Friday, February 20, 2015

The Massacre of 21st February 1952 Dhaka



The day is not just to remember their sacrifices and contributions by placing wreaths at the Central Shaheed Minar.

We rather need to comprehend the reason why language activists had protested against the then Pakistan government's decision to make Urdu the sole state language of the erstwhile East and West Pakistan since this historic day did not come to pass on a single day, nor did it end there.
What began with an agitation programme by some students on the Dhaka University campus on December 6, 1947 in protest at discussions in different government forums about making Urdu the state language, reached its climax on the morning of Feb 21 in 1952.
Students of schools, colleges and universities along with ordinary people under the leadership of Abdul Matin and Gaziul Haque gathered on the DU campus near Dhaka Medical College Hospital, violating Section 144, which had been imposed on that day to restrict assembly and protest programmes.Urdu and Bangla, although the two most commonly used languages of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, had very different histories.

A Procession on the morning of 21st February, 1952

Urdu developed as a language during the Delhi Sultanate and the Moghul Empire, and was considered the lingua franca of the Muslim aristocracy. Bangla developed as a language blossoming through the cultural explosion of the Bengali Renaissance; it flourished through the work of poets and folk-artists.

Their procession, which demanded the status of state language for Bangla, was fired upon by police, leaving many including Rafique, Jabbar, Barkat and Salam fatally injured. Their death breathed fire into the language movement ultimately forcing the then Pakistani government to adopt Bangla as a state language alongside Urdu.
However, Ekushey did not end there; it rather planted the seed of freedom in the hearts of Bangalees and 19 years later, an independent country named Bangladesh was born in 1971.
In November 1999, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proclaimed Ekushey February as the International Mother Language Day, which has since been observed every year to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.
The day is being observed this year with the theme "Inclusive Education through and with Language – Language Matters."
Yet only a few hundred of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken in the world are used in education system and public domain and less than a hundred are used in the digital world, according to a UNESCO website.
In Bangladesh, out of about 40 languages used by different communities including the ethnic minority groups, only Bangla has made it to the education system and the digital world.
It should constantly remind us to protest against all forms of suppression of rights, whether sponsored by state or non-state machineries, and to stand firmly against domination and aggression of the mighty over the weak for it was Ekushey February that had paved the way for our independence. 
On this day, we should, besides placing wreaths at the Shaheed Minar, perhaps recall that poem by Abul Fazal where he tells us that Eksuhey means not bowing your head down to any pressure -- an insight that calls for a country where every single person could express their thoughts in their own words and language without fear.

An artist's rendition of the Protest Movement
To promote cultural homogeneity, Mohammed Ali Jinnah declared that Urdu be the only state language of Pakistan. Bangla was looked down on as it was thought to be a part of Hindu civilization that did not have any place in an Islamic country. The citizens of Eastern Pakistan immediately protested this move. Political agitation and unrest continued in the years afterwards. The accumulated frustration of the citizens of East Pakistan erupted in 1952. The government banned all political movements and demonstrations. On 21st February, denying this ban, a group of students from University of Dhaka tried to organize a procession demanding that Bangla be made the State Language besides Urdu. When they reached the border of the campus, they found that the whole campus was cordoned with police.
Trying to break out of the police barricade, students clashed repeatedly with the police forces. When the vice-chancellor of the university asked the policemen to disperse so that the students could continue their peaceful protests, his pleas were ignored and the police started firing tear-gas canisters in the crowd. The students also refused to disperse, and tried to gather again in different spots of the city. When they approached the legislative building, the police opened fire on the students. Several students were killed. When the news of this massacre spread, the entire Dhaka city went into a state of mourning and shut down.
The next day, when a procession was being brought out to mourn the fallen of the previous day, the police again attacked the procession and opened fire on the participants. A number of individuals were again killed. Grief and outrage continued to build within the country. The movement launched by various organizations that had been demanding that Bangla also be made the state language of Pakistan gained new momentum, and politicians across virtually the entire political spectrum in East Pakistan decided to unite in their efforts to gain legal recognition for Bangla as a state language of Pakistan.