On 21st February 1952, the brave sons and daughters of this land sounded out the message for all to hear, that the people of this land were determined to live in dignity. Of those brave young people, some fell to the firepower of a state that did not care to guard its own dignity - let alone grant it to its people. Ekushey was the first post on the bugle that it would not last. Its seminal glory has remained etched in our consciousness, for they were the earliest indication of the nationalism whose seeds would eventually bear fruit in 1971.

We therefore observe Ekushey once again, in all the dedication to principles we can muster, for Ekushey defines us all as a people. It is essential that today we reflect and ask ourselves the old and yet inevitable question: what compelling reason was there for those young men and women to do what they did in defence of the Bangla language? The answer is again simple. It is that a nation is in need of self-esteem and because it is, it needs space for itself. On 21 February 1952, we created that space for ourselves. And then the space expanded in its wider, richer dimensions.

Rare is it in history that a people have struggled in defence of their language, that in upholding the dignity of their mother tongue they have achieved supreme glory through martyrdom. When all those young Bengali men fell before the might of the Pakistan state 69 years ago, they were not merely telling us that in their death lay embedded the dignity of those who would live on. They were telling us something more, which is that dying in defence of Bangla was effectively and truly a giant step toward a revival of the culture that had consistently fortified the Bengali's dealings with the rest of the world.

Those martyrs first showed us the path to struggle, the road we needed to traverse if we were to thrive in freedom and dignity as a society, indeed as a nation. Ekushey 1952 was a pointer to the difficult, winding road which lay before us, but also to the more substantive destiny that was ours. Ekushey in less than twenty years would broaden out into a larger mapping out of experience through a concerted national struggle for autonomy. It would then propel us all on to the path to the ultimate realisation: independence as a nation. Our long journey from 1952 to 1971 was thus paved and cemented by Ekushey.

Today, even in the midst of the dreaded virus that has deprived us of our beloved Boi Mela this February, it is to those brave young men who perished so that we could live in freedom as well as dignity, that we owe our deepest, most abiding homage. Their courage did not go in vain. To live up to their sacrifice, we are pledge-bound to keep the flame they lit alive through eternity.

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