Bangladesh: Observing International Mother Language Day

Poster for International Mother Language Day 2011. Graphic Design: Stephanie Pilar and Marine Leopold. Courtesy UNESCO.

Language is an important aspect of our life. We explore the world through language. The world occurs to us through language. To promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism worldwide, International Mother Language Day is held annually on 21 February.

For Bangladesh, 21st February has a different symbolization. It is a national day of Bangladesh to commemorate protests and sacrifices to protect Bangla (Bengali) as a national language during Bengali Language Movement of 1952. Anushay describes a bit of the history:

On this day in 1952, after the “Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan” announced that Urdu would be the only state language of East (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan, a huge wave of protests erupted in Bangladesh where the majority spoke Bangla.

Politicians joined students in their demonstrations and the Pakistani Government responded by violently cracking down on the protesters. Over the course of one week ((February 21-27, 1952), they killed student demonstrators, some directly in front of Dhaka Medical College. [..]

On February 29th, 1956, Pakistan added Bengali as the second official state language after Urdu. Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Mamun M. Aziz shares [bn] in Blog about how 21st February became officially recognized:

১৯৯৯ সালের ১৭ নভেম্বর অনুষ্ঠিত ইউনেস্কোর প্যারিস অধিবেশনে একুশে ফেব্রুয়ারিকে আন্তর্জাতিক মাতৃভাষা দিবস হিসেবে ঘোষণা করা হয় এবং ২০০০ সালের ২১ ফেব্রুয়ারি থেকে দিবসটি জাতিসংঘের সদস্যদেশসমূহে যথাযথ মর্যাদায় পালিত হচ্ছে।

21st February was declared as international mother language day in the Paris session of UNESCO on the 17th of November 1999. Since 2ist February, 2000 this day is being observed in all the nations under UN.

Flowers at Shaheed Minar. Image by Anwar Hossain. Copyright Demotix

View full slideshow here.

The day's festivities include laying flowers at the early hours at Shaheed Minar, an iconic sculpture situated in the place of the massacre. Mohamed Arif Raihan Mahee was there this year. He writes:

হাজার হাজার মানুষ লাইন ধরে দাঁড়িয়ে আছে, কারো মধ্যে কোন তাড়া নেই, পরিবারের সবাই মিলে এসেছে মহান আন্তর্জাতিক মাতৃভাষা দিবসে ভাষা শহীদদের প্রতি শ্রদ্ধা জানাতে।

Thousands of people are standing in queues, nobody is in a hurry, they came with family members to pay tribute to the fallen on the occasion of the International Mother Language Day.

Jerome D'Costa at Bangladesh, Canada and Beyond celebrates the day with an innovative idea. He started posting depictions of Bangla alphabets in his own blog to introduce them to the international community.

See all the 51 depictions by Jerome here.

Asif Mohiuddin at Somewhereinblog platform writes about the power of the language to shape nationalism:

পৃথিবীতে এই পর্যন্ত যতগুলো জাতিরাষ্ট্র দেখা গিয়েছে, ভাষাভিত্তিক জাতিরাষ্ট্রের দার্শনিক ভিত্তি সব সময়ই অন্যান্য সকল জাতিরাষ্ট্রের চাইতে উন্নত বলে দার্শনিক সমাজে স্বীকৃত। ভাষা মানুষের এক ধরনের আত্মিক বন্ধন তৈরি করে, যেই বন্ধন অন্য যেকোন ধরনের বন্ধন থেকে শক্তিশালী। [..] একটা জাতিকে একত্র রাখার জন্য চাই অভিন্ন জাতীয়তাবোধ, যা একমাত্র ভাষাই দিতে পারে। একক সংস্কৃতি, একক জাতিগত চেতনাই মানুষকে একত্র করতে পারে, ঐক্যবদ্ধ রাখতে পারে।

Among all nations we have seen, the countries that are united by language fare better than other nations, as indicated by the philosophical communities. Language creates a kind of bond among souls which is stronger than other bonds. [..] To keep a nation united you need common nationalistic attributes, which only language can pacify. Common culture, common nationalistic ideologies can unite people and keep them together.

According to

More than 50 percent of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken in the world are likely to die out within a few generations, and 96 percent of these languages are spoken by a mere 4 percent of the world’s population.

Akhtar Hossain opines [bn] that like Bangladesh 21st February can be declared as a public holiday all over the world so that everybody can be more aware of the significance of this day and it probably can save more languages from dying.

Sochol Zahid at Sachalayatan Writers Forum informs [bn] that on the 25th of February a speedchat will be introduced by the International Center at the University of Alberta to celebrate the diversity of language on its campus. Here are two videos introducing the event:

How did you celebrate the day?


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