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INTERNATIONAL MOTHER LANGUAGE DAY Dedicated to the enduring memory of the martyrs who made supreme sacrifice to protect their mother language

They stood up together To protect the honor of the sound That issued from the lips of a new-born babe Churning the very core of his existence, The utterance that sanctified for him His first lesson of humanity. - Hasan Hafizur Rahman


EDITOR’S NOTE The greatest struggles in life are often for simple things. Language is one such inheritance which none of us can deny or be denied of. Yet Bangla stands tall as one of the few languages for which an entire nation had to struggle for extended period. Upon UNESCO’s recognition of our language movement, February 21 is finally known to all around the world as the International Mother Language Day, a day to celebrate native culture and heritage. This souvenir is our attempt to pay respect to the martyrs who gave their lives to ensure we can uphold our language. We are deeply grateful to everyone who helped complete this endeavor through their written and creative contributions. A full list of credits is provided in page 13. We especially thank PiLabs for graciously supporting our effort. - Ishtiaq Rouf, Mohammad Iftekhar Hossain, Chamok Hasan


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UNESCO Declaration International Mother Language Day Brief history of the language movement Commemorative monuments


Endangered languages of the world

We must harness the power of progress to protect diverse visions of the world and to promote all sources of knowledge and forms of expression. These are the threads that weave the tapestry of humanity’s story. — UNESCO, February 21, 2011

Cultural tribute

Gallery of images

About Bangladesh

This month the world celebrates International Mother Language Day – not just a fond commemoration of culture and custom, but a reminder of very current tensions over language and education in developing countries. — The Daily Guardian


INTERNATIONAL MOTHER LANGUAGE DAY International Mother Language Day was introduced by UNESCO in recognition of the sanctity and preservation of all vernacular languages in the world. The event began being observed from February 21, 2000 throughout the world to commemorate the martyrs who sacrificed their lives on this date in Dhaka in 1952. The background to the proclamation of the International Mother Language Day was a proposal from Bangladesh at the UNESCO General Conference in Paris on November 17, 1999 to declare February 21 as an international day on the ground that on this day many had sacrificed their lives for their mother tongue. It was argued that, since the languages of the world are at the very heart of UNESCO's objectives and since they are the most powerful instruments for preserving and developing the tangible and intangible heritage of nations and nationalities, the recognition of this day would serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop a fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire international solidarity based on understanding, tolerance, and dialogue.


The Paris Conference was convinced that one of the most effective ways to promote and develop mother tongues was the establishment of an International Mother Language Day throughout the world with a view to organizing various activities in the member states and a language exhibition at UNESCO Headquarters on the same day. The day the Conference chose for the purpose was February 21. This was in appreciation and recognition of the unprecedented sacrifice made by the Bangla speaking people of Bangladesh for the cause of their mother tongue on February 21, 1952.

On February 21, 1952, corresponding to Falgun 8, 1359 in the Bangla calendar, a number of students campaigning for the recognition of Bangla (/Bengali) as one of the state languages of then Pakistan were killed when police fired upon them. Due to being the language of the overwhelming majority, there had been demands that Bangla be made the state language even before the creation of Pakistan in 1947. In July 1947, famous linguist Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah suggested that, after the departure of the British Empire, Bangla could be made the state language of the new state. Shortly after the creation of Pakistan, at the first session of the Pakistan Legislative Assembly on February 23, 1948, Dhirendranath Datta proposed that Bangla be made one of the languages of the Assembly along with English and Urdu. The proposal was rejected.

HISTORY OF BANGLADESH’S LANGUAGE MOVEMENT In March 1948, Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah arrived in East Pakistan. On March 21, 1948, at a public meeting in Dhaka, he declared that Urdu alone will be the state language of Pakistan. Subsequently, Khwaja Nazimuddin, who had become Prime Minister of Pakistan following the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, visited East Pakistan in January 1952. On January 27, at a public meeting at Paltan Maidan, he reiterated Jinnah's pronouncement that Urdu will be the only state language of Pakistan.


HISTORY OF LANGUAGE MOVEMENT (CONTD) In protest of the announcement, the Dhaka University National Language Committee called a token strike on January 30, 1952. A meeting was held on the day at Amtala, on the university campus, where students pledged to carry on the language movement. A decision was also taken to observe a strike in all educational institutions of the province on February 4, 1952. The next day, an all-party meeting was held at the Dhaka Bar Library at which Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani presided. At the meeting, a 40-member All-Party National Language Action Committee was formed. The meeting supported the strike call on February 4, 1952. Accordingly, a strike was observed in all educational institutions on February 4. A student meeting on the day called for a province-wide strike on February 21. The government, on its part, invoked Section 144 on February 20, banning public meetings, rallies, and processions. Opposition politicians were unwilling to get involved in a clash with the government just before a general election. The All-Party National Language Action Committee, which met that night, decided by a majority vote not to violate Section 144. The student community, however, refused to accept this decision. At a meeting on the morning of February 21 on the campus of the Arts Faculty of the university (now Dhaka Medical College and Hospital), the students unanimously agreed to stick to the earlier decision to defy Section 144.


After the meeting, they started gathering on the premises of the Medical College hostel. From there they tried to proceed towards the Provincial Assembly where a session of the East Bengal Legislative Assembly was about to begin. The policemen on duty tried to disperse the students by firing blanks. When this failed, the police fired into the crowd. In the firing Abul Barkat, a university student, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, a student of Debendra College, and Abdul Jabbar, a young farmer from Gaffargaon, were killed. Abdus Salam, a bank employee, was injured in the firing and died in a hospital later. At least two others are also believed to have been killed in the firing that day. The reaction to the police killings was immediate. People began to gather on the premises of Dhaka Medical College Hospital. All over the country, schools and colleges held protest meetings, rallies, and processions.

HISTORY OF LANGUAGE MOVEMENT (CONTD) To bring the situation under control, the government enforced a curfew and deployed the army in Dhaka. Defying the curfew, on February 22, students alongside common people came out on city streets to protest the killings. They participated in a “gayebi janaza” (funeral prayer held without the dead body) on the Medical College campus. On the night of 23 February, the students constructed a “shaheed minar” (martyrs' memorial) on the spot where the students had been killed. Three days later, the police demolished the memorial. The movement gained momentum, and after the resounding victory of the United Front in 1954, Bangla was recognised as one of the state languages of then Pakistan on May 9, 1954.




The “Shaheed Minar” is a monument erected near the location of the Massacre of February 21, 1952. A modest monument (inset, left) was built the day after the killings. It was demolished four days later, but the students spontaneously built many more (inset, right). The current monument was designed by Architect Hamidur Rahman in 1963. It was demolished in 1971 during an air raid, but was later rebuilt.

EVERY FOURTEEN DAYS A LANGUAGE DIES Losing our languages. There are about 7,000 languages spoken in the world today. Unfortunately, not all of them are going to make it through the next century. Languages are dying out, at an alarming rate of 14 languages a day! Why do languages die? The process of globalization and the rapid change in the socio-economic conditions exert complex pressure on small indigenous groups. The younger generations are compelled to conform to the dominant cultural and linguistic practice of the region, a trend often enforced by national language policies. The languages and the oral traditions associated with them are threatened as the elders die out and a generation appears which is less familiar with the indigenous culture. Today, 96% of the world population uses a meager 4% of all the world languages. Half of the world languages are dying only because no one is speaking them anymore! What’s at stake? Languages have been the most effective mode of human communication so far. Every language has its unique set of expressions and modes of thinking. It conveys memories, traditions, rituals, ideas and skills, and keeps them alive through generations. Much of the world history has been passed on to the younger generations through oral traditions of the tribes or groups indigenous to a particular region, a good portion of which is still undocumented as most of them have no written form. With the extinction of each language, therefore, the history of an entire culture is lost.


Languages at risk:




CREDITS AND REFERENCES This souvenir has been made possible by generous contributions by many. We thank Jessica Durant for her water color painting of the world map. We also thank Md. Mustafizur Rahman for designing the cover with M Yousuf Tushar’s photo of the Shaheed Minar. We are very grateful to WikiMedia Commons, Banglapedia, National Geographic, and UNICEF for image and information used in the souvenir. For photos used in various illustrations, we are thankful to MMR Jalal, Amanul Haq, Mustafa Monwar, Ashraf Uz Zaman, Imran Mahmud, Xeontory, Raja Mahbub, Dabashis, and Trishia Nashtaran. We are very grateful to Nabiul Afrooz, Sabih Omar, and Fatema Zohra for write-ups.


Can I forget the twenty-first of February incarnadined by the love of my brother? The twenty-first of February, built by the tears of a hundred mothers robbed of their sons, Can I ever forget it? The most iconic song, written immediately after the shooting by AG Chowdhury

A LANGUAGE OF MUSIC ... Oh! My pride and hope our language Bangla is thee Hearing the words on my mother's lap We feel so love and happy.

Avgvi fvB‡qi i‡³ ivOv‡bv GKz‡k †deª“qvwi Avwg wK fzwj‡Z cvwi? †Q‡jnviv kZ gv‡qi Akª“ Mov‡q †deª“qvwi Avwg wK fzwj‡Z cvwi? ... REMEMBERING LOST SOULS THROUGH SONGS

†gv‡`i Mie, †gv‡`i Avkv, Av gwi evsjv fvlv! gv †Mv †Zvgvi †Kv‡j, †Zvgvi †ev‡j KZB kvwš— fv‡jvevmv

A soothing song written by Atulprasad Sen expression love for the mother tongue

They want to take away speech To shackle my spirit from following my heritage

Iiv Avgvi gy‡Li fvlv KvBo¨v wb‡Z Pvq Iiv K_vq K_vq wkKj covq Avgvi nv‡Z cvq

A song of protest written by Abdul Latif, one of the students who fought for Bangla

Bangla is my music, my songs are Bangla Bangla is my self-discovery, my dreams, my tunes

Avwg evsjvi Mvb MvB, Avwg evsjvq Mvb MvB Avwg Avgvi Avwg‡K wPiw`b GB evsjvq Lyu‡R cvB

A song of love and devotion by Pratul Mukhopadhyay for all things Bangla





Graphic design by Stéphanie Reis Pilar & Marine Léopold, students preparing BTS in publishing at Asfored, produced for UNESCO free of charge




Annual posters by UNESCO to officially honor February 21 as the International Mother Language Day


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1-6 Protesters were subjected to police brutality [5] when their processions [1,2,3] were broken up by force. Salam, Barkat, Jabbar, Rafiq [6] and many more gave their lives. Their memory lives on [4].


7 Like a mother, Bangla is the tie that binds our souls, gives us comfort, teaches us to live and love. This spirit is portrayed by Mustafa Monwar in his poster on IMLD.

8 Thousands walk barefoot to the Shaheed Minar at dawn and pay their respect to the martyrs. One such day, with a rare picture of Late Rafiq taken immediately after he was killed. Photo by Amanul Haq.



Home of the Royal Bengal Tiger Largest mangrove forest Sundarban

Longest natural sea beach

Ekushey 2012 batayon  
Ekushey 2012 batayon