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Your Language Your Identity

Your Language Your Identity

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21st February morning, 1953. Female students of Dhaka University, festoons in hand in the procession

When a language is lost, humanity is rendered poorer. Remembering the value our respective mother language embodies, eastindiastory team traces the trajectory of language movement in erstwhile East Pakistan and similar instances across history. Our editorial this week marks the celebration of International Mother Language Day on 21st February.

Millions of years ago when the first humans started walking upon the earth, they used to communicate with verbal sounds. These sounds gradually formed into a language. One language developed into many languages as humans travelled across the world.

Languages play a key role in determining the identity of a person, and this identity is what we know as mother tongue. The sentiments and passion revolving around a mother tongue is such that it has the ability to change history. Yes, history testifies how the love of a language resulted in formation of a new country.

When India was divided in the year 1947, it was divided into two countries, the countries of East and West Pakistan and Bharothborsho. The citizens of East Pakistan were shown a dream, a dream of a better life. But life soon showed the reality, the reality of a threat to identity. It was a threat to the Bengali identity.

Sometimes a presumed logical decision turns out to be illogical. Such an illogical decision was taken by the Government of Pakistan in 1947. They decided to implement Urdu as a sole state language. They said Urdu will be used exclusively in the media and in schools. And schools and other educational institutions witnessed the beginning of protests against such an imposition. The protesters stipulated Bengali as an official language of the Dominion of Pakistan and as a medium of education in East Bengal.

The Government of Pakistan was adamant, as they removed Bengali from the list of approved subjects, as well as from currency notes and stamps. Stamped by this decision a large number of Bengali students met at the University of Dhaka on 8th of December 1974 and demanded Bengali to be made an official language.

It was the 21st of February 1952. University of Dhaka was surrounded by officials and police. But the police were outnumbered by the students.  Just the way you use the ashtray when you are astray, the police used tear gas to avoid their own tears. The Vice Chancellor asked the police to stop and asked the students to go back home. The students did go but not back home but to their graves. Many students were injured and many killed, but they who fought were untamed. The movement continued.

This day 21st of February is the International Mother Language Day. It was this day when many students were martyred, martyred for the love they had for their mother language Bengali. This was the genesis of Mukti Juddha (Freedom Movement), a Juddha which led to the formation of a new country, the country we know today as Bangladesh.

The fight for language has many more examples. It was in the year 1960 when the Government of Assam made a decision to make Assamese the only state language. This decision immediately resulted in mass protests in Barak Valley, the Khasi Hills (now Meghalaya) and other areas finally leading to withdrawal of the decision. Similarly Bengali was imposed upon the people in hills where mostly Nepali speaking people resides. They started a mass agitation and finally this decision was withdrawn. Similarly the Bodo movement was initiated to get their language recognized.

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This and many more show that mother language is highly precious to all. People preserve it, nourish it and respect it. They learn other languages, but they adore their own language. Hence your language is your identity. Long live all languages.


Featured Photograph : 21st February morning, 1953. Female students of Dhaka University, festoons in hand in the procession. Credit :



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