Constitution of Pakistan emblem

Official recognition in the First Constitution of Pakistan on 23 March 1956

Last updated: 5 October 2017 From the section 1952 Bhasha Andolon

In September 1955 General Iskander Mirza replaced Ghulam Muhammad as governor-general after he resigned from the post. That same year, East Bengal's name was changed to 'East Pakistan' – 'Purbo Pakistan' in Bengali – after the adoption of 'One Unit' policy on 14 October 1955.

The following year, East Pakistan's Provincial Assembly reopened and Iskander Mirza became the first President of Pakistan, and that too of Bengali origin.

He became president on 23 March 1956 after the First Constitution of Pakistan was finally passed. In Article 214(1) of the constitution Bengali was recognised as the second official language of Pakistan – four years after Ekushey February.

Article 214(1) of First Constitution of Pakistan (1956)

  1. The State languages of Pakistan shall be Urdu and Bengali: Provided that for the period of twenty years from the Constitution Day, English shall continue to be used for all official purposes for which it was used in Pakistan immediately before the Constitution Day, and Parliament may by Act provide for the use of English after the expiration of the said period of twenty years, for such purposes as may be specified in that Act.
  2. On the expiration of ten years from the Constitution Day, the President shall appoint a Commission to make recommendations for the replacement of English.

From these experiences in Bangladesh it can be said that the best language planning is possible when the language is in action


In the new constitution Pakistan was renamed to “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”, and though it remained in the Commonwealth of Nations, other norms of allegiance to the Queen of England finally came to an end that day as Pakistan declared itself a republic.

The constitution also required the Bengalis to sacrifice their numerical majority in the population and agree to equal sharing in the national parliament. There would be 310 members – 150 from each wing of Pakistan, and 10 reserved for women. This meant that the votes of Bengalis counted for less than the votes of West Pakistanis.

Pakistan took an inordinately long time in framing its constitution, being governed in the meantime by the Government of India Act of 1935 as amended by the India Independence Act of 1947, both acts of the British Parliament. These were acts that continued and preserved a viceregal form of government, one in which the governor-general would have ultimate power, as the viceroy had before 1947. That is, this would be the system unless the governor-general were a Bengali.


Bangla abandoned again in 1958

Though Bengali was declared a national language along with Urdu in Pakistan’s 1956, this was never implemented. Ayub Khan took over the presidency from Mirza in 1958 and became Pakistan’s first military dictator. The 1956 Constitution was abrogated, the governments – that of the centre as well as those of the provinces – were dismissed, the Assembly was dissolved, and political parties were declared illegal. Nearly 150 former ministers, from national as well as provincial governments, and 600 ex-deputies were put on trial for corruption. Among them was Huseyn Suhrawardy.

Viewed from the lens of language policies and ethnic conflict, however, Pakistan’s historical narrative was troubled from the beginning.

Less than two months after Pakistan gained independence in 1947, Jinnah suspended the Provincial Assembly of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) in response to what he perceived to be a threat of Pakhtun secessionism in the form of a Pakhtun demand for greater autonomy. Less than six months later, Karachi was relieved of its status as a city of Sind Province and placed under federal control. The Bengali language movement was launched in 1948, and flare-ups involving language issues occurred in East Pakistan in 1951, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1966, and 1970-71. Meanwhile, linguistic movements in southern Punjab under the Siraiki banner were gaining momentum as early as 1956, with demands for the creation of a separate Bhawalpur Province.

The idea of a cohesive Muslim Pakistan was a fiction from the earliest days of its existence.


Bangla Desh

Creation of Bangladesh

Pakistan was beset with significant inter-regional rivalries from the very beginning and the imposition of Urdu enhanced differences and people of East Pakistan became the language-activists and language-martyrs. This movement led them to think about the liberation from the subjugation of West Pakistan and laid down the foundation of separate homeland.

Event by event, the destiny of my country was changing at an alarming speed. We neither knew in which direction our fate was going to be shaped, nor did I know whether my own destiny would ever be fulfilled. The effect of the sacrifice by the Dhaka University students had left a permanent injury on all of us students, but it became a powerful source of motivation to protect our identity, our dignity as the Bengali race, and above all, to save the dignity of our mother tongue, Bangla Basha.

Adil Khan,

Although the question of official languages was settled by 1956, and Bangla was adopted as a national language after inflicting a lot of damage, the Bengali complained about the military regime of Ayub Khan for promoting the interests of the Punjabi, Muhjir and Pashtun communities at the expense of the Bengalis. Despite forming the majority of the national population, the Bengali community remained under-representation in the civil and military services, and received less funding than other wing. Consequently, sectional divisions grew which subsequently led to the Swadhinata Juddho (Bangladesh Liberation War) of 1971.

"Ekushe February" or "21st February" became the red letter day to the Bengalis all over the world. From 1952 onwards the Bengalis of Pakistan drew their inspiration from the sacrifices of the 21st February in all their subsequent struggles. It is interesting that 21st February had in fact, shaped the destiny of East Pakistan and is now considered that the freedom movement of Bangladesh owed its origins from that date.


The language controversy catalysed the assertion of Bengali national identity in Pakistan and became a forerunner to Bengali nationalism. This in turn provided the foundation for the Six-Point movement of Awami League demanding greater autonomy and democracy. One demand was to rename East Pakistan as Bangla Desh (Land of Bengal), which increased the division even more.

Language issue also heightened the cultural animosity between the two wings of Pakistan. It generated a much deeper seeded sentiment of hatred within East Pakistan, which extended into other issues such as those concerning economic discrimination and the increasing concentration of political power in the western segment of the country. Primarily, the two wings of Pakistan were separated by Indian territory of thousand miles and this distance enhanced differences in social, cultural and even in religious attitudes. In early years, Bengalis believed that their economic, social and cultural aims are fit within the framework of a united Pakistan, but that illusion was soon to be shattered.

The worst on the government’s part was to degrade and destroy the local languages and cultures in the name of national language. No doubt, language alone neither separates nor integrates a nation but lasting legacies of the Bengali language movement and the language martyrs have transcended the test of time.

Infact, the imposition of Urdu without much consideration was resented among many people of Pakistan and it was the biggest mistake to choose it as the national language of Pakistan with long-term negative consequences. Ignoring this issue with falsehoods and illusions brought the worst result. The language issue was one of the major causes for the loss of East Pakistan. There were language riots in Sindh during 1970s and it was argued that learning of Urdu is simply for social and economic communicational necessities under Urdu-dominated system of the country. Urdu has no basis in Pakistan prior to 1947 when it was declared as national language. The British colonialists applied this instrument to keep Indian Muslims away from the Muslim culture of Afghanistan, Iran or Central Asia. Persian was the language of the Muslim rulers and the British’s recommendation of Urdu as the Court Vernacular was a conspiracy against Persian, that was official language of the Muslim rule and was the source of the union among the Muslim tribes of the adjoining areas.

Mussarat Jabeen, Amir Ali Chandio & Zarina Qasim, Analysts

Bangla in the Constitution of Bangladesh

East Pakistanis fought against the West Pakistanis in a 9 month bloody battle which started in the midnight of 25 March 1971. An estimated 3 million people died and over 10 million people were left homeless.

The formal victory of the East Pakistanis were declared on 6 December 1971 and a new nation was created – Bangladesh. The following year, under the leadership of the Awami League, the First Constitution of Bangladesh was written and adopted on 4 November 1972.

We, the people of Bangladesh, having proclaimed our Independence on the 26th day of March, 1971, and through a historic struggle for national liberation, establish the independent Sovereign People’s Republic of Bangladesh; pledging that the hight ideals of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism, which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in, the national liberation struggle, shall be the fundamental principles of the Constitution.

In the Preamble of the Constitution of Bangladesh 1972: 1-4 ,

In it, 'nationalism' was defined as:

The unity and solidarity of the Bengali nation, which deriving its identitiy from its language and culture, attained a sovereign and independent Bangladesh through a united and determined struggle in the war of independence, shall be the basis of Bengali nationalism

Constitution of Bangladesh 1972: 1-4 ,

And no doubt was left regarding the state language of the newly formed country:

The state language of the Republic is Bengali.