Defying the curfew (announced after Ekushey February killing), the very next morning thousands of students and common people came out on city streets to protest the killings. They staged a demonstration on Nawabpur Road (Kaptan Bazaar, near Osmani Uddyan) in Dhaka demanding recognition of Bangla and participated in a gayebi janaza (funeral prayer held without the dead body) on the Medical College campus, Dhaka University and Engineering College areas. The Imam (religious leader) for this janaza was Maulana Bhashani, who had rushed back from Bogra, where he was on an organisational tour, after hearing about the Ekushey killing. Amongst those participating in the prayer for the martyred young men was Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Huq and Abul Hashim. Prayers for the deceased were also offered at masjids (mosques) throughout the province. After the prayers were complete, the demonstrators went for a procession.
National leaders such as Maulana Bhasani took to the streets supporting the cause of the language. However, it was the students who invigorated the movement. All students' activities were centred on Dhaka University campus, later it spread among mass people and students in other divisions and districts.
After this event and until February 27th, Dhaka’s government administration was ruled according to the decisions announced from Shahidullah Hall, Dhaka University.
Amor Ekushe website
Sher-e-Bangla presided over a meeting of the Dhaka High Court Bar Association who condemned the police over their harsh action. Doctors and staff at the medical college where the injured were treated also condemned the police action. Students at educational institutions across the province lowered the national flag to half mast as a mark of respect to the martyrs. Once again, the public demonstrated and police responded. It resulted in several deaths - allegedly four - including that of a High Court Staff and a young man named Shafiur Rahman, a Law student from Dhaka University, while many others were injured and arrested. Shafiur, who was going to office on a bicycle through Nawabpur Road, was shot in the back. Taken to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital where he died at 7 pm. His dead body was buried at Azimpur gurustan (graveyard) early next morning at 3 am under police guard. As the situation deteriorates, the government calls in the military to bring the situation under control.
Morning News had been spreading the canard of India and the communists being behind the language movement. It even reported that a large number of dhotis, the dress worn by Hindus, had been recovered in the city. The insinuation was obvious.
The tension reached the East Bengal Legislative Assembly which met for a session on that day. Maulana Abdur Rashid Tarkabagish and Khairat Hossain moved an adjournment on the incidents of Ekushey February. Khairat Hossain and Ali Ahmed Khan asked that condolences be adopted by the assembly, however, this suggestion was opposed by Chief Minister Nurul Amin. When the motions were placed in the House, they were defeated as it failed to raise the minimum numbers required for a discussion to take place.
Eventually, Nurul Amin decided to bow down to public pressure.
Realising the gravity of the situation and trying to limit the damage of the night before, Chief Minister Nurul Amin tabled a resolution in House for adopting Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan - the very first ruling Muslim League politician in office to make such a proposal.
This Assembly recommends to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan that Bengali be one of the state languages of Pakistan.
The resolution was passed unanimously for the first time. Muslim League members broke their party rank to vote in favour of the amendments moved by the Opposition, till then consisting mostly of Hindu Congress members.
For the first time a number of Muslim members voted in favour of the amendments moved by the opposition, which so far had consisted of the Hindu Congress members only. The split in the Muslim League became formalized when some members demanded a separate bloc from the Speaker [then known as the President].
But this motion came too late to pacify the students. They wanted Nurul Amin’s insensitive administration to come to an end. Now their favourite slogan was "Khuni Nurul Amin Bichar Chai, Khuner Bangla Khun Chai" (We want justice, i.e vengeance against bloody Nurul Amin. We want blood for Bengali blood). For his part, Nurul Amin still failed to understand the language agitation as a people's movement for a legitimate demand and contended that the agitation was engineered by the communists and Hindu elements. His observation was largely based on the two articles which appeared in Swadhinata, a Kolkata-based Communist Party daily. In these articles the Communist Party had taken the credit for turning the 1952 language movement in East Pakistan into an united mass movement.
The resolution which Chief Minister Nurul Amin placed before the assembly on February 22 was shockingly devoid of any expression of condolence for those killed on the preceding day. Neither was there any indication in it of any planned investigation of the incidents by the government. The resolution was passed by an acquiescent assembly, quite naturally, because it was dominated by members belonging to the ruling Muslim League.
Though the language agitation had not attained its immediate objective, it however produced certain inevitable consequences. First, it generated a mass movement secular in character. Second, it enlisted the sympathy and support of a wider section of the masses. Thirdly, it cut across all political and religious barriers and penetrated into the heart of every citizen.
It was not urban in character. Those who played an effective role in conducting the movement came from the rural peasantry. Finally, it induced East Bengal to think that the Bengali interests were not safe in the hands of the Muslim League Government dominated by the West Pakistanis. The East Bengal language agitation left an imprint on the minds of the people who decided to observe 21 February as a Shaheed Dibosh (Martyrs Day).
All the victims shared a Bengali identity, a point that is highlighted at each annual Ekushey observance. The student of the medical college erected a Shaheed Minar (Martyrs' Column) on the night of 23 February 1952 at the spot where one of their friends, Barkat, was shot dead. Maulana Bhashani along with Abu Hossain Sarker, chief minister of the then East Bengal and mother of martyred Barkat laid the first foundation stone of Shaheed Minar. This monument was to become the rallying point for Bengali nationalism. Three days later, the police demolished the memorial.
The tragic 1952 events rallied Bengalis around a common purpose: the protection and preservation of their culture as exemplified in the monument, the commemorative events, and the activities inspired by the clashes with police.
The Language Movement affected the Bengalis as a people; a latent cultural nationalism was fused to a political cause and the common bond stimulated a politically conscious public. The people of Bengal had something they all believed in; in fact could fight and die for. Irrespective of the narrow patriotism it created, it propelled the Bengali on the road to political maturity.
For subsequent 3 to 4 days after Ekushey February, Dhaka turned into a city of demonstrations and processions by thousands of people chanting angry slogans against police atrocities, although curfew was still in force. Shops stayed closed and no vehicles were seen on the streets of Dhaka. Railway workers stayed away from work, which meant that trains did not leave Dhaka or enter it. Clashes between citizens and the police were reported from various parts of the city. Despite a heavy presence of police and soldiers on the streets, thousands of Bengalis poured out to condemn the government over the killings of February 21. Women students of Dhaka University, besides their male fellow students, came together to condemn what they called the barbaric act of the government. Hartal was observed all over the province and various organisations issued statements severely condemning the police action of 21st February, whilst the students demanded the resignation of the chief minister Nurul Amin.
As February 23 drew to a close, the Tamaddun Majlis issued a statement severely criticizing the action of the government. It resolved to continue the struggle for Bangla as the language of the state.
The Weekly Sainik [newspaper] brought out special issue on 22 February. As all the copies were exhausted soon, it had to go for 2nd and 3rd editions on 23 February with reporters on the latest situation.
Most of the leaders went into hiding as police had been frantically trying to arrest them. Within two weeks from the nightfall of 23 February 1952 most of the members of the Committee of Action and other leaders of the Movement including Maulana Bhashani, Abul Hashim, Shamsul Huq, Kazi Golam Mahbub, Khairat Hossain, Oil Ahad, Abdul Matin, Mirza Golam Hafiz, Khandakar Moshtaq Ahmad, Mohammd Toaha, Khaleq Nawaz Khan, Aziz Ahmad, etc. were arrested. At about 3am in the night following 23 February 1952 police surrounded the office of Tamaddun Majlis at 19 Azimpur in order to arrest Prof. M.A. Quasem and Abdul Ghafur, but they were able to go out of the office and escape arrest.
The next few days brought violence and agitation. The state’s coercive power was used against the protestors again and again. For their part, the protestors too went to the extreme: government installations were stoned and offices of the Morning News, which had always opposed Bengali, were burnt. The government responded by arresting prominent anti-government politicians and intellectuals.
Ekushey February created myths, symbols and slogans... It gave Bengalis not only a popular common cause but also their first martyrs.
Michael E. Brown & Sumit Ganguly, Editors of "Fighting Words: Language Policy and Ethnic Relations in Asia" (2003)
Although the Language Movement is considered to have laid the foundations for ethnic nationalism in many of the Bengalis of East Pakistan, it also heightened the cultural animosity between the authorities of the two wings of Pakistan. In West Pakistan, the movement was seen as a sectional uprising against Pakistani national interests.
The rejection of the "Urdu-only" policy was seen as a contravention of the Perso-Arabic culture of Muslims and the founding ideology of Pakistan, the Two-Nation Theory.
Not only were Bengalis removed from Punjabis, Pathans, and Sindhis by linguistic culture, but Islam was far less a common bond than might be assumed. Bengali Islam was the religion of the indigenous depressed peasant convert; in West Pakistan, Islam was the faith of the conquerors, the rulers, the courtiers. Or, as Ayub Khan had put it, Bengali Islam was a faith associated with the "downtrodden races".
Crawford Young, author of "The Politics of Cultural Pluralism" (1979)
Bengali not only contravened the principle of a single national language, in the eyes of the Muslim League elite, its literary heritage was mainly Hindu, and its script was Devnagari (or Hindu) and bore the dangerous germs of pan-Bengali Nationalism. Some of the most powerful West Pakistani politicians considered Urdu a product of Indian Islamic culture, while they saw Bengali as a part of "Hinduized" Bengali culture.
East Bengalis... probably belong to the very original Indian races. It would be no exaggeration to say that up to the creation of Pakistan, they had not known any real freedom or sovereignty. They had been in turn ruled either by the caste Hindus, Moghuls, Pathans, or the British. In addition, they have been and still are under considerable Hindu cultural and linguistic influence. As such, they have all the inhibitions of down-trodden races and have not yet found it possible to adjust psychologically to the requirements of the new born freedom.
Their popular complexes, exclusiveness, suspicion, and a sort of defensive aggressiveness probably emerge from this historical background.
Most,however,stood by the "Urdu only" policy as they believed that only a single language, one that was not indigenous to Pakistan, should serve as the national language. This kind of thinking also provoked considerable opposition in West Pakistan, wherein there existed several linguistic groups.
The Awami Muslim League turned over to Bengali nationalism after the Movement, and shed the word "Muslim" from its name. This ethnic nationalist approach of the party led to alienation of leaders such as Golam Azam who were supportive of the Muslim activism rather than the ethnic nationalist approach. The Language Movement inspired similar discontent in West Pakistan and provided momentum to ethnic nationalist parties. The political unrest in East Pakistan and rivalry between the central government and the United Front-led provincial government was one of the main factors culminating in the 1958 military coup by Ayub Khan.
Condemnations of the police firing also came from the Alia Madrasah, Islamic Brotherhood, Dhaka Traders Association and other organizations. Interestingly, a fairly good number of organizations in West Pakistan stepped into the scene with their criticism of the government action of February 21.
On 23 February 1952, the Karachi-based newspaper Dawn, in a long editorial on the tragedy of February 21, had this to say in substance:
"All Pakistan will grieve and our enemies will derive comfort and cheer from the tragic happenings at Dacca. First and foremost we offer homage to those who have paid the forfeit of their lives in the conflict between their convictions on the one hand, and the principle that law and order shall be maintained, on the other hand….
But every dark cloud has a silver lining and out of these grievous happenings has emerged the final knowledge of how deeply our people and our kith and kin in East Pakistan feel on the language issue... We can assure the people of East Pakistan that the people of West Pakistan will not grudge them the equality with Urdu which Bengali has at last won".
After the partition of India in 1947, there was practically no national newspaper in Dhaka and elsewhere in the province of East Bengal. The Azad and the Morning News, the only two papers supportive of the Muslim League, were still in Calcutta. A weak faction of the Muslim Leaguers in Calcutta ran the Ittehad. These three papers were gradually shifted to East Bengal. The Jindegi discontinued publication from Dhaka and the Sangbad came out in the early 1950s. The Pakistan Observer came out in 1949. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani, the leader of the newly formed Awami Muslim League, published the Weekly Ittefaq the same year as an ardent critique of the Muslim League government. The weekly, edited by journalist Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah, soon became popular and was the precursor to the popular Daily Ittefaq of the 1970s and beyond. The left leaning political activists found sanctuary in the daily Insaf in 1950. By this time the daily Paigam of Chittagong and the daily Naobelal of Sylhet were assuming the role of the national dailies.
During the early days of the language movement, the pro-Bangla supporters had no mouth-piece of their own. There were two weeklies, Insan and Insaf, edited by Abdul Wahed Chowdhury, supporting the Language Movement. Both these were irregular and short-lived. As such, Prof. Abul Kashem and few other supporters brought out the weekly Sainik (Fighter) on 14 November 1948 to create greater awareness of their endeavours. The Sainik was edited by prominent short story writer Shahed Ali, and volunteer staff included Enamul Huq, Sanaullah Noori, Abdul Ghafur and Mostafa Kamal. The office of the weekly Sainik was initially situated at 48 Captain Bazar but soon it was shifted to the residence of Prof. Abul Kashem at 19 Azimpur, Dhaka, which was already the office of Tamaddun Majlish. Naturally, with both prominent organisations being under its roof, 19 Azimpur soon turned into the nerve-centre of all socio-cultural activities including the Bhasha Andolon.
Other newspapers that supported the Bengali Language Movement and the cause of the Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad included the Jindegi, Desher Dabi, Pakistan Observer, Millat, Amar Desh, and the weekly Chashi of Mymensingh. In contrast, the Morning News and Sangbad supported the government's Urdu stance. After Muhammad Ali Jinnah's infamous declaration in March 1948, Maulana Mohammad Akram Khan, the president of the East Pakistan Muslim League, and his paper, the Azad, challenged Khwaja Nazimuddin for supporting Jinnah's Urdu stance in the provincial assembly. The Urdu daily Pasban from Dhaka, the Assam Herald and the Jugabheri of Sylhet followed suit, although they also gave some news coverage favouring Urdu.
After Ekushey February tragedy, Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, a member of the treasury bench and editor of Maulana Akram Khans's Azad newspaper, resigned from the provincial assembly in protest. He later inaugurated the first Shaheed Minar built by students on the site of police firing.
Hamidul Huq Chowdhury, Minister of Finance, Commerce, Labour and Industry in Khawaja Nazimuddin's provincial cabinet, had been encouraged by "friends and foes alike", including Muhammad Ali Jinnah who, whilst visiting Dhaka in 1948, told Hamidul that without an independent newspaper, representative government simply could not function. With this in mind, Hamidul founded the Pakistan Observer, one of the two English newspapers in Dhaka during that time (the other was the Morning News). The first issue issue of the Observer came out on 13 March 1949 and contained the budget statement of the Provincial Assembly which took place early in the month. It was the first local English newspaper in Dhaka to report on the proceedings of the Assembly and other activities of the provincial government.
Pakistan Observer was in favour of more power for the provincial government. It tried to expose every new effort to change the Constitution taking away more power from the province. It became a voice for those political parties which could not get a share in the administration and became accepted as a guide for political arguments and for facts and figures published in the economic fields.
This only succeeded in enraging the people in power in Karachi.
During language crisis the Observer stayed neutral in the issue. They recommended that Bangla should not be relegated to a secondary position, and Pakistan should be a bilingual country with English remaining as the official language for the time being. However, on 13 February 1952, as students organised a 'Flag Day' (where they sold flags and posters in order to raise funds in favour of the language movement), a panic-stricken government, convinced that the movement was aimed at destabilising it, swiftly went into action by taking a number of prominent figures into police custody. Hamidul Haq Chowdhury, known for his vocal opposition to Chief Minister Nurul Amin, was arrested. At the same time, Abdus Salam, editor of the Pakistan Observer, was carted off to prison on the excuse that in an editorial criticising the government, he had committed blasphemy through making certain derogatory remarks about Hazrat Uthman, the third Caliph of Islam. For good measure, the government decreed a ban on the Pakistan Observer despite the fact that the directors of the newspaper as well as its editorial team offered apologies for the editorial in question.
The official government communique cited the subversive role played by the editorial staff and its publisher, the former Muslim Leaguer, Hamidul Huq Choudhury. Actually the newspaper was closed for its intemperate criticism of Nurul Amin and central administration policies . It was also a strong supporter of the demand to give the Bengali language national status. The order curtailing the operation of the Observer was followed by another on the evening of 20 February 1952. Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was promulgated in the city.
The paper was closed from 13 February 1952 to 1954 when the Jukta Front routed the Muslim League in election.
After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the Pakistan Observer was renamed to 'Bangladesh Observer'.
Only three amateur photographers took photographs of the historic Language Movement from 1947 onward. Two of these photographers were students of Dhaka University while another was an employee of Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Muhammad Taqiullah, son of Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah and a student of Dhaka University, took the photographs of the students’ language movements in 1948. Amanul Haque and Rafiqul Islam, on the other hand, took photographs between February 1952 and 1954, which are the only available visual documents of our glorious Language Movement.
I was then a Dhaka University student and involved with Tamaddun Majlish, a common platform of the political activists who had two-point demand for establishing Bangla as a state language soon after the partition. On that day, I was staying at Fazlul Haque Hall of Dhaka University. Led by M. Toaha, a plan was chalked out to bring out a procession from the university to the secretariat.
On the way to the secretariat, police charged batons on the procession and many including, AK Fazlul Haque, were injured in the attack. Instantly, I rushed to my dormitory and returned with my camera to take photographs.
The photographs featured hundreds of students and political leaders dispersed by police and many lying on the road being injured. At times these photographs have been incorrectly used to showcase the police brutality during 1952 and have been wrongly documented.
Some documents feature my photographs as documents of 1952 movement. In fact, I was in jail at that time. And no question arises of taking photographs in 1952. For my involvement in progressive movements, I was serving in jail between 1951 and 1955.
In fact, my mother preserved the photographs taken on 11 March 1947. I’ve donated all these photographs to a private museum named Bhasha Andolon Museum. I also donated some historical documents such as the pamphlet named ‘Pakistaner Rastrabhasha Bangal Na Urdu’ published on September 15, 1947, by the publicity wing of Tamaddun Majlish.
In the evening of February 21st 1952, I was wandering to take photographs of the dead bodies on Dhaka Medical College Hospital premise knowing several dead bodies of civilians had been taken to the hospital. But I could not trace any such dead body. A government official named Kazi Mohammad Idris came to help me. With his co-operation I found Martyr Rafique's dead body had been kept in the store room of Dhaka Medical College. Instructed by a medical college student named Halima, I went to the room quickly and took the photograph of the dead body.
...I wanted to publish this photograph along with other photographs of the historical movements that took place around Dhaka Medical College and Arts Faculty of Dhaka University But none of the five newspapers agreed to publish those.
Even any press photographer did not take any photographs of the language movement. In fact, photographs taken by me and Rafiqul Islam are the only visual documents of that period. And Muhamad Taqiullah took photographs of language movement at the initial stage in the late 1940s.
Amanul Haque, then an 'Artist cum Photographer' of Dhaka Medical College Hospital
Amanul also took several other photographs featuring agitation by the students of Shorbodolio Kendrio Rashtrobhasha Kormi Parishad (All-Party Central Language Action Committee), Many of these photographs are the only available documents of demonstrations and processions by the students violating Section 144 in Dhaka University area on 21 February 1952. He also took photographs of the major incidents that took place between February 1952 and 1954 when the then East Bengal Legislative Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the recognition of Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan.
However, Amanul Haque, who was quite close to legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray and declared that Ray was his guru, believes that the spirit of the language movement has been derailed these days, though it was the inspiration of all the great movements including the War of Independence. According to Haque, language movement has rather become a kind of celebration of cultural activities in the month of February.
Professor Rafiqul Islam, then a first year student at the Bangla department of the Dhaka University and now a prominent Kazi Nazrul Islam exponent, took photographs during Ekushey February and 22 February 1952 which are invaluable document of the country's history. Prof. Rafiqul took eight photographs on Ekushey February including the historic meeting at Amtala and the preparation of students and leaders before breaking Section 144 in front of Dhaka University’s Old Arts Building.
Noted Tagore singer Kalim Sharafi (later a recipient of Swadhinata Purushkar and Ekushey Padak) presented him a manual camera in 1951 that could only capture eight photographs. "That's why I couldn’t take photographs of the ultimate event", said Rafiqul in a frustrated voice.
Nevertheless, he bravely climbed on the roof of the then two-storied Arts Building of Dhaka University to take photographs of the gathering at the Amtala. As his camera reel was finished, he could not take the photos of the procession which was attacked by the Pakistani force.
As the police monitoring was very strict, I had to go secretly to a studio to develop the reels.
Professor Islam also took snaps of the newly erected Shaheed Minar at Fulbaria in Dhaka in 1952, language martyr Barkat's mother’s visit from India’s Murshidabad to Bangladesh in 1953, and other events that took place at the Shaheed Minar on the 21st February in subsequent years.
Many of his reels were damaged or lost during the Independence War in 1971. After the independence, authorities of National Museum, Rajshahi University Museum and others collected photos from Islam to preserve them. Gonoshasthaya Sangstha (People's Health Agency) also published its yearly calendar using those photos in the mid-seventies. A non-government organization, named SEDH, also used his photographs in their book titled 'Bangla Bhasha Sahittya O Sanskritik Andolan – Itihash O Chobi' in 2005.
Professor Rafiqul Islam donated the photos of Language Movement to Bangladesh Open Source Network in 2008 and many of these are available on Wikimedia.
What Prof. Islam also does not forget to mention is how Bangla has become so rich with elements drawn from other languages particularly those of the Santal, Oraon, Munda, and Kol to mention few. He cautions that the Bengalis should show their respect to other languages that have given so much to Bangla and Bengali culture. He observes that these neighboring languages remain unprotected and neglected, which is a shame for Bengalis who gave their lives for their mother tongue. He calls upon Bengalis to protect and nurture the languages of these indigenous people.
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