The question as to what would be the state language of Pakistan was raised immediately after its creation. Muslim scholars and leaders logically believed that Urdu, only spoken by 7%, should be the lingua franca because it had gained a reputation as the cultural symbol of subcontinental Muslims. However, eastern Pakistanis regarded Urdu as the language of the elite, not the language of the people in the eastern province - who made up 56% of Pakistan's population - where Bangla was the mother tongue.
After Pakistan's "founding father" Muhammad Ali Jinnah and, later, fellow Bengali Khwaja Nazimuddin declared Urdu as the official state language, protest erupted throughout the eastern wing. On 21 February 1952 (8 Falgun 1359 in Bangla calendar) students protest led to killing of ordinary citizen by the police. More people were killed the next day. In Bangladesh 21st February - 'Ekushey February' in Bangla - is observed as 'Shaheed Dibosh' (Martyr's Day) whilst the United Nations declared it officially as "International Mother Language Day". The Shaheed Minar (Martyr's Column) in Dhaka, and other replicas around the world, was constructed as tribute to those who lost their lives to protect Bangla.
However, the language movement was more than a fight to preserve a rich language dating back over 1,000 years. It was a fight for social and economic justice. A fight to maintain one's own identity at a time when official measures were taken to crush it. A fight taken up by ordinary people, who just wanted to live. A fight taken up by women and children so future generation can say "moder gorob, moder aasha, a'mori Bangla bhasha". For Bengali speaking people worldwide, the language itself is a big part of their history... the very birth of today’s Bangladesh is intimately linked with the Bengali language or Bangla.
Today, Bangla is the 6th most spoken language in the world.
Language is a crucial part of any culture. It is important in building a democratic state and transcends the distinctions of class. It is the first tool for a child to express himself or herself.
Language is a dominant feature in determining the bases of nationalism or ethnicity, as it represents a nation’s identity and preserves its heritage. It is also the driving force behind the unity of the peoples and makes them distinct from other nations. Once a language is adopted into a society it is difficult to eliminate it until the society itself decides to change or adopt something different.
Language becomes a symbol of identity when different ethnic groups compete for power and resources. Easy communication facilitates the manipulation of group identities on the basis of religion or language.
In industrial, modern societies one simply cannot enter the domains of power without being able to manipulate language for entry into these domains. It is the language of employment, and without employment one cannot possess much power in modern societies.
Dr. Tariq Rahman, author of "Language and Politics in Pakistan" (1996)
It is often said that poets and writers find some of their best pieces of work in their own language. William Shakespeare, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language, wrote his masterpiece "Romeo and Juliet" (c. 1591) in English. Victor Hugo wrote "Les Miserable" (1862) in his mother tongue French. Leo Tolstoy wrote "War and Peace" (1869) in his native language Russian. The first Chinese to win Nobel Prize in Literature, Gao Xingiian, wrote his award winning "Soul Mountain" (1990) in Chinese. And there are many other literary master pieces that were fist written in the respective mother tongue and then translated into other languages.
Literature is woven round the lives of people like a spider's web. Literature therefore is at its epic when it speaks the language of the people.
Michael Madhushodhon Dutta, the father of Bangla sonnets and the pioneer of Bangla literature, spoke of a void in his work after adopting English as his medium for his early literary work (such as poetry and drama) and not using his mother tongue Bangla.
Michael Madhushudan Dutta reflecting on the loneliness of his soul while he is away from his homeland, away from his mother tongue, in the poem "Kopothakko Nod"
In stark contrast, Rabindranath Tagore's literature flourished in Bangla. He covered each and every aspect of life with his literary work and it was Bangla that brought him all the glory, including the Nobel Prize for Literature (1913).
"Banglar Mati, Banglar Jol" by Rabindranath Tagore
From an early age, Madhusudan desired to be an Englishman and was lured by the works of English poet Byron. However, he was to regret his desire in later life when he talked ardently of his homeland as is seen in his poems and sonnets from this period.
On the other hand, come to Rabindranath Tagore, writing in Bangla how he remains, even to this day the versifier of Bangla literature! Tagore's works touch the souls of people and fill the hearts with joy. The hearts are enlightened with the messages in his poems, songs, fictions and plays. A section of the songs of "Gitobitan" is dedicated to "shodesh" (motherland). He was deeply patriotic and like an artist painted the picture of Bangla throughout his literary life. His works reverberate his love for motherland and mother tongue.
The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
Motherland, mother tongue and the mother herself are essential to epitomize a person's life. The importance of these in the over all development of an individual is immense. Without the proper identity of these in life a person is like a wingless bird. The mother tongue is like the wind under the wings. It is the medium through which self- expression takes place in its highest form. There are people who can express themselves well in foreign languages too. However history seems to show that it is the mother tongue that bears the beacon.
The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
There are over 6,900 living languages in the world and Bangla is the 6th most spoken language with nearly 300 million speakers in the Indian subcontinent alone. It's spoken by three times more people than Urdu. Bengali is the 2nd most spoken language in India which has the second highest world population after China.
In contrast, Urdu is ranked 20th.
Regional dialect of Bangla, such as Rangpuri (north-west), Chittagonian (south-east), and Sylheti (north-east) are also in the top 100 most spoken languages in the world. Though these dialects an vary from the formal version of Bengali, they still contain Standard Bengali words.
|59||Rangpuri (dialect, Bangladesh)||15|
|69||Chittagonian (dialect, Bangladesh)||13|
|78||Sylheti (dialect, Bangladesh)||10.3|
Bangladesh is considered to be a monolingual country in which more than 98% of the population is speakers of Bangla language. However, there are more than ten languages in such a small country like Bangladesh. Urdu, Monipuri, Chakma, Santali, Garo, Rakhain, Tipra are just some of the other languages present in Bangladesh.
S. M. Mehdi Hasan, Analyst