It was not a language of the divinities. It was not a language of the heavenly revelation. Nor did it emerge from of any cliques of rulers. It was rather a language of the lesser mortals dubbed 'a vulgar tongue', 'a language of the gutter' for ages. Well, it was our language, and still remains. We loved it and will continue to. We preferred hell and our language to heaven and others'. This is our mother tongue; our beloved Bangla; our dukhini barnamala!
Bengali language is one of the mother-trinity of the Bengali nation; the other two being their female parents and their motherland. We love our mothers. We love our motherland and mother-tongue too. Our people did not have to die for their mothers, but they had to die for their mother-tongue, and their motherland. As a matter of fact, the struggle for the mother-tongue has led us to the long-borne struggle for our motherland and finally we were able to save them both. This is a unique sequence of events which took us from the prolonged shadows of dependency to the light of independence. The immortal Ekushey is the first of the flights of stairs that led us to the top rung of liberty. Ekushey was the harbinger of our independence and the herald of our liberation. Our great independence is closely tied to the strings of Ekushey. Ekushey came, so independence could not be far behind. Our much-anticipated freedom had to appear on the winged chariot of Amar Ekushey.
Immortal Ekushey was born on the 21st February of 1952.The whole world saw the bloody birth of a language movement, which is almost a rarity in human history. They witnessed the unprecedented event of the supreme sacrifice made by the invincible Bengali people on the altar of their passion for mother-tongue. Although it was too late to gain the global recognition for this singular selfless sacrifice, we got it at long last. Our Ekushey is now the International Mother Language Day. This is the pride of the country; the pride and joy of the people. Ekushey is the sweetest song of the Bengali that tells of the saddest thought. The feeling is so profound that the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said in a choked voice on his historic homecoming day: "Standing on the gallows I would say I am a Bengali, Bangla is my mother."
Bangladesh is a country founded on the basis of Bengali nationalism whose soul is the Bengali language. It is the quintessence of what we call a nation state and the core of this nationality is deeply rooted in the language. When the language felt insecure and its existence was threatened with extinction in a country ruled by outsiders, it called for self-rule. The demand asserted itself. The birth of Bangladesh became inevitable as Bengali language aspired to a state of its own. So, the history of the emergence of Bangladesh is the history of the long and rugged way from the movement of autonomy to that of independence. And the seeds of that autonomy movement were sown in the hearts and minds of the Bengali folks primarily on question of language. They felt, for the first time, the urgency of home rule when their mother tongue fell victim to an unprovoked attack by the Pakistani rulers, right after the partition of India (1947). The so-called 'Two-nation theory' had already started taking its toll. The people of East Bengal could realize that they would need to make up for the historical blunder of the Indian subcontinent committed by egoistic Nehru, opportunist Jinnah, helpless Gandhi and the crafty clique of British rulers. This crude awakening led them first to the road to autonomy and then to independence.
It was one of the costliest mistakes in human history to divide a country merely on grounds of religious affiliation where people regardless of castes, creeds and religions had been united under the umbrella of an anti-colonial movement. Indian subcontinent minus partition could have been one of the world's biggest lands with a wide variety of people capable of making their part of the world a centre of excellence. There would have been greater diversity and choice in socio-economic and political life. This is called 'unity in diversity'. The cultivation of this kind of holistic approach to religion would have played a highly effective role in the moribund subcontinent where religious extremism rules the roost and mutual respect has been held hostage by fundamentalism, religious militancy and fanaticism. But the vested interests had split it by a preposterous political surgery which has perpetuated religious intolerance and ethnic disharmony.
However, the 'Two-nation theory' proved abortive almost immediately. The true character of the self-styled guardians of Islam was unmasked. The West Pakistani rulers assumed a Big Brotherly demeanour and holier-than-thou attitude towards the Bengali folks. They unleashed the big stick upon them. Despite the sameness of religious identity, no other affinities could develop between the two wings of Pakistani. In addition, the neo-champions of Islam thought a language like Bengali which was originated from and developed through non-Islamic sources and influences was not worthy of being the official language of the newly emerged 'holy place', Pakistan (Pak--holy and Sthan--place).They also thought that on having been part of the 'holy place', the then Indian province of 'East Bengal' needed to be renamed and considerably sanctified. They renamed it as 'East Pakistan' and tried to make Urdu the state language.
Although Urdu is an Indian language, and a standardized form of Hindi, it is written in Arabic script, and spoken by the Indian and Pakistani Muslims. So, they consider it holier than Bengali which was originated from a dialect of India, and nurtured by the Buddhist and Hindu monks over the centuries. This was at the back of the minds of those Pakistani neo-custodians of Islam. So, they planned to make Urdu the state language of Pakistan, and did not give Bengali its fair share, although Bengali was used by the majority of the people of entire Pakistan.
But all their efforts came badly unstuck. Bengali language is the lifeblood of the Bengali people. They prefer death to dishonour of their mother-tongue. They are happy with their own sweet language as it was. Rabindranath won the Nobel Prize writing in this language (1913). Bangabandhu addressed the parliament of mankind-- the United Nations General Assembly in this language (September 25, 1974). This is our proud possession. We do not bother about whether our language is sacred. When Pakistan's Governor General Jinnah made the declaration at Dhaka University Curzon Hall that Urdu and only Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan, the agitated audience threw a straight 'no' at him. Even then the rulers did not see sense and abandon the unworkable policy.
The people of East Bengal were in for a rude awakening that their language and literature, society and culture, politics and economy - all of their life and legacy, were not in safe hands. They discovered that the Pakistani rulers under the guise of religious fraternity were in truth snakes in the grass. It was no go asking them for rights to language. So, they put up the line of active resistance. On the contrary, the government tried to subdue it with iron hands. This fanned the flame of fight. There came the 21st February (1952). Innocent blood was spilt in the resistance. But there is no holding the Bengali. They had learnt to die for their mother-tongue. So, quite naturally, the public defiance gained momentum. Martial law was let loose to put a curb on the popular movement. But all repressive government measures ended in smoke.
Bangabandhu came up with his historic 'Six-points' (1966), which amounted to full autonomy for East Bengal. The home rule movement became so intense that the ruling clique was compelled to hold a general election (1970) in which the Bengali won a landslide victory. But the rulers were not willing to give up so easily. They shot their last bolt. Operation Searchlight (March 25, 1971) was launched. But the Bengalis were at the point of no return. They already had their back to the wall. So, they decided to fight it out. And they fought to a finish, and seized their most prized possession, their independence, in exchange for a sea of blood.
If our national liberty (1971) compares with the fruit of a tree, the trunk of the tree is the 24-year struggle for self-determination, and the root is the language movement (1952). The history of Bangladesh is the history of the whole tree, from the root to the fruit. If we want to enjoy the fruit of our liberty, we have to take care of the whole tree, and the ground it is planted in. As Rig Veda puts it: "Everyone should respect their motherland, their country, and their mother tongue-because these are sources of happiness". We can never be happy in the true sense of the term without loving this national trinity-Bangladesh, Bengali culture, and Bangla language.
Dr. Rashid Askari is a distinguished academic, writer, fictionist, columnist, translator, media personality and former vice chancellor of Islamic University, Kushtia, Bangladesh. Email; [email protected]
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