In 1952, the Language Movement played a role as a platform for strengthening Bengali nationalism. Bengali people achieved their independence in 1971.

1952: The Language Movement

India and Pakistan emerged as independent countries when the British left India in 1947. Pakistan had two parts: West Pakistan - which is now known as Pakistan, and East Pakistan -now known as Bangladesh. Pakistan was comprised of these two primarily Muslim areas. The majority of its people lived in the eastern part of the country, where the majority of the population spoke Bangla. But the central government of Pakistan, ignoring the people’s demand for Bangla as the state language, proclaimed Urdu the state language. A movement to establish Bangla as the state language took massive shape on March 11, 1948. On 21 February 1952 the movement came to a climax. On that day students called a strike, came out on the streets in defiance of the law, and attempted to approach the East Bengal Legislative Assembly to force the Assembly members to accept their demands. The police opened fire on the Dhaka University campus where students were demonstrating peacefully. Some people, including students, died during this gunfire. This news fell like a bombshell around the country. The next day there was a general strike accompanied by protests and demonstrations. The police again opened fire. Those who died in the police fire were known as language martyrs, and they included Salam, Rafique, Barkat, Jabbar and so on.

1971: A new country is born

After the British colonial period, Bangladesh (the former East Pakistan) underwent new colonial subjugation by Pakistani rulers. From the very beginning of its emancipation (1947) Pakistani rulers denied the Bengali people equal opportunity. The Bengali community was very conscious of this discriminatory policy and took initiatives to organise themselves. The Language Movement of 1952 had influenced language-based nationalism. The Bengali community felt that they needed an independent territory. Due to the immense popularity of its leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bengali Awami League gained a majority in the national parliamentary election of 1970. But Pakistan came up with a plan to recapture state power. The Pakistani military began a campaign of genocide in the night of 25th march, 1971 and arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. As a reaction Bengali people started a strategic people's guerilla warfare against a well-organised military force. Mass popular support was the key spirit for freedom fighters in their struggle against a brutal army. Though some superpowers like USA and China were supporting Pakistani force, Bangladesh gained popular support from all over the world. Together with the pundit Ravi Shankar, pop singer George Harrison arranged a concert to strengthen world-wide support for the Bengali. After a nine-month war of liberation, and at the cost of millions of lives, the new country of Bangladesh was created on 16 December 1971.

International Mother Language Day

For the first time a country had identified itself by its language and culture. This unprecedented heroic sacrifice for its mother tongue prompted UNESCO to declare February 21st as International Mother Tongue Day.

By : Suborna Camellia and Abu Ahasan


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