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Bhasha Divas (Language Day): Know the Significance of the Day

Bhasha Divas (Language Day)

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Bhasha Divas (Language Day): Know the Significance of the Day

Bhasha Divas or International Mother Language Day

The day is observed on February 21 to promote awareness of linguistic as well as cultural diversity and multilingualism. First announced by UNESCO on 17 November 1999, it was formally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly with the adoption of a UN resolution in 2002.

In Bangladesh, February 21, 1952 is significant. It is the day when Bengalis of the then-Pakistani province of East Bengal  (now Bangladesh) fought for recognition of their mother tongue, the Bengali language.[8]

The day is also observed by the Indian Bengalis in the states of West BengalAssamJharkhandTripura and the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

February 21 was declared to be International Mother Language Day by UNESCO on November 17, 1999. Since then, it has been observed throughout the world each year on this date.

The declaration came up as a lasting tribute to the Language Movement by Bangladeshis (in the erstwhile East Pakistanis).

The poignant background to Bhasha Divas

Pakistan was created in 1947 and it had two geographically separate parts: East Pakistan (the current Bangladesh) and West Pakistan  (Pakistan). The two parts were grossly different from one another in culture and language. Moreover, they were also separated by the mainland of India.

In 1948, the Government of Pakistan declared Urdu to be the sole national language of Pakistan, even though Bengali or Bangla was spoken by the majority of people in East Pakistan.

This led to East Pakistan’s people protesting against the unfair declaration. They demanded that Bangla remain at least one of the national languages, in addition to Urdu.

This demand was raised first by Dhirendranath Datta from East Pakistan on February 23, 1948, in the constituent Assembly of Pakistan.

However, the Government of Pakistan resolved to stamp out the protest. To demolish the movement, it outlawed all public meetings and rallies. But, the students of the University of Dhaka with the support of common people continued to organize massive rallies and meetings.

On 21 February 1952, police opened fire on one such rally.

Abdus SalamAbul BarkatRafiq Uddin AhmedAbdul Jabbar and Shafiur Rahman died in the firing while hundreds of others were injured. It was probably the rarest of rare incidents in history wherein common people sacrificed their lives to protect their own language (or mother tongue).

Since then, Bangladeshis celebrate the International Mother Language Day as a tragic day by paying their respects at Central Shaheed Minar, a monument in Dhaka built in memory of the martyrs (as well as its replicas elsewhere) as a mark of respect and gratitude to the braves who sacrificed their lives for their mother tongue.

International Mother Language Day is a national holiday in Bangladesh. The resolution was suggested by two Bengalis, Rafiqul Islam and Abdus Salam, residing in Vancouver, Canada. They wrote officially to Kofi Annan, the-then Secretary General of the United Nations on 9 January 1998. In their letter, they requested him to take measures for saving the world’s languages from extinction by declaring a dedicated date as International Mother Language Day. They proposed the date as February 21 to commemorate the 1952 killings in Dhaka during the Language Movement.

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