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Rashtrobhasha Sangram Parishad

On 1 October 1947, the first Rashtrobhasha Sangram Parishad (State Language Action Committee), an organisation in favour of Bengali as a state language, was formed. The committee aggressively protested the exclusion of Bengali. Chemistry Professor Nurul Huq Bhuiyan of the Tamaddun Majlish founded the committee which attracted a large number of students and teachers from Dhaka University and other educational institutions. Nurul Huq Bhuiyan was also appointed the treasurer of the Parishad which spearheaded the Bengali Language Movement.

  • # Nurul Huq Bhuiyan ()

The Rastrabhasa Sangram Parishad provided an organisational structure for launching and managing the language movement during the later month of 1947 and early months of 1948. It discussed various aspects of the language issue and strongly protested the conspiracy that had been hatched out by the 'Punjabi-Mohajir dominated Pakistani ruling elite' against the Bengali language and culture. The committee aggressively protested the exclusion of Bengali.

However, the exact role of Bangla was clouded.

In the efforts to argue the case for Bengali, the concepts of the state language of Pakistan got entangled. Some demanded that Bengali be made 'the' state language of Pakistan while some others demanded Bengali as 'a' State Language. Some expressed their views only in the context of East Bengal. Apprehending problems and chaos if more then one Lingua Franca was chosen, some wanted Bengali to be official language and the medium of instruction in East Bengal.

Anisuzzaman, Professor Emeritus at Dhaka University

Whilst the ordinary people, most of whom were uneducated, fought the anti-capitalist nature of the Urdu proposition, since they knew no other language than Bangla and weren’t going to let it go without a fight, the middle-class and the ruling class fought against Urdu itself. They feared the dominance of Urdu would mean that their knowledge of English would become redundant therefore their fight was against Urdu and not against capitalism. And since the army, bureaucracy and business were already dominated by the Punjabis and other west Pakistanis, a linguistic advantage would further isolate and undermine the subjugated East Pakistanis.

If Urdu became the state language, the educated society of East Pakistan would become 'illiterate' and 'ineligible' for government positions.

Abul Mansur Ahmed

What became clear was the time to protect the mother tongue and withhold its ancient and rich heritage had come.

Bengali intellectuals provide backing

On 5 November 1947, Purba Pakistan Sahitya Sangsad (East Pakistan Literary Society) - a society set up by Muslim intellectuals prior to Partition for the propagation of Muslim nationalism - arranged a reception for famous Bengali artist Zainul Abedin. It was presided by Prof. Qazi Motahar Hossain and included speakers such as Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, Prof. M. A. Quasem, Prof. M. Mansuruddin, Syed Ali Ahsan, Sardar Fazlul Karim, and Abul Hasnat, amongst others. The meeting passed two resolutions demanding the establishment of an Art College under the leadership of Zainul Abedin and adoption of Bengali as the State Language of East Pakistan.

A week later, on 12 November 1947, Tamaddun Majlis organised a discussion meeting at the Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall auditorium in support of Bengali language. Presided by Habibullah Bahar, the meeting was addressed by Syed Mohammad Afzal, poet Jasimuddin, Dr. Muhammad Enamul Huq, and Abul Hasnat, amongst others.

On 17 November 1947, a memorandum demanding that Bangla be adopted as the state language of East Bengal was signed by a number of Bangali luminaries and submitted to the Chief Minister, Khawaja Nazimuddin. The signatories included Maulana Akram Khan, Prof Abul Kashem, Maulana Abdullahil Baqi, Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, Abdul Karim Sahitya Bisharad, Abbasuddin (Ahmad), Zainul Abedin, Principal Ibrahim Khan, Prof M. Mansuruddin, Abul Mansur Ahmed, poet Jasimuddin, Begum Shamsunnahar Mahmud, Abul Hasnat, Prof. Qazi Motahar Hossain, Dr. S.M. Hossain, Prof. Atul Sen, Anwara Chowdhury, Maulana Mustafizur Rahman, Dr. S.R. Khastgir, Prof. Ganesh Basu, Mohammad Modabber, Shah Azizur Rahman, Syed Waliullah, Shaukat Osman, Abu Rushd, Syed Ali Ahsan, poet Ahsan Habib, Qazi Afsaruddin Ahmed, Abu Jafar Shamsuddin, Jahur Hossain Chowdhury, and many more.

  • Syed Ali Ahsan ()
  • Habibullah Bahar ()
  • Abul Hasnat ()
  • Maulana Abdullahil Baqi ()
  • Abul Kalam Shamsuddin ()
  • Abdul Karim Sahitya Bisharad ()
  • Prof. M. Mansuruddin ()
  • Zainul Abedin ()
  • Begum Shamsunnahar Mahmud ()
  • Qazi Afsaruddin Ahmed ()

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1947

Educational conference decides to drop Bangla

On 27 November 1947, a government-sponsored Education Conference was held in Karachi, the then capital of Pakistan. It was initiated by Pakistan's Minister of Education Fazlur Rahman, a Bengali, with the object of introducing reforms into the educational system and promotion of Islamic ideology. The conference also decided that Bengali would be dropped from all government stationeries, including money order forms, envelopes and postcards, which would be printed only in Urdu and English. Non-Bengali leaders of West Pakistan declared that Urdu had to be the national language of Pakistan. It was to be the only language used in the media and in schools.

  • # Fazlur Rahman ()

Naturally, opposition and protests immediately arose in East Pakistan where the Bengali-speaking people made up over 60% (44 million) of Pakistan's 69 million population. They viewed this exclusion of Bangla as further attempt to undermine their identity, having already been neglected for official posts such as Pakistan's government, civil services, navy, and military, which were dominated and controlled by Urdu speaking West Pakistanis.

This decision was opposed by the members of Tamaddun Majlish as well as others belonging to East Pakistan as they were attending the conference.

The dynamic process of national integration, generated by the enthusiasm of a separate homeland, was disrupted by the language controversy only after three months of independence.

South Asian Studies

"Maago Ora Bole" by Abu Jafar Obaidullah

Student demonstration

The Sangram Parishad vehemently protested the exclusion of the Bengali language from the newly-issued money, postal stamps, coins, and office forms of the Government of Pakistan. Public outrage spread, and on 5 December 1947 Bengali teachers and students of Dhaka University had their first street demonstration in favour of Bengali, arguing for their linguistic rights as majority part of the nation of Pakistan.

The next day, another protest meeting was held in the campus of DU against the government-sponsored National Education Conference held in Karachi. Their aim was to build resistance against the reactionary and anti-Bengali policies of Muslim League government. It attracted a large number of students, teachers and others from Dhaka University and other educational institutions. Professor Abul Kashem presided over the protest meeting, and a number of students and teachers including Munier Chowdhury, Abdur Rahman, Kallayan Dasgupta, A.K.M. Ahsan, S. Ahmed, and Farid Ahmed, the Vice President of Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU), addressed the meeting.

Farid Ahmed's resolution demanding Bangla should 'take priority in so far as it was a national language of the Pakistani State and at the same time the official language for teaching and the courts in East Pakistan' and condemning the anti-Bengali role of Daily 'Morning News' were unanimously adopted in the meeting.

  • # University of Dhaka (aka DU or Dhaka Bishobidaloi) ()
  • Farid Ahmed ()
  • Munier Chowdhury ()
  • Abdur Rahman ()
  • Kallayan Dasgupta ()

The meeting was followed by a large procession demanding official status of Bengali. The demonstrators met various ministers including Syed Mohammad Afzal, Nurul Amin and Hamidul Huq Chowdhury all of whom gave assurance to support the cause of Bengali.

The position of Tamuddun Majlish regarding the Bengali Language Movement also reflected the aspirations of the common people of East Bengal.

Wikipedia - Tamaddun Majlish

The demonstrators were already denouncing what they termed the 'betrayal of Bengal and the people of East Bengal'. After this meeting they marched through the streets of the eastern capital. At the same time, at Sylhet, in the northeast of the country, the partisans of Urdu were apprising the Prime Minister of the province, Khawaja Nazimuddin, of their point of view, but they were very much in the minority and theirs was an isolated action.

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

During those days, an admixture of Bengali and Urdu had been in popular use in Old Dhaka. Many people in old Dhaka did not favour the idea of making Bengali a state language. In order to create public opinion in favour of Bengali in old Dhaka, Prof M A Quasem formed an organisation named 'Dhaka Majlis' with Syed Mohammad Taifur and Abdul Mannan as President and Convenor respectively.

On 12 December 1947, a group of Urdu-supporting people of old Dhaka attacked Bengali-supporters of the Engineering and Medical College area chanting pro-Urdu slogans. When they reached the Palashi Barrack area, they were resisted by Bengali- supporters. Some 20-30 people received injuries as a result of the encounter. Students along with some other people of the area brought out a procession against the incident, met some ministers and forced them to give written undertaking that they would support the cause of Bengali language. The press note that was issued by the government on 12 December incident gave a concocted account and blamed three Calcutta dailies, the Ananda Bazar, the Ittehad and the Swadhinata, for the incident and banned their entry into East Bengal for 15 days with effect from 15 December 1947.

The New Nation (Bangladesh)

Few weeks prior to the student demonstration, on 15 November 1947, the Secretary of the Central Public Service Commission of Pakistan, Mr Goodwin, issued a circular concerning the examination of the superior civil service (which is used to recruit the civil servants and bureaucrats for the Government of Pakistan). In it he listed 31 subjects which can be studied, including 9 languages. These languages included Urdu, Hindi, English, German, French, even 'dead languages' like Sanskrit and Latin, etc. But Bangla, the languages spoken by the majority people of Pakistan, was not included. Outraged, Prof. Abul Kashem issued a press statement against this illogical move. This statement was published in the Daily Ittehad on 31 December 1947 along with a strongly worded editorial entitled 'Abishashya' (unbelievable) against Goodwin's audacity. When this issue of Daily Ittehad reached Dhaka, it created new enthusiasm among the language activists.

As 1947 gave way to 1948, the language issue intensified.

Chhatro (Student) League

The factionalism that existed in the Bengal Provincial Muslim League before Partition had its impact also on its student wing, the All-Bengal Muslim Student League. After partition, this organisation had split into two largely on the question of leadership. One group led by Anwar Hussain and Shah Azizur Rahman supported the (Khwaja) Nazimuddin group of the Muslim League and the other led by Nooruddin and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman supported Suhrawardy-Hashim group. The former thus formed the 'All-East Pakistan Muslim Student League' and the latter formed the 'East Pakistan Muslim Student League' on 4 January 1948. Naimuddin Ahmad, was elected convenor of the new organisation while Aziz Ahmad (Noakhali), Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Faridpur), Oli Ahad (Comilla), Abdur Rahman Chowdhury (Barisal), Dabirul Islam (Dinajpur), Abdul Matin (Pabna), Mafizur Rahman (Rangpur), Sheikh Abdul Aziz (Khulna), Nawab Ali (Dhaka), Nurul Kabir (Dhaka city), Abdul Aziz (Kushtia), Syed Nurul Alam (Mymensingh) and Abdul Quddus Chowdhury (Chittagong) were elected members of the organising committee.

The East Pakistan Muslim Student League later became a non-communal organisation, and after the independence of Bangladesh was renamed to the (Awami League) Chhatro League.

The formation of East Pakistan Muslim Students League was an important event in the history of the Language Movement as it constantly supported the cause of Bengali Language.

The New Nation (Bangladesh)

  • Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ()
  • Nooruddin ()
  • Anwar Hussain ()
  • Shah Azizur Rahman ()
  • Naimuddin Ahmad ()

On 1 February 1948, a delegation of the Rashtrabasha Sangram Parishad met Fazlur Rahman and protested against the omission of Bengali in the Public Service Examinations and currency notes. Three weeks later, on 23 February 1948, Pakistan's constituent assembly convened in Karachi, having met in the inaugural session on 11 August 1947.