Language Movement: A History Written in Blood

Bappy Rahman

20th February, 2018 09:54:25 printer

Language Movement: A History Written in Blood

Bangla’ is the only language in the world for that people sacrificed their lives.There may be some other countries or nations who have campaigned for or demanded recognition of their languages, but Bangla is the only language for which people have made the highest sacrifice. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the day as International Mother Language Day, on November 17, in 1999.

The 30th session of the General Conference of UNESCO in 1999 decided that the Organization would launch and observe an International Mother Language Day on 21st February every year throughout the world. International Mother Language Day has been celebrated every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Linguistic and cultural diversity represent universal values that strengthen the unity and cohesion of societies. International Mother Language Day’s objective is to promote linguistic diversity and multilingual education, and to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.


However, it has a glorious historical background, coloured by the blood of our brothers. Language Movement occupies a most glorious chapter in the history of Bangladesh.The importance of the Movement lies in the fact that it was this Language Movement which provided socio-politico-psychological basis on which subsequent movement for regional autonomy grew in the then East Pakistan leading ultimately to the emergence of the separate sovereign nationhood of Bangladesh in 1971.

When the Dominion of Pakistan was formed by the partition of India in 1947, it was composed of various ethnic and linguistic groups, with the geographically non-contiguous East Bengal province having a mainly Bengali population. In 1948, the Government of the Dominion of Pakistan ordained Urdu as the sole national language, sparking extensive protests among the Bengali-speaking majority of East Bengal. Despite constituting a majority of the Pakistani population, Bengalis constituted a small part of Pakistan’s military, police and civil services. Ethnic and socio-economic discrimination against Bengali people aggravated and agitations arose in East Pakistan over sectional bias, neglect and insufficient allocation of resources and national wealth. The language movement was one of the first movement against the discrimination against Bengali people.

Dhirendranath Dutta, a member of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, first raised the demand for making Bengali an official language of Pakistan along with Urdu. It was as early as February 25, 1948, that Dutta had raised the question during a session of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly drafting a constitution for newly created Pakistan.

However, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the First Governor-General of Pakistan, in a meeting in Dhaka, on 21st March, 1948, declared that Urdu and only Urdu shall be the official State Language of Pakistan. Bengali people strongly resisted this declaration. Students and intellectuals of East Pakistan protested and demanded that not Urdu alone but Bangla also should be one of the state languages. That is how the Language Movement began in 1948 in the province known as East Pakistan.

Students formed the ‘State Language Action Committee’ and worked tirelessly to make Bangla one of the state languages of Pakistan. The immediate starting point of the tragedy of 21stFebruary was that on 27thJanuary, 1952, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Khwaja Nazimuddin announced at a public meeting that Urdu alone should be the state language of Pakistan. The students were infuriated at the announcement because Nazimuddin as chief minister of East Bengal in 1948 signed an agreement with the leaders of State Language Action Committee with a commitment to adopt a resolution of having Bangla as the other state language of Pakistan by the provincial Assembly.

Subsequently students of the Dhaka University and Dhaka Medical College took a robust role in the cause of the Language Movement and took a crucial decision and defied the wishes of politicians to violate Section 144 on 21st February, 1952. On their way at the site of the Medical College students’ hostel number 12, at 3-30 PM, the police opened fire on the peaceful procession of students by an order of a Magistrate (a West Pakistani). Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar, Shafiur and Salam, among others, sacrificed their precious young lives for honour and preservation of their mother language, Bangla.

This movement ultimately ended in the adoption of Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan in 1956. However, the movement was not isolated to this as it sowed the seeds for the independence movement of the Bangladesh which resulted in the liberation of Bangladesh as an independent state in 1971. The great Language Movement had been a historic and significant event in our national history. This movement was aimed at establishing the rights of our mother tongue as well as protecting self-entity and culture. Being a source of ceaseless inspiration, 21st February inspired the people of Bangladesh to a great extent to achieve the right to self-determination and sovereign state. In line with the spirit of Language Movement, Bangladesh achieved its long cherished freedom through a nine month long armed struggle under the charismatic leadership of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who proclaimed the country’s independence on March 26, 1971.

The Bengali Language Movement had a major cultural impact on Bengali society. The movement has redefined the Bengali culture by inspiring the development and celebration of the Bengali language, literature and culture. Language is not only the principal representative of a culture of one nation but it also creates sense of patriotism and nationalism in people’s mind. Bengali and Bangla language is an appropriate example of that. Bengali people created one of the greatest political and cultural histories in the 20th century. The events of 21st February1952 proved that a nation which is strong and powerful politically cannot destroy a spirited civilized nation if they have a unifying language like Bangla. 21st February is the symbol of grief, strength and glory in the life of every Bangalee.

The author acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.


The writer is the Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University