the ruling clique and a section of the intelligentsia were found engaged in these conspiracies. They continued to damage the inherent beauty and strength of Bangla even 10-12 years after its recognition as a state language of Pakistan. Thus the last-ditch attempts to introduce a distorted Bangla in Roman or Semitic character could be seen as late as the mid-sixties.
Conspirators always bide time to strike at the opportune moment. In the first decade of independent Bangladesh, they kept a low profile. With the forced striking off of the two major state principles of Bengali nationalism and secularism from the state charter, the post-1975 rulers welcomed the hostile forces out to deal a severe blow to everything Bengali. The language was no exception. In course of time, with their clout spread throughout the vital areas of society, they barged into the open, with no disguises. In the beginning they worked against the language and the nation's broader cultural canvas clandestinely. They appeared in their aggressive posture after winning over sizeable sections of gullible people, especially youths and teenagers. Thanks to the many ideological and administrative lacunae prevalent in the successive elected governments, the forces of obscurantism did not have to waste much time to emerge with vengeance. This time, the assault was not made on Bangla directly. As part of a long-drawn-out design, they resorted to subterfuges: attacking the age-old institutions of Bengali culture. That they would not stop here became clear in the recent troubling developments of tainting the long unalloyed Bengali identity of the textbooks meant for children. The anarchic situation in the field of written Bangla, however, began unfolding over a decade back. It set off in earnest after a section of the country's experts and scholars felt the necessity to make reforms in Bangla spelling and expression. All that led to was total chaos, confounding the educated people, as well as young learners. It might be premature to outright brand them as people harming the language. But they are unwittingly detracting from the beauty and disciplined nature of Bangla. How can one be fully sure that certain quarters have not been engaged in crushing the backbone of the language?
Our laidback attitude towards the ever snowballing chaos in the use of Bangla may make us stand trial before history. The defeated forces of the past will not remain content with licking their wounds. They will show their ugly face whenever there is an opportunity. Excesses done to a language finally enervate it. In the case of Bangla, the mindless liberty in reforming it could in effect abet the enemies of Ekushey.
shihabskr@ymail.com      
 

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