Muhammad Ali Jinnah declaring Urdu and only Urdu as state language of Pakistan in civic ceremony at Racecourse Maidan, Dhaka, in 1948

Quaid-e-Azam declares Urdu as state language in East Bengal in 1948

In the height of civic unrest, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the all-powerful leader of Pakistan (he was governor general, president of the constituent assembly and president of the ruling Muslim League all at once), arrived in Dhaka in the afternoon of 19 March 1948 on what would be his first and last visit to the eastern province of the country he and the Muslim League had created months earlier. Thousands of people assembled at the airport to welcome him and several thousands gathered by the roadside to have a glimpse of him. However, as events were to show, Jinnah would only make matters worse for himself and for Pakistan during his Dhaka visit by rekindling the language issue.

During his nine day stay, he delivered several speeches in Dhaka and Chittagong, including two speeches in English in Dhaka.

Declaration of "Urdu, and no other language" at civic reception at Ramna Race Course Maidan

On 21 March 1948, Jinnah addressed a huge public rally at the Ramna Race Course Maidan (currently Suhrawardy Uddyan), where he warned the people of East Bengal to be on guard against the activities of "subversive elements" out to divide and destroy Pakistani Muslims. In his long speech Jinnah spoke about conspiracies by communists and fifth columnists (or internal mischief makers) to undo Pakistan. He warned that no mercy would be shown to quislings (i.e. traitors who collaborate with enemies), though he did not mention who the quislings were. Jinnah further declared that "Urdu, and no other language" embodied the spirit of Muslim nations and would remain as the state language, labelling those who disagreed with his views as "Enemies of Pakistan".

Let me make it very clear to you that the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of Pakistan. Without one state language, no nation can remain tied up solidly together and function. Look at the history of other countries. Therefore, so far as the state language is concerned, Pakistan’s shall be Urdu.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah in a public meeting at the Race Course Maidan, Dhaka, on 21 March 1948

These comments fuelled enormous anger and resentment in the hearts of the Bengalis of East Bengals and prompted voices of protest even at the public rally. And as Bangladesh's history was to later show, it was a line of thinking that would be adopted by all Pakistani rulers and other West Pakistani politicians every time legitimate demands for social and political justice were made by Bangali, such as the 1971 autonomy.

Jinnah left to the government and to the elected representatives the job of deciding for themselves what language should be used by the administration, in education and in the courts - for East Bengal alone. He was delighted that Khawaja Nazimuddin had been so firm in his efforts to restore order. He considered the promises made by the Chief Minister to the students invalid, saying they had been extorted from him. He overruled the contract that was signed by Khawaja Nazimuddin with the student leaders which contained the 8-Point agreement.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah visited East Pakistan from 19 - 28 March 1948. The visit was a disaster, seeing that instead of reassuring the Bangla-speaking people of his country on the language issue he ended up making them angrier than they were before.

For perhaps the very first time in his long political career, Jinnah came face to face with a situation where he was not exactly looked upon as a revered individual. He, like so many other Pakistani rulers after him, smelled a conspiracy in the demand for Bangla as a state language.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

Jinnah's abrasive remarks were severely condemned by Prof Abul Kashem who, on the same day, came down hard on the governor general's attempt to paint the advocates of Bangla as fifth columnists and communists and as enemies of Pakistan. Two days later, on 23 March 1948, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq denied that there were any quislings, fifth columnists or enemies of Pakistan. He made it clear that Jinnah's language had not been polite and that his insistence on Urdu being the state language of Pakistan had been wrong.

This insinuation that support for Bangla meant disloyalty to the unity of Pakistan meant that, through the act of speech, Bengalis became disloyal citizens from the outset of Pakistan's nationbuilding. He [Jinnah] expressed similar feelings two days later, at a Dhaka University convocation. As such, the political elite, especially the 'visionary' of Pakistan, framed the language controversy as a commitment on the part of loyal citizens to the unity of the Islamic identity of Pakistan - contrary to the traitors and enemies of the new country.

Bina D'Costa, author of "Nationbuilding, Gender and War Crimes in South Asia" (2011)

On this occasion, Jinnah - who had no doubt been badly advised - lacked his customary shrewdness.

Christoph Jaffrelot, editor of "A History Of Pakistan And Its Origins" (2002)

Reaffirms Urdu stance at Dhaka University

But the speech that created the biggest uproar was the one that Jinnah delivered to the special convocation of Dhaka University at Curzon Hall on 24 March 1948. Here, he was the chief guest tasked with awarding graduation certificates. In his speech to the students he dwelt on the refugee issue, the need to guard against conspiracies and the place of Urdu in national life. Jinnah linked support for Bengali with opposition to Pakistan, calling advocates of the Bengali language enemies of Pakistan, Communists, and traitors, among other terms.

Once again, he showed his strong categorical and emphatic support for Urdu by advocating that it would the state language, since it was 'nurtured by 100 million Muslims' and 'embodies the best in Islamic culture'. He linked language with national unity when he declared that "without one state language, no nation can remain tied up solidly together and function".

Unlike your predecessors you fortunately leave this university to enter life under a sovereign, independent state of your own...

We have broken the shackles of slavery; we are now a free people. Our state is our own state. Our government is our own government, of the people, responsible to the people of the state, working for the good of the state...

...Thwarted in their desire to prevent the establishment of Pakistan, our enemies turned their attention to finding ways and means to weaken and destroy us...

Our enemies, among whom I regret to say, there are still some Muslims, have set about actively encouraging provincialism in the hope of weakening Pakistan and thereby facilitating the re-absorption of this province into the Indian Dominion. Those who are playing this game are living in a fool's paradise, but this does not prevent them trying...

Let me restate my views on the question of a state language for Pakistan. For official use in this province, the people of the province can choose any language they wish... There can, however, be one lingua franca, that is, the language for inter-communication between the various provinces of the state, and that language should be Urdu and cannot be any other...The state language, therefore, must obviously be Urdu, a language that has been nurtured by a hundred million Muslims of this subcontinent, a language understood throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan and, above all, a language which, more than any other provincial language, embodies the best that is in Islamic culture and Muslim tradition and is nearest to the languages used in other Islamic countries.

These facts are fully known to the people who are trying to exploit the language controversy in order to stir up trouble. There was no justification for agitation but it did not suit their purpose to admit this. Their sole object in exploiting this controversy is to create a split among the Muslims of this state, as indeed they have made no secret of their efforts to incite hatred against non-Bengali Mussulmans...

Make no mistake about it. There can be only one state language if the component parts of this state are to march forward in unison and that language, in my opinion, can only be Urdu. I have spoken at some length on this subject so as to warn you of the kind of tactics adopted by the enemies of Pakistan and certain opportunist politicians to try to disrupt this state or to discredit this government.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah warns students to be vigilant against mischief makers

In many literature Jinnah is frequently quoted as stating 'Urdu and Urdu alone would be the State Language of Pakistan'. This is a misquote. Nevertheless, his intention was very clear. Jinnah linked support for Urdu with Pakistani patriotism, as well as with Islam.

Students were stunned at these utterances of the most powerful man in Pakistan. At this point his speech was interrupted by loud protests from a large segment of the audience in the hall. Some of them shouted 'no, no' to record their protest. Amongst these was Abdul Matin, a student leader who later formed the Purbo Pakistan Jubo League (East Pakistan Youth League) in March 1951, and then, the Chhatra (Student) League, both Awami League fronts and instruments of the incipient nationalist movement. Waiting to receive his diploma from the Quaid-i-Azam, Abdul Matin stood up on his chair and shouted "No, it can not be!" when Jinnah made his declaration. He was supported by many other students.

This was a new experience for Jinnah. Unaccustomed to people defying him, Jinnah stayed silent for a few moments before resuming his speech. For the first time in his long political career, the Quaid-e-Azam faced a challenge to his diktat. However, he interpreted this outcry as further proof of the conspiracies to undo Pakistan. He went on to warn the students:

...beware of the fifth columnists among yourselves... guard against and weed out selfish people who only wish to exploit you so that they may swim...consolidate the Muslim League party which will serve and build up a really and truly great and glorious Pakistan.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah on 'Fifth Elements'

Meeting with Shorbodolio Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad bears no fruit

On the evening of 24 March 1948, i.e. the very day on which Jinnah spoke at the Dhaka University convocation, Jinnah agreed to meet a deputation on behalf of the Shorbodolio Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad. But the talks failed as both sides stuck to their pervious positions. Mohammad Toaha submitted a memorandum to on behalf of the students demanding Bengali as one of the state languages of Pakistan, but to no avail. Jinnah refused to see the students' point of view over the language question and reiterated his refusal to grant Bengali a status equivalent to that of Urdu. He tried to persuade the student representatives of the necessity of having one national language, but the students were not convinced.

The simmering tension reached boiling point when rather bizarrely Jinnah demanded to know from the students if Bengalis could boast any great men of letters in their history. Outraged and shocked by his poor knowledge of Bengali culture, and offended by the crudity of the question from their 'Father of the Nation', the students' reminded him of prominent figures such as Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Mir Mosharraf and a host of others. Jinnah made no response to this prompt comeback from the well-prepared and understandably irreverent youngsters. He merely resorted to warning the students against a deep-rooted conspiracy against Pakistan by communists and fifth columnists. The students clearly did not agree with him.

Jinnah committed the outrage of asking the young men if Bengal could point to any instances of great literature and aesthetics in the Bangla language.

Some of those on the Action Committee team, particularly Oli Ahad and Abdur Rahman Chowdhury, did not mince words in informing Jinnah that he had limited knowledge about the culture of the Bengalis. For his part, the governor general thought the students were being led astray by the enemies of Pakistan.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

This experience proved to be a bitter pill and embarrassing experience for the language activists. The seeds of discontent had been sown. In spite of all their best efforts it was not possible immediately to rejuvenate the Movement due primarily to the mass popularity of Jinnah at the time.

In the days following Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah's address at Dhaka University, the atmosphere in the city and indeed in the province was one of deep disappointment. As the founder of Pakistan, in the view of many Bangalis, Jinnah ought to have been more receptive to the popular grievance where the language question was concerned. That Jinnah was not ready to give an inch baffled many. His combative meeting with student representatives after his Curzon Hall appearance did not go down well with people. The governor general was inclined to think that a strong handling of what he considered misguided young people was necessary. Among the students, a subtle rebellious streak began to manifest itself.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

24 March 1948 could have been the day when Muhammad Ali Jinnah would rise to the occasion and assure Bengalis that their worries about the place of Bangla in Pakistan would be taken into serious and sympathetic consideration. He missed the chance and thereby set the people of East Bengal on a course that was to lead, over the next 24 years, to the break-up of Pakistan and the rise of East Bengal as the independent republic of Bangladesh.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

Jinnah spent the remaining part of his visit to East Pakistan in meetings with local Muslim League leaders and workers as well as government officials. Accompanied by the general officer commanding (GOC), Mohammad Ayub Khan (later president of Pakistan through a coup d'état ), he also visited troops of the fledgling Pakistan army.

Radio broadcast announces Urdu-only stance to the whole eastern province

On the eve of his return to Karachi on 28 March 1948, Jinnah spoke to the people of East Bengal over radio. Amazingly, he only repeated what he had earlier stated at the Race Course Maidan and the DU convocation. His speech was rather long, the focal point being his emphasis on the need for unity and discipline among all the units of the state of Pakistan. He did not let the opportunity go by for proffering some advice to Bengali students who, he suggested, should take what he called the right course to the future. However student rallies and protests erupted immediately after Jinnah's week long visit.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah's visit to East Bengal, with his pronouncements on the language question, considerably diminished his hitherto solid reputation as a unifying force for the people of Pakistan. A sense of alienation between him and the Bengalis set in immediately with his departure for Karachi.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

The fall of united Pakistan seems to many observers to have been the final act in a play that began in 1947... Many would say that [Zulfikar Ali] Bhutto was responsible in the final act, but others would maintain that Jinnah may have played the key role in the first act.

Craig Baxter, author of "Bangladesh / Government and Politics in South Asia"

Kobita - Ora Amar Mukher Kotha

"Ora Amar Mukher Bhasha" by Abdul Latif

Jinnah "misinformed"

The insistence of the Muslim League and its leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah to impose Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan fuelled wider support throughout East Pakistan for the language movement. However, this insistence was a surprise. Traditionally, the Muslim League are known to favour devolution – more powers to the provinces, less to the centre.

The Lahore Resolution had envisaged two autonomous and independent states. Even when, in 1946, the Lahore Resolution was virtually amended to make the demand for a separate state for the Muslims, the question of provincial autonomy was not compromised. Yet the Muslim League leaders miserably failed to conceive in terms of linguistic autonomy.

Anisuzzaman, Professor Emeritus at Dhaka University

The fact that the west Pakistanis were ready to provoke the east Pakistanis – traditionally peaceful, hardworking people of the soil – demonstrates not only their arrogance but their lack of insight into the high esteem in which the Bengali Muslim held their language.

Such indications were abound. Let us cite an example. A few days after the Lahore Resolution was adopted, the Bangya Musalman Sahitya Samiti organized a discussion on the poetry of Iqbal. The Mayor of Calcutta, Abdur Rahman Siddiqui (later governor of East Pakistan) was invited to chair the session and Amiya Chackravarty, the poet, as the main speaker. Although the speakers were given the choice of using English or Urdu, then chair would not allow anyone to speak in Bengali. This led a section of the audience, with Habibullah Bahar and Shaukat Osman in the forefront, to make such hue and cry that the chair himself had to leave the premises. The very next day Amiya Chakravarty narrated the incident in his letter to Rabindranth Tagore and expressed both his surprise and admiration at the love of the young men for their mother language.

Anisuzzaman, Professor Emeritus at Dhaka University

It is also alleged that Jinnah was given one-sided briefing on the language issue and half-truth was presented to him. The picture presented to him depicted that the demand for Bengali as State language was nothing more than a conspiracy of disgruntled leaders of the Muslim League, the Hindus, the communists and anti-Pakistan elements.

Time did not allow Quaid to apply his political wisdom to explore and resolve the issue, as he did in 1937. During a session of the All India Muslim League at Lucknow, a proposal was tabled for making Urdu as official language of the Muslim League in 1937 but it was strongly opposed by the Bengali delegates. Quaid intervened and final version of resolution carried that wherever the Urdu language was the language of area, its unhampered use and development should be upheld, and where it is not the predominance language, adequate arrangements should be made for teaching it as an optional subject.

Mussarat Jabeen, Amir Ali Chandio & Zarina Qasim, Analysts

Nevertheless, after Jinnah’s visit the controversy temporarily cooled down but the issue remained unresolved.

Khawaja Nazimuddin retreats 8-Point pledge

Muhammad Ali Jinnah's firm stance on the position of Bangla and stubborn refusal to comprise emboldened Chief Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin to an extent that had earlier not been noticed. A few days after Jinnah returned to West Pakistan, Khawaja Nazimuddin broke most of his promises which he had made only three weeks earlier (15 March 1948) with the Shorbodolio Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad.

At the East Bengal Legislative Assembly session on 6 April 1948, the Chief Minister moved a resolution to grant Bangla the status of an official language only within the province and then only once it had been decided to drop English, contrary to his earlier commitment to the 8-point plan he had signed with the Sangram Parishad. This was designed to postpone the matter to an uncertain future and was a hint of troubled times ahead.

Two days later, the resolution was adopted.

On 8 April 1948, the East Bengal Legislative Assembly adopted Khawaja Nazimuddin's following proposals:

  • Bengali shall be adopted as the official language for replacing English in the province of East Bengal; and it will be implemented as soon as the practical difficulties are resolved.
  • The medium of instruction in educational institutions in East Bengal shall, as far as possible, be Bengali, or the mother tongue of the majority of scholars in the institutions.

Naturally this 'watered down' version fell much short of the normal expectations of the people of the eastern region who felt it failed to recognise their ethnic and cultural diversity. They criticised the Muslim League, the leaders of Pakistan, for not accepting the reality that Pakistan was a multilingual and multi-national state.

More than two dozen (27) amendments to Khwaja Nazimuddin's lean proposal were submitted by the members of both the treasury bench and opposition. Of those amendments, Dhirendranath Datta's multiple proposals were of great significance. He carefully crafted the language of those amendments in such a way so that the EBLA was at least convinced to recommend to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (CAP) for adopting Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan. Yet, Khwaja Nazimuddin had refused to lend any support to such a pro-Bengali proposal. At the behest of the Urdu-speaking Prime Minister of the then East Bengal, most of the Muslim Leaguers in the EBLA had defeated Dhirendranath Datta's multiple amendments. Finally, Khwaja Nazimuddin's meager proposal on Bengali language with minor modification was adopted by the EBLA.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

First anniversary of Pakistan's independence

On 14 August 1948 Pakistan celebrated it's first anniversary.

We have faced the year with courage, determination and imagination, and the record of our achievements has been a wonderful one in warding off the blows of the enemy which have been so often referred to before, especially the pre-planned genocide and pushing on with real constructive work internally. The result of our constructive and ameliorative work has gone far beyond the expectations of our best friends.

...But that is not enough: Remember, that the establishment of Pakistan is a fact of which there is no parallel in the history of the world. It is one of the largest Muslim States in the world, and it is destined to play its magnificent part year after year, as we go on, provided we serve Pakistan honestly, earnestly and selflessly.

...Disappointed in their efforts by other means to strangle the new State at its very birth, our enemies yet hoped that economic manoeuvres would achieve the object they had at heart. With all the wealth of argument and detail, which malice could invent or ill-will devise, they prophesied that Pakistan would be left bankrupt. And what the fire and sword of the enemy could not achieve, would be brought about by the ruined finances of the State. But these prophets of evil have been thoroughly discredited. Our first budget was a surplus one; there is a favourable balance of trade, and a steady and all-round improvement in the economic field.

One year is a brief period in the history of a State for finally assessing its progress or predicting its future. But the way in which tremendous difficulties have been overcome, and solid progress recorded during the last twelve months, gives a firm basis for optimism.

Nature has given you everything: you have got unlimited resources. The foundations of your State have been laid, and it is now for you to build, and build as quickly and as well as you can. So go ahead and I wish you God speed.

Pakistan Zindabad.

A message by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to the nation on the occasion of the first anniversary of Pakistan on 14 August 1948

Jinnah's death results in promotion for Khawaja Nazimuddin and Nurul Amin

On 11 September 1948, just over a year after Pakistan's creation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah passed away in Karachi, West Pakistan, after suffering from ill health (he then weighed just over 36 kilograms or 79 lb). This was testing time for the new nation as Jinnah had combined in himself the powers of governor general, president of the constituent assembly and president of the ruling Muslim League.

Three days later, on 14 September 1948, Khwaja Nazimuddin took over Jinnah's role as Governor-General of Pakistan, and the following day, Nurul Amin took over Nazimuddin's old role of Chief Minister of East Bengal. The decision to appoint Nurul Amin was based on Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan's advise, but proved to be controversial as it was against the wishes of the ruling Muslim League party and resulted in a split in the party.

Though Khwaja Nazimuddin became governor general, real power, however, passed into the hands of PM Liaquat Ali Khan who soon made it clear that he was in charge.

The controversy over language issue remained dormant between mid-1948 and 1951 due to the fact that the ruling elite of Pakistan was pre-occupied with other burning issues. Certain changes in the political leadership of the new nation also had impact on the language issue. The death of Mohammad Ali Jinnah on 11 September 1948 had delayed the full implementation of Urdu language policy throughout Pakistan. After Jinnah died, Khwaja Nazimuddin, the Urdu speaking Chief Minister of East Bengal, became the Governor General of Pakistan. His elevation to such a coveted position in the power structure of Pakistan could be treated as the ultimate price for his life-long collaboration with the non-Bengali and anti-Bengali coterie of the Muslim League. Yet Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, had dwarfed the role and powers of the office of the Governor General of Pakistan immediately before and after Jinnah's death. The real power actually was exercised by the Prime Minister. On the other hand, Khwaja Nazimuddin's tenure as the Governor General of Pakistan was characterized by dismal failures, timidity, and vacillation. Having the experience of dealing with the volatile and committed Bengali language activists as the Chief Minister of East Bengal, Khwaja Nazimuddin was too weak either to revisit or deal with the language issue. Therefore, he was in favor of maintaining a status quo. His sole goal was to survive in the Karachi-anchored Punjabi-Mohajir controlled power structure of Pakistan.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

As for Nazimuddin, he showed not the slightest trace of taking Pakistan to a new direction, but he did make it clear that under him Pakistan would remain firmly on the course its founder had set for it. That included the late founder's position on the language question.

Meanwhile, despite the political change in the country, the people of East Bengal showed little inclination toward softening their stance on the demand for Bangla being the state language of Pakistan.

'Historic Memorandum' presented by Golam Azam to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan

Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan visited the eastern province for ten days from 18 - 28 November 1948.

He was accorded a reception on behalf of the Dhaka University Central Student’s Union (DUCSU) at Dhaka University Gymnasium ground on 27 November 1948. A young Golam Azam (also spelt Ghulam Azam), then General Secretary of DUCSU and a member of Tamaddun Majlish, read out the Address of Welcome and presented the 'Historic Memorandum' to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan on behalf of the Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad demanding provincial autonomy and Bangla as a state language. Ghulam Azam would later be the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and gain notoriety for his alleged role in war crimes during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.

The memorandum was written by Abdur Rahman Chowdhury, vice-president of Salimullah Muslim Hall in Dhaka University whose previous notable contributions, amongst others, include speaking on the first student protest on 6 December 1947, meeting with Khwaja Nazimuddin to agree the 8-Point agreement, meeting with the late Quaid-i-Azam as a member of the student delegation, and leading the student delegation to the South-East Asian Students Conference (1948) and delivering his address in Bangla, one of the first speeches made in Bangla in any international forum. A meritorious student and a brilliant orator, Abdur Rahman Chowdhury would later rise to the position of a judge of the Bangladesh High Court.

The vice president of DUCSU at that time was Aurobindo Basu, a Hindu. The Sangram Parishad felt it was not appropriate for Aurobindu Basu to present the memorandum since he was part of a religious community already under suspicion by the authorities.

In November 1948, when Pakistan's prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan travelled down to Dhaka on a ten-day visit to a pretty restive East Bengal, the students felt that in view of the hostility of the authorities to the language question, it would be proper for a Muslim rather than a Hindu to read out a memorandum before the prime minister. And thus it was that Ghulam Azam and not Aurobindo Basu presented the memorandum listing the students' demands for Bangla to the prime minister.

It will not do to erase or look away from such realities. And if Ghulam Azam's name is not on Dhaka University's list of language activists, someone should see to it that a correction is made.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

  • Abdur Rahman Chowdhury (1926 - ) Judge at Bangladesh High Court. One of the pioneers of Bhasha Andolon. Vice President of Salimullah Muslim Hall of Dhaka University (1948) and member of East Pakistan Muslim Students League (Barisal). Elected twice as the secretary of the then Dhaka High Court Bar Association. Elevated as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh (1973 - 1983). Represented Bangladesh in UN General Assembly in 1977 and played crucial role in Bangladesh’s election to the Security Council for the first time. Appointed as an Arbitrator of the International Court in Paris in 1993. Chairman of Bangla Academy. Founder president of Liberty Forum and Institute of Human Rights & Legal Affairs. Father Alhaj Khan Bahadur Abdul Latif Chowdhury, an elected member of the Bengal Legislative Council at Delhi, came from an illustrious Zamindar family of undivided Bengal.
  • Golam Azam (Born 1922) Amir (President) of Jamaat-e-Islam Bangladesh. Attended Madrasah in his village of Birgaon (Comilla district) and completed his secondary school education in Dhaka. A scout leader and a sportsman in his early schooling. Completed BA and MA degrees in Political Science at Dhaka University. Popular student leader in his student life. Assistant secretary to East Pakistan Cultural Union (1945 - 1946), secretary general to the Hall Union of famous Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall of Dhaka University (1946 - 47) and secretary general to Dhaka University Central Students Union for two consecutive terms ( 1947-49). Arrested multiple time during Bhasha Andolon (such as 1948, 1952, 1955). Notable contribution include submitting a memorandum to prime minister of Pakistan on behalf of DU students on 27 Noveber 1948. Early career as teacher of Political Science in Rangpur Kermichle College, where he established a branch of Tamaddun Majlish (1952). Became member of Syed Abul Ala Maududi's Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1955 whilst in jail. Became Amir in 1969. Alleged to have collaborated with Pakistan Army during 1971 Muktijuddho and settled temporarily in Pakistan. Allowed to return to Bangladesh seven years later in 1978. Contained Pakistani passport until granted Bangladeshi citizenship in 1994. Retired from active politics in 2000. The 89-year-old was arrested on 11 January 2012 for alleged war crimes during Muktijuddho, over 40 years ago. Born in nana's (maternal grandfather) home in Lakxmi Bazar Shah Shaheb Bari in Dhaka.

Sir, It is with a heart, throbbing with joy and emotion that, we, the students of the University of Dacca, welcome you in our midst as the first Prime Minister of our new, free and sovereign State of Pakistan. Even in the midst of these joyful surrounding, our thoughts naturally go back to the day when only a few months back we had the honour and privilege of welcoming the beloved Quaid-e-Azam in our midst. Though he is no more with us his message and his work are our most precious heritage which shall continue to guide and inspire us in future. The most fitting homage that we can pay to his memory is to build up our State in accordance with the Islamic ideals of equality, brotherhood and justice.

Sir, with the dawn of independence a great responsibility has developed on us. We can assure you that, we, who have contributed our mite to the national cause, are quite alive to the fact that the future wellbeing and stability of the state rest on us. Hence, the task of building up those, who will build up the state, should be given the utmost importance. We must revolutionise our outlook and reconstruct our thought to shape ourselves in the new order of life. The present system of education, which was introduced by the Britishers to suit their requirements, should be thoroughly reorganized in the light of the altered circumstances. The lamentable failure of our Provincial Government to give any lead in this matter till now and the present pitiable plight of primary, secondary and university education in our province have compelled us to draw your kind attention to the matter. The exodus of non-Muslim teachers, who formed the bulk of the teaching staff in pre-partition period in the secondary and the university stages, coupled with the dirth of efficient substitutes, has been a serious blow. The technical branches of education, viz, the Engineering, the Medical and the Agricultural, which should be given the utmost care are also badly suffering for want of efficient teachers and technical equipment. Steps should be taken to secure efficient teachers and technical employment, if necessary, from abroad, and more students from East Pakistan should be sent overseas for higher education and training. Female education is another subject which is also not receiving its due attention. More facilities and encouragement should be given to our sisters who are now coming forward in increasing number to avail themselves of every opportunity of education and serving the country. We also urge on you, Sir, to introduce compulsory free military training in all the colleges and the universities with facilities for our sisters too. The problem of accommodation is getting more and more acute since the partition. Both students and teachers are greatly suffering on this account and the authorities are also experiencing great difficulties in accommodating the growing number of students in different educational institution. We therefore appeal to you to use your good offices to remedy the present deplorable state of affairs affecting the growth and future wellbeing of the nation...

Sir, the food problem is causing us a great concern. The prices of essential commodities and cloth have gone beyond the purchasing power of the average citizen and perhaps the cost of living here in East Pakistan is the highest in the world except in China. Steps should be taken to increase our food production to make ourselves self sufficient. This can only be made possible by abolishing the Permanent Settlement without compensation and thoroughly re-organizing our land tenure system and by the introduction of co-operative farming on a scientific basis...

Sir, though the two parts of our state happen to be separated by nearly one thousand miles we are one with our brethren of West Pakistan in their joys and sorrows, happiness and tribulations. Provincialism is a word unknown to us and quite foreign to our sentiment. We take this opportunity of conveying through you our best wishes and most sincere greetings to your brethren in West Pakistan and the youth in particular.

Sir, the policy of the Britishers to impart education through the medium of a foreign language accounts for the poor percentage of literacy amongst our people. The best way to impart education is through the medium of the mother tongue, and we are glad that our Provincial Government has already accepted this principle. The introduction of Bengali as the medium of instruction and as the official language has opened before us a great opportunity of educating our people and developing ourselves according to our own genius, We are happy to note that out Central Government, under your wise guidance, has given Bengali an honoured place. This is a step in the right direction which shall go a long way to further strengthen our cultural ties, with our brethren in West Pakistan. Interchange of thoughts and ideas and mutual understanding are essential if we have to develop a homogeneous and healthy national outlook. We have accepted Urdu as our Lingua Franca but we also feel very strongly that, Bengali by virtue of its being the official language of the premier province and also the language of the 62% of the population of the state should be given its rightful place as one of the state languages together with Urdu. Otherwise, we in East Pakistan shall always be under a permanent handicap and disadvantage. Thus alone we shall have full scope of development and forge closer affinity with our brethren of the other part and march forward hand in hand.

Sir, you are aware of the pitiable plight of the people of East Bengal and Muslims in particular, who were victims of the worst kind of political oppression and economic exploitations. We are confident, Sir, that our legitimate claim in our Armed Forces and the Central Services, on the basis of population-percentage shall be given effect to immediately...

Sir, we have been watching, with increasing grief and concern, the repressions to which nor student friends, most of who are tried Muslim League workers with admirable record of service and sacrifice, are being subjected. Many of us are being harassed and even put under detention without trial in our attempt to fight out corruption and injustice and bring them to the notice of the Government. The bogey of communism is raised to justify these injustices but we assure you most sincerely that, all other "isms" excepting Islamic message of peace, equality and social justice are quite foreign to our outlook.

We hope, Sir, and we are confident that the points we have raised shall receive your earnest attention and sympathetic consideration...

Pakistan zindabad.

Excerpt from the memorandum of the students of the University of Dhaka as read out by Golam Azam to PM Liaquat Ali Khan on 27 November 1948

However, to his discredit, prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan remained unmoved by it all and clearly showed little interest in accommodating the demand for Bangla as a state language. In his address, the prime minister condemned the demand for provincial autonomy as provincialism but kept silent on the state language issue.

Bangla spelt in Arabic

Arabization of Bangla

On 27 December 1948, Education Minister Fazlur Rahman stated in an All Pakistan Education Conference of teachers that the old and traditional scripts or writing systems - which included Bangla - should be changed in favour of Arabic or Urdu script "for the sake of Islam".

The board is of the opinion that in the interest of national unity and solidarity and the rapid advancement of general education in Pakistan, it is necessary to have all the regional languages of Pakistan written in the same script; the Arabic script was most useful for this purpose…

Fazlur Rahman, Central Minister for Education, on why it's important to introduce Arabic script

He elaborated on this matter at the education conference held in Peshawar on 7 February 1949. As a result, the Central Pakistan Education Advisory Board strongly recommended the Arabic script as the only script for all Pakistani languages. And since Arabic was already the common script of the different languages of West Pakistan such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi and Pashtu, the proposed change would only affect one language - Bangla.

Not only Bengali literature, even the Bengali alphabet is full of idolatry. Each Bengali letter is associated with this or that god or goddess of Hindu pantheon...Pakistan and Devanagari script cannot co-exist... To ensure a bright and great future for the Bengali language it must be linked with the Holy Qur'an...Hence the necessity and importance of Arabic script.

Fazlur Rahman criticises Bangla language for its 'idolatry'

None of the West Pakistan provinces Punjab, former NWFP and Balochistan and even Sindh supported the Bengalis' just demand because all were beneficiaries through Urdu.

Dawn (Pakistan)

Predictably, this move raised howls of protest in Bengali intellectual circles and prompted sharp reaction among the students. Once again the students of Dhaka University reacted promptly sending a protest memorandum to the education advisory board.

The attempt of introducing Arabic script for the Bengali language, which has a rich heritage and tradition, is an attack on our language, literature and culture. This attempt has created a fear of new colonial design and of slavery in the minds of Bengalis.

The protest memorandum of DU students to the Education Advisory Board

Efforts were made to gain Dr Shahidullah's support for the proposal. In the event, the Bengali scholar refused to be associated in any way with the move.

East Bengal Language Committee recommends writing Bengali in Arabic script but in 20 years time

Instead of taking steps to calm the anger, the Pakistani government moved to edit the style and diction of the Bengali language. The Urdu agenda that started in 1947 became firm in 1949.

On 9 March 1949 the East Bengal government, in keeping with the spirit of the central government, set up the 'East Bengal Bhasha (Language) Committee' to prepare a report on the language problem. The Committee was presided by Maulana Muhahammad Akram Khan and contained 16 members including Dr. Muhammed Shahidullah, Habibullah Bahar, Dr. Muajjam Hosan, and Abul Kalam Shamsuddin. The Committee completed its Final Report on 6 December 1950 and submitted it to the East Bangla Education Ministry. However, the Federal Government didn't publish the report until 1958, eight years later.

The theme of forming Bhasa Committee was to collect a recommendation in favour of scheme ‘Bengali should be written in Arabic script’. As the scheme was not successful, the Education Ministry didn’t pay any interest to the other recommendations. Moreover, they held up the report for being published and continued the scheme.

This report of East Bangla Bhasa Committee came into light in 1958 in the regime of Ayub Khan which was another step of the then autocratic Government to suppress the cultural independence of East Bengal.

Bangladesh News website

The report suggested that Bengali 'may be' written in Arabic script, as a potential solution to the language conflict, but the process should be delayed for 20 years. In addition, it recommended that the "Sanskritization of the language be avoided", removal of Sanskrit principles from Bangla grammar, and the introduction of Urdu as a second language in the secondary and higher stage of education to make the linguistic, social, politicial and cultural "bonds" between the two wings of Pakistan "closer and deeper". The Committee also suggested drastic modifications of the Bengali writing system and issued a model chart as a guide.

The key findings of the East Bengal Bhasha Committee were:

  1. The Sanskritisation of the language be avoided as far as possible by the use of simple phraseology and easy construction in vogue in the speech of East Bengal.
  2. The expressions and sentiments of Muslim writers should strictly conform to the Islamic ideology.
  3. All the Sanskritic principles having no direct and important role to play in the principles of Bengali grammar be omitted and only genuine Bengali principles existing in the language and envisaged in this report be found out and established as the principles of Bengali grammar.
  4. The unintelligible technical terms of Sanskrit grammar imported to Bengali grammar which made the confusion worse, be substituted by the simple nontechnical terms of the Bengali language.
  5. Urdu be studied as a second language in the secondary and higher stages of our education in order that we may make the linguistic, social, political and cultural bonds between the two wings of Pakistan closer and deeper.

Subsequently, Pakistan's government sought to replace the Bengali writings system with Arabic writing, and later with Roman script, but these efforts to refashion the Bangla language were met by popular resistance and were unsuccessful.

What the report wanted to say by "Sanskritization of the language be avoided" was to exclude the Sanskrit words from Bengali and replace them by Urdu, Arabic or Persian words to “conform to the Islamic ideology”. But Bengali like other Indo-Aryan languages including Urdu had assimilated large numbers of Sanskrit or old Indo-Aryan words in the course of its thousands years of evolution and it would be impossible now to undo this historical process.

The recommendations of the Committee were highly tendentious and at once politically motivated, in that they were meant to "create" a new-fangled Bengali different from that of West Bengal. Needless to add, the report was jettisoned by the linguistic scholars and Bengali intelligentsia.

A plethara of political, ideological, constitutional, and economic problems had been progressively burgeoning since Pakistan emerged. The two wings of Pakistan were virtually plagued with the quoted controversies. As the year 1951 wore on, the problems multiplied further.

Rafiqul Islam's contribution in "Language and Civilization Change in South Asia" (1978)

Arabic education centers funded

Despite the protest, from April 1950, the Central Education Office of the Pakistan government started 20 adult education centers in various districts of East Bengal with the intention of teaching primary Bengali through Arabic script and bringing about linguistic reform. Each centre contained 25-35 students who were admitted for 6 months. Countless centres were also opened by general public to 'try out' the Arabic script. A huge sum of money was spent on such an experiment. The Central Government sanctioned Rs. 35,000 for the education of adults in 1949 and next year the amount was increased to Rs. 67,764. The whole amount was spent in East Bengal to introduce the project of introducing Arabic script for the Bengali language. A list of Bengali reference books was prepared which were to be printed in Arabic script at the expense of Central Government, and circulated at free of cost. The Government also declared that awards would be given to those authors who wrote Bengali books in Arabic script.

Once again, leading exponents of Bangla such as Dr. Shahidullah and Dhirendranath Datta questioned the logic behind adopting Arabic script for writing Bengali and openly opposed it. The students of the Bengali Department of Dhaka University, among others, declared that they would not allow the script of their language to be changed as they would alienate them from cultural heritage. Apprehensions of such change were also expressed in the Legislative Assembly as they had been even earlier.

The question of the state language for which I, as President of the East Bengal Arabic Association hold a definite view well-known to the public should not be mixed up with the question of the script of regional languages. When Persian was the state language, Bengali was written with the Bengali script. It was so during the British period when English became the state language of the country.

The script question should be considered from the point of view of its scientific accuracy, its suitability for short hand, type writing, printing and rapid writing, and also the sentiment of the people in general who are expected to use it... I myself have written against the Arabic (Urdu) script for the Bengali language in my booklet Āmāder Samasyā (our problems)... one is bound to accept the logical conclusion that is a highly controversial matter. But the removal of illiteracy is an essential thing and, at the same time, a universally accepted primary duty of the government. For running 21 adult education centres for teaching Bengali in Arabic script the Central Government had to spend Rs. 130500/- in two years and a half. This huge amount if used for teaching Bengali in the Bengali script, could have surely shown hundred times better result.

Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah, in his article 'Urdu Script for Bengali' published in the Pakistan Observer on 5 February 1952

I represent not only Hindus but also the Musalmans. I can tell you that the ordinary people will not understand the language (i.e. Arabic) that is sought to be introduced in Eastern Bengal. That policy shall have to be changed. I do not know whether the Government is aware of this fact that amongst the large sections of the people and especially among younger generation there is a demand made in a certain conference that the Bengali language should be made one of the State languages of Pakistan.

Dhirendranath Datta pointed out in the CAP (Constituent Assembly of Pakistan) on 27 March 1951

Efforts to promote Arabic remained unabated throughout the 1950s. The Islamic cultural conferences held in Dhaka in 1952 and 1956 and the East Pakistan literary conference held in Chittagong in 1958 repeatedly exhorted that it was the duty of writers in East Pakistan to adhere to Islamic culture and principles, emphasize the Muslim tradition, strengthen the ideology of Pakistan, and always be on guard against and frustrate the designs of those who aim to unite the two Bengals.

Sensing public hostility to the matter of Arabic, the plan was eventually scrapped.

It seems that Fazlur Rahman's love for using Arabic script for writing Bengali knew no bounds. His name lives on infamy for his anti-Bengali stance. He introduced the same issue once again on the CAP floor on 27 March 1951. Among others, Dhirendranath Datta and Mohammad Habibullah Bahar from East Bengal promptly criticized the nefarious design of transforming the people of East Bengal into an inferior class of illiterate citizens of Pakistan by introducing an alien script for writing Bengali. Dhirendranath Datta, an ardent defender of Bengali language, strongly demanded the outright rejection of the discriminatory decision for introducing Arabic script in lieu of Bengali alphabets. He also urged the Government of Pakistan for immediately adopting Bengali as one of the State languages.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

The attempt of introducing Arabic script for the Bengali language, which has a rich heritage and tradition, is an attack on our language, literature and culture. This attempt has created a fear of new colonial design and slavery in the minds of Bengalis.

Rafiqul Islam's contribution in "Language and Civilization Change in South Asia" (1978)

Dr. Shahidullah declares "Muslim + Hindus = Bengalis" in first literary conference

Few days after Fazlur Rahman had expressed his views, a 'Purbo Pakistan Shahitto Shommelon' (East Pakistan Literary Conference), the first of its kind to be organised since the setting up of the Pakistan state, was held in Dhaka over two days on 31 December 1948 and 1 January 1949. The conference was the initiative of Habibullah Bahar, then the Health Minister of the East Pakistan government, and presided over by Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah.

In his presidential speech at the concluding session of the Conference, Dr. Shahidullah made it clear that Bangla being a rich language qualified as the medium of instruction in East Bengal. In his view, Bangla was the language of the people of both East and West Bengal and though the people of the two parts of Bengal might be classified into Hindus and Muslims by religious denomination, they were bound by a common cultural heritage.

It is reality that we are Hindus and Muslims, but the greater reality is that we are Bengalis... Mother nature has put such indelible mark on our appearance and language that no camouflage of Hindu and Muslim external markings could hide this basic reality. We need as free citizens of post-independent East Pakistan a properly developed literature covering every branch of it. Such a literature will be invariably in the mother-tongue Bengali. No nation can thrive on literature in the world written in a foreign tongue.

Famous declaration by Bengali Muslim scholar Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah in the first Bengali literary conference of East Bengal held at Dhaka on 1 Jan 1949

Dr. Shahidulllah reacted sharply against Khwaja Nazimuddin's resolution by emphasising the distinct ethnic and cultural entities of the Bengali-speaking people of Pakistan. From him, these qualities were 'transcending' and 'stamped' by nature 'that it is no longer possible to conceal it'. But the rulers of Pakistan did not accept the reality that Pakistan was a multilingual and multi-national state.

[Dr.] Shahidullah's statement was one of the earliest expressions of what would in time come to be regarded as Bangalee nationalism in Pakistan.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

This declaration by a very respected university man [i.e. Dr. Shahidullah], who was clearly above suspicion as neither a communist nor a foreign agent, marked the beginning of the linguistic and cultural identity of Bengalis, whatever their religious affinity.

Christoph Jaffrelot, editor of "A History Of Pakistan And Its Origins" (2002)

These bold and forthright remarks of the venerable Professor did not go down well with the ruling circles as well as the proponents of Urdu in Pakistan. The Dainik Azad newspaper bitterly criticised it in its editorial on 1 January 1949.

Along with the cultural observation, (in his address) Dr. Shahidullah also proposed the establishment of a language academy. Ultimately, Bangla Academy was established on 3 December 1955 at Burdwan House - ironically, once the official residence of Chief Minister of East Bengal, Khwaja Nazimuddin, known for his anti-Bangla stance.