The Historic Language Movement
Abdul Ghafur

 Language Movement occupies a most glorious chapter in the history of Bangladesh. Although the Movement reached its climax in February 1952, when police fired on the crowds of language activists at Dhaka, the Movement began in September 1947, within one month after the emergence of Pakistan as an independent state. The importance of the Movement lies in the fact that it was this Language Movement which provided socio-politico-psychological basis on which subsequent movement for regional autonomy grew in the then East Pakistan leading ultimately to the emergence of the separate sovereign nationhood of Bangladesh in 1971.

Historical background: No big event ever takes place overnight. This is also true of the historic Language Movement of Bangladesh. Although the Language Movement was formally launched in 1947, after the emergence of Pakistan as an independent state, the seeds of the Language Movement lay deep in the socio-political conditions through which Bengali language grew and developed over the years and centruries.

Bengali language originated in the seventh century in the family of Indo-Aryan language through a long evolutionary process. But the distinct form of Bengali language was yet to crystallise. According to scholars, the earliest foms of Bengali language have to be traced in the Buddhist mystic songs known as "Buddha Gan o Doha'. It was the Buddhist mystics who are to be credited for composing the earliest verses of Bengali, the language of the masses, for preaching their religious ideas. During the Buddhist Pala dynasty Bengali language, which was in its infancy, enjoyed royal patronage and made a good beginning.

Bengali language during its earliest days faced sudden setback when in the eleventh century the orthodox Brahmanic Senas coming from the Deccan, toppled the Pala dynasty and established the Sena rule in Bengal. The Senas introduced discriminating caste system in the society and made Sanskrit the state language of the country. Use of Bengali language was discouraged not only at the official level but also in religious discourses. Encouraged by the instance of the ruling elites, the Brahmanic pundits went so far as to issue religious injunctions declaring the use of the language of the masses (Bengali Language) as a sin deserving exemplary punishment. One such injunctions pronounced through a sanskrit verse read as follows: "Astadash Puran mani Ramasyas charitanicho/Bhashayang Manabang Srutta Rouravang Narakang Brajet." (Those who will listen Astadash Purana and Ramayana in man-made Bengali language shall go to Rourava hell).

It was in this socio-political backdrop that Iftikharuddin Mohammad Bin Bakhtiar Khilji conquered Bengal in 1203 AD. Establishment of Muslim rule in Bengal not only brought about a revolutionary change in the then caste-ridden society of Bengal, but also opened a golden chapter in the history of the growth of Bengali language and literature. Although during the six hundred years of Muslim rule Persian had been the official language, pursuit of Bengali language and literature received liberal patronage and encouragement from the Muslim rulers. The new rulers did not discriminate between books, Islamic and non-Islamic, for the purpose of bestowing their patronage on. It was no wonder, therefore, that books from not only Arabic and Persian, but also Sanskrit origin were translated into Bengali with royal patronage.

Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sen rightly asserted: "Hira kailar khanir madhye thakiya jemon Johurir agomoner pratikha kare, shuktir bhitar mukta lukaiya thakiya jerup duburir apekha kariya thakey, Bangla bhasha temoni kono shuvodin, shuvokhoner janya pratikha karitechilo. Muslim bijoy Bangla bijoy Bangla bhashar shei shuvodin, shuvokhaner shujog anoyan karilo." (Just as diamond remaining within the coalmine awaits a lapidary, as pearl remaining hidden in the oyster longs for the coming of a diver, Bengali language had been in wait for an august hour, an opportune moment. Muslim conquest brought for the Bengali language that august time, an opportune moment." [Vide, Bangla Bhashar Upor Musalmaner Probhab" by Sree Dinesh Chandra Sen].

It is thus seen that although Bengali language had its birth during the Buddhist era, it was left for the Muslim rulers to nurture it in its infancy and adolescence, against heavy social odds.

It was quite natural that the Bengali language used by the people, including the poets of the time, used a large number of words derived from Arabic and Persian, the two languages that greatly influenced the religious and cultural life of the Muslims. Despite all these facts some Muslim poets of the medieval age felt that they owed an explanation for writing books on religious themes in a language other than Arabic, the language of the Holy Quran. They did not have a similar attitude towards Persian language possibly because it was written in Arabic script.

This apologetic attitude further deepened when during the decadent days of the Moghuls, Muslim elites of northern India developed Urdu as a separate language combining spoken Hindi with Arabic script.

The tragedy of Plassey in 1757 AD, in which the last sovereign ruler of Bengal Nawab Sirajuddowla was defeated, virtually signified the beginning of British rule in the subcontinent. The years that followed witnessed deliberate attempts by the new rulers to subdue the educated and well-to-do classes of Muslims not only politically, but also culturally and economically. The new rulers established Fort William College wherein attempts were made, with the help of Brahmin scholars, to forge a form of Sanskritised Bengali flushing out all Bengali words of day-to-day use in the Muslim society coming from Arabic and Persian origin.

Most Muslim poets and litterateurs, shocked at this, kept themselves away from the government-patronised institutions of education and culture and devoted themselves to the pursuit of old forms of literature better known as Punthi.

This was why Muslim contribution to standard Bengali literature between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries was very poor. Distressed at the partisan spirit of the British rulers towards the language spoken by the Muslims in their day-to-day life, many Muslims developed an apathy towards Bengali language and started feeling that Urdu, and not Bengali, was their own language. During the British rule, two great centres of Muslim education were established, one by the puritans at Deoband, and the other by the modernists at Aligarh. Both these institutions were situated in the Urdu-speaking belt and were run by protagonists of Urdu. This had greatly influenced the educated sections of Muslims, both orthodox and modern.

The Muslim writers of Bengal, however, soon realised their mistake and as a result in the second half of the nineteenth century a large number of Muslim poets and litterateurs were seen making literary pursuits in their mother tongue Bengali in all seriousness. Among the pioneering Muslim litterateurs were Meer Mosharraf Hossain, Shaikh Abdur Rahim, Mozammel Huq and Kaikobad. They were followed by a host of others like Shaikh Habibur Rahman Sahityaratna, Syed Ismail Hossain Siraji, Sk. Fazlul Karim, Syed Emdad Ali, Maulana Maniruzzaman Islamabadi, Mohammad Barkatulalh, Dr Muhammad Shahidullah, Maulana Akram Khan, Qazi Emdadul Huq, Dr. Lutfar Rahman, Mohammad Yaqub Ali Chowdhury, Shahadat Hossain, Golam Mostafa, Jasimuddin, S. Wazed Ali, Mohammad Wazed Ali and on the top of all Qazi Nazrul Islam who revolutionised the course of Bengali literature both in form and spirit.

Immediate Background: In the all India cultural parlour, Hindu-Urdu rivalry played a vital role in creating the immediate background of the Language Movement. While Hindus tried to uphold the cause of Hindi, Muslims stood for Urdu. This conflict became poignant as the demand for self-rule grew stronger. Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury, one of the founders of Dhaka University, was of the opinion that whatever was the official language and medium of instruction in other provinces, in Bengal it must be Bengali, and no other language. During the second decade of the twentieth century, Mahatma Gandhi in a letter to Rabindranath Tagore posed the question as to which language should be ''lingua franca" when India attained self-rule. Rabindranath replied, "The only possible national language for inter-provincial intercourse is Hindi in India." [Vide-'Rabindra Barshapanji" Probhat Mukhopadhya, Calcutta, 1968. P 78]. Eminent linguistic scholar Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah, however, felt that Bengali, Urdu and Hindi, all the three languages had the potentialities of becoming the lingua franca of India. [Vide, 'Moslem Bharat', Calcutta. Ist year, Ist part, Baishakh 1327 BS., 1720 AD].

Although the Pakistan Movement was fought on the basis of the historic Lahore Resolution of 1940, which envisaged creation of more than one state in the Muslim-majority areas of north-western and eastern India, the Muslim League legislators elected in the 1946 general elections, meeting in a convention in Delhi in April 1946, decided to create one Pakistan state comprising the said Muslim-majority areas. This altered the whole situation.

In the sovereign state, contemplated for the eastern zone in the Lahore Resolution, Bengali was obviously to be the state language. The two cultural organisations, "Purba Pakistan Renaissance Society" (Calcutta) and 'Purba Pakistan Sahitya Sansad' (Dhaka), which led the Pakistan Movement in Bengal and Assam in the cultural arena, always expressed their over-confidence that Bengali was going to be the official language of their new independent state, in their meetings, conferences and seminaries. They deliberated on how to make the best use of their mother tongue in revitalising their cultural heritage and other aspects of sovereign nationhood.

There were, however, a microscopic few who preferred Urdu to Bengali as official language and medium of instruction in the future state-structure of East Pakistan. The writers attached to the two above-mentioned cultural organisations had always scathing and merciless criticisms against them. The satirical sonnet entitled "Urdu banam Bangla Bhasha" by Poet Farrukh Ahmad, published in monthly "Mohammadi" in the Jaistha issue of 1352 BS and the essay entitled 'Pakistan: Rastrabhasha O Sahitya' by the same poet published in monthly 'Saugat' in the 'Aswin' issue of 1354 B.S. may be referred to in this regard as examples.

In July 1947 Dr. Ziauddin Ahmad, Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University put forward a proposal pleading to make Urdu the only state language of Pakistan as Hindi was going to be the only state language of India. This was promptly protested by Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah, who analysed the issue elaborately in an essay entitled "Pakistaner Bhasha Samasya", published in the Daily Azad on 29 July, 1947. The controversy regarding state language thus went on and the new state of Pakistan came into existence of 14 August 1947 before any concrete decision was made on state language issue.

A formal decision on state language was yet to be made, but a section on influential non-Bengalee bureaucrats behaved in such a way as if Urdu had already been made the sole state language of the new nation. Post cards, postal envelopes, money order forms were issued in only English and Urdu languages. The members of the intelligentsia of East Bengal grew suspicious about the motive of the government. Sporadic comments were being made here and there by a section of educated people against this fishy attitude of the government. But there was no organised move to make concerted efforts to make Bengali the state language of the country until a new born cultural organisation took up the issue in right earnest. This organisation was Tamaddun Majlis. To quote a former ambassador-cum-author Kamruddin Ahmad, "Some young Islamists founded Tamaddun Majlis, a cultural organisation....Tamaddun Majlis sponsored the movement for making Bengali the medium of instruction and the official language in East Bengal" [Vide-'A Socio-political History of Bengal and the Birth of Bangladesh' by Kamruddin Ahmad, Dhaka, 4th edition, 1975, P. 98].

Tamaddun Majlis was founded by Prof Abul Quasem, a teacher, Dept. of Physics, Dhaka University, along with some other teachers and students of Dhaka University on 1 September, 1947. This organisation published a booklet entitled 'Pakistaner Rastrabhasha-Bangla Na Urdu?' (State Language of Pakistan-Bengali or Urdu?) on 15 September, 1947. The booklet contained three articles contributed by Prof Qazi Motahar Hossain, an eminent litterateur and Professor of Dhaka University, Abul Mansur Ahmad, politician, litterateur and Editor, Daily Ittehad, Calcutta, and Prof Abul Quasem, the founder of Tamaddun Majlis.

Prof Qazi Motahar Hossain in his article entitled 'Rastra Bhasha O Purba Pakistaner Bhasha Samasya,' (State language and the language problem of East Pakistan), while trying to remove apathy towards Bengali from the minds of some people, pointed out that it was the Muslim rulers who gave liberal patronage to develop Bengali language and asserted that Bengali was very much a language of the Muslims too. Abul Mansur Ahmad in his article entitled 'Bangla Bhashai Hoibe Amader Rastra Bhasha' (Bengali must be made our state language) dealt mainly on the economic importance of the Language Movement. He cautioned that if Urdu was made the only state language of Pakistan, the educated people of East Pakistan would turn 'uneducated" overnight.

In the opening article of the booklet entitled 'Amader Prastab' (our proposal), Prof. Abul Quasem put forward the basic demands of the Language Movement in most concrete terms. In his article, he asserted that-

1. Bengali has to be the medium of instruction and the language of the offices and courts in East Pakistan.

2. Bengali and Urdu have to be made the state languages of the central government of Pakistan.

He further urged upon all people to hold meetings in various parts of the country and in different educational institutions protesting against the move to impose any language other than the mother language and send resolutions passed in these meetings to Governor General Quaide Azam and other leaders. He appealed to people of various areas of the country to send delegations to different members of the Constituent Assembly urging them to support the cause of Bengali. He also called upon all people to join the Movement and make it strong and invincible.

The booklet not only provided the people with the rationale for the Language Movement, but also showed the way they had to proceed to create a vigorous movement to make Bengali, the state language. Publication of the booklet was followed by holding of meetings in Dhaka and other parts of East Pakistan in support of Bengali as a state language. Prof Abul Quasem himself organised series of group sittings and discussion meetings in various educational institutions of Dhaka. A memorandum, with signatures from cross-section of people including educationists, artists, litterateurs, journalists, lawyers, intellectuals and politicians was submitted to the government in support of the demand to make Bengali a state language of Pakistan.

Events of 1947: Although in most cases the initiative was taken by Prof Abul Quasem, there were others too who extended spontaneous support and cooperation. Among them were some young teachers and students and the political elements belonging to the Suhrawardy-Abul Hashim group of the former Bengal Provincial Muslim League, who had by then organised themselves into two short-lived organisations-Purba Pakistan Ganatantrik Jubo League and Gana Azadi League. Since the greater part of Sylhet formerly belonging to the Province of Assam, joined the Province of East Bengal thorough a referendum, many political and cultural personalities of former Assam also played a vital role in the Language Movement.

Activities centering round the demand to make Bengali a state language, started in full swing in 1947. The first Committee of Action was formed in the same year with Prof. Nurul Huq Bhuiyan, a teacher, Dept. of Chemistry, Dhaka University and a member of Tamaddun Majlis as convenor, to advance the cause of the Movement.

On 12 November 1947, Tamaddun Majlis organised a discussion meeting at the Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall auditorium in support of Bengali language. Presided over by Habibullah Bahar, the meeting was addressed, among others, by Syed Mohammad Afzal, Poet Jasimuddin, Dr. Muhammad Enamul Huq, Abul Hasnat etc. [Vide, Daily Azad, Calcutta, 13 November 1947]. Prior to this on 5 November 1947 Purba Pakistan Sahitya Sangsad arranged a reception to famous artist Zainul Abedin. Presided over by Prof. Qazi Motahar Hossain the function was addressed by Messrs. Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, Prof. M. A. Quasem, Prof. M. Mansuruddin, Syed Ali Ahsan, Sardar Fazlul Karim, Abul Hasnat etc. 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. [Vide, the Daily Azad, Calcutta, 8 November, 1947].

It may be mentioned here that there were many who did not distinguish carefully between 'the official language of East Pakistan; and 'the state Language of Pakistan' and often mixed up the two. This anomaly arose since there was an attempt to impose Urdu on East Pakistan too. This was evident from the memorandum submitted to the Chief Minister of East Bengal on 17 November 1947, demanding adoption of BeIagali as 'the State Language of East Pakistan." The memorandum in question was signed by hundreds of citizens including Maulana Akram Khan, Maulana Abdullahil Baqi, Prof. Abul Quasem, Abdul Karim Sahityabisharad, Poet Jasimuddin, Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, Begum Shamsunnahar Mahmud, Principal Ibrahim Khan, Artist Zainul Abedin, Prof M. Mansuruddin, Abul Hasnat, Prof. Qazi Motahar Hossain, Dr. S.M. Hossain, Abul Mansur Ahmad, Prof. Atul Sen, Mrs Anwara Chowdhury, Maulana Mustafizur Rahman, Dr. S.R. Khastgir, Abbasuddin Ahmad, Prof. Ganesh Basu, Mohammad Modabber, Shah Azizur Rahman, Syed Waliullah, Shaukat Osman, Abu Rushd, Syed Ali Ahsan, Poet Ahsan Habib, Kazi Afsaruddin Ahmad, Abu Jafar Shamsuddin, Jahur Hossain Chowdhury etc. [Vide, Daily Azad, Calcutta, 18 November 19471.

On 27 November l947, at the Pakistan Education Conference held in Karachi, Education Minister Fazlur Rahman suggested that Urdu should be made the state language of Pakistan. [Vide, Daily Azad, 30 November 1947]. A protest meeting of the students of different educational institutions was held against this at the Dhaka University campus on 6 December l947 with Prof. Abul Quasem in the chair. Among others Farid Ahmed, Vice President, Dhaka University Students Union, Munier Chowdhury, Abdur Rahman Chowdhury, A. K. M. Ahsan etc. spoke in the meeting. Resolutions moved by Farid Ahmad demanding Bengali as one of the state languages of Pakistan and the official language and medium of instruction of East Pakistan and condemning the anti-Bengali role of Daily 'Morning News' were unanimously adopted in the meeting. The meeting was followed by a large procession demanding official status of Bengali. The proccssionists met various ministers including Syed Mohammad Afzal, Nurul Amin and Hamidul Huq Chowdhury all of whom gave assurance to support the cause of Bengali.

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 twenty to thirty 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.

It is interesting to note here that an admixture of Bengali and Urdu had been in popular use in old Dhaka during that time. 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 SM Taifur and Abdul Mannan as President and Convenor respectively.

During the last part of 1947, Mr Goodwin, the Secretary of the Central Public Service Commission of Pakistan, issued on 15 November 1947, a circular concerning the examination of superior civil service. The number of subjects for the examination was thirty one including nine languages like Urdu, Hindi, English, German, French, even dead languages like Sanskrit and Latin, but not Bengali, the language of the majority people of Pakistan. Prof. Abdul Qusem issued a press statement against this. The Daily Ittehad published the statement in its 31 December 1947 issue along with a strongly worded editorial entitled 'Abishashya' (unbelievable) against this audacity. When this issue of Daily 'Ittehad' reached Dhaka, it created new enthusiasm among the language activists.

Events of 1948: On 4 January 1948, student workers of the Suhrawardy-Hashim group of the former Bengal Muslim League, in a meeting formed a separate student organisation named 'East Pakistan Muslim Students League' outside the 'All East Pakistan Muslim Students League' led by Shah Azizur Rahman. Naimuddin Ahmad, was elected convenor of the new organisation while Messrs. Aziz Ahmad (Noakhali), Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Faridpur), Oli Ahad (Comilla), Abdur Rahman Chowdhury (Barisal), Dabirul Islam (Dinajpur), Abdul Matin (Pabna), Mafizur Rahman (Rangpur), Sk. 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 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. On 25 February 1948, Dhirendra Nath Dutta moved a resolution in the Constituent Assembly, to allow speeches in Bengali side by side with English and Urdu. It was rejected. Students of Dhaka observed strike on 26 February as a protest. They paraded through different streets of the city in a procession and gathered in a protest meeting at the Dhaka University campus. The meeting, which was presided over by Prof Abul Quasem, was addressed among others by Naimuddin Ahmad and Mohammad Toaha. This was followed by a meeting held on 27 February 1948 at the Tamaddun Majlis office at the Rashid Building. The meeting chaired by Prof MA Quasem reconstituted the State Language Committee of Action with representatives from Tamaddun Majlis and East Pakistan Muslim Students League, Mr Shamsul Alam, a resident student of Salimullah Muslim Hall and a common member of both Tamaddun Majlis and East Pakistan Muslim Students League, was made the convenor. It was decided in the meeting to observe Protest Day all over East Pakistan on 11 March through strike, meetings and processions. Later on the Committee was further expanded through co-option of representatives from various other organisations in a meeting of the Committee held on 2 March 1948, at the Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall.

First Uprising: 11 March 1948: In order to make the 11 March programme a success Prof. MA Quasem, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Naimuddin Ahmed and Abdur Rahman Chowdhury issued a press statement at Dhaka on 1 March 1948. [ Vide- The Daily Azad 2 March 19481].

Another press statement issued by Messrs. Shamsul Alam, Prof MA Quasem, Naimuddin Ahmad, Tafazzal Ali MLA., Mrs Anwara Khatun MLA, Ali Ahmad Khan MLA, Kamruddin Ahmad, Shamsul Huq, A. Salam, SM Bazlul Huq, Syed Nazrul Islam, Mohammad Toaha, Oli Ahad and Abdul Wahed Chowdhury on 3 March 1948, published in the Daily Amritabazar Parika, Calcutta, read as follows: "For some time past considerable agitation is going on to make Bengali (i) as the official language of East Pakistan, (ii) as one of the state languages of the central Pakistan, and (iii) as one of languages of Pakistan Consembly. Bengali is the mother tongue of the two third population of the whole of Pakistan. It is a matter of shame that agitation has become necessary to establish this language in the life of the state...To record a protest against these, the East Pakistan Muslim Students League and Tamaddun Majlis have declared a general strike on Thursday, March 11. We appeal to all political, cultural and educational institutions and all students and citizens irrespective of caste and creed of East Pakistan to observe this strike according to the programme of the Joint State Language Subcommittee peacefully and with discipline." [Vide 'Jatiya Rajniti' by Oli Ahad, Khoshroj Kitab Mahal, Dhaka. 3rd edition, March 1997. P. 40-41].

The 11 March programme was a great success. Complete strike was observed in all educational institutions. Picketters had been active at different gates of the Secretariat since early morning. Among those who participated in picketting at the Secretariat gates were Shamsul Huq, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Oli Ahad, Kazi Golam Mahbub, Shaukat Ali etc. They all were arrested. Those who picketed in front of the High Court, were subjected to lathicharge by the Police. The lawyers in protest abstained from attending the Court for the day. About 14 picketters were arrested from the gate of the Ramna Post Office. Many others including Prof MA Quasem and Mohammad Toaha were injured during police action. Mr Golam Azam along with 10/12 students were arrested by police from the Ramna T&T office area. They were taken to Tejgaon thana and were kept detained there till evening.

On 11 March, 1948, workers and employees had played an important role. During that time Tamaddun Majlis had friendly relation with the workers and employees unions of rail, post and telecommunication sectors. Due to active resistance put up by East Pakistan Railway Employees League (EPREL) under the leadership of Messrs. Mahbubul Huq, MS Huq and MA Hai etc, very few trains could take start from Chittagong for Dhaka.

The news of police action on picketters at Dhaka spread fast in and around the city of Dhaka. As a result spontaneous protest processions started pouring into the area around the Secretariat. At about 2-30 PM a large protest meeting was held at the University campus with Naimuddin Ahmad in the chair. At the end of the meeting, a big procession rushed towards the Secretariat to protest against police atrocities. The whole Secretariat area was soon turned into a sea of processionists many of whom forced into the Secretariat breaking police cordon. Police action against them only brought more protest marches of the angry people. This situation continued for days on till 15 March when the Government was obliged to sign a pact with the Committee of Action accepting all their demands. As the arrested leaders were released on 15 March as per conditions of the pact, the situation gradually cooled down.

Jinnah's visit: On 19 March 1948 Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah came to Dhaka on his first ever visit to East Pakistan after the emergence of Pakistan. On 21 March 1948, he addressed a huge public meeting at the Ramna Race Course ground. In course of his speech he declared that Urdu, and no other language, shall be the state language of Pakistan. In his address to the special convocation of the Dhaka University held on 24 March 1948, he repeated it once again. He further said, those who were opposing Urdu as the only state language were the enemies of the state. Students were stunned at these utterances of Mr. Jinnah. Some of them shouted, 'no no' to record their protest. This too, was a 'new experience' for Mr. Jinnah. Later on he met representatives of the Committee of Action. But the talks failed as both sides did stick to their pervious positions. The situation was quite embarrassing for the language activists, as in spite of their best efforts it was not possible immediately to rejuvenate the Movement due primarily to the mass popularity of Mr. Jinnah at the time [Vide 'Jatiya Rajniti' Oli Ahad, 3rd edition 1997, P 52].

From 1948 to 1951: During that time the language activities 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. Prof, Abul Quasem of Tamaddun Majlis took up the matter in right earnest. He along with some other supporters of the Movement brought out the Weekly Sainik (Fighter) on 14 November 1948. The Sainik was edited by prominent short story writer Shahed Ali. Among others who volunteered to work on the staff were Enamul Huq, Sanaullah Noori, Abdul Ghafur and Mostafa Kamal. The office of the weekly Sainik was situated first at 48, Captain Bazar, but soon it was shifted to the residence of Prof. Abul Quasem at 19, Azimpur, Dhaka, which as the office of both Tamaddun Majlis and the Weekly Sainik, soon turned into the nerve-centre of all socio-cultural activities including the Language Movement.

After the death of Jinnah on 11 September 1948, Khwaja Nazimuddin was made the Governor General of Pakistan. But he was the titular head with real powers of the Government shifting into the hand of Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan. Liaqat Ali visited Dhaka during the closing days of 1948. He was accorded a reception on behalf of the DUCSU. DUCSU Secretary Golam Azam read out the Address of Welcome which included demands of provincial autonomy and Bengali as a state language of Pakistan. Liaqat Ali in his address condemned the demand for provincial autonomy as provincialism but kept silent on the state language issue.

On 23 June, 1949, the first ever opposition political party of Pakistan was floated at the East Pakistan Muslim League Workers Convention held at the Rose Garden, Dhaka. The party was named East Pakistan Awami Muslim League. Former President of the Assam Provincial Muslim League Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani, Mr. Shamsul Huq, Sk. Mujibur Rahman and Khandakar Moshtaq Ahmad, were elected President, General Secretary, Joint Secretary and Asstt. Secretary respectively. The organisation adopted a draft manifesto in support of Islamic order, provincial autonomy and Bengali as a state language of Pakistan.

Although Jinnah's visit to East Pakistan in March 1949 proved to be setback for the Language Movement at the moment, its fire continued to burn in the hearts of the people. Since 1949 every year 'Rastra Bhasha Dibas' was regularly observed on 11 March to remind the people that their goals were yet to be achieved. The year 1949 witnessed a new conspiracy against Bengali language. It was the move to change the script of Bengali language into Arabic one. Storms of protest raged against this new conspiracy throughout the country. Tamaddun Majlis organised a protest meeting at the Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall auditorium. Abdul Ghafur read out an article entitled, "Bangla Harafer Upor Kono Shaytani Hamla Bardast Kara Haibe Na" in the meeting. This article along with an editorial named 'Sankriti Hatyar Sharajantra' (Conspiracy to slaughter culture) was published in 9 December 1949 issue of the Weekly Sainik.

Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaqat Ali Khan submitted on 28 September 1950, an interim report on the Basic Principles of the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly. The report, among other things, recommended Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan.

A Grand National Convention was held against this on 4 and 5 November 1950 in the Dhaka District Bar Library Hall. Representatives of all political and cultural organisations supporting Bengali as a state language and regional autonomy including Tamaddun Majlis, East Pakistan Muslim Students League and Awami Muslim League attended the Convention. The Convention adopted alternative basic principles recommending regional autonomy in the spirit of the Lahore Resolution and Bengali and Urdu as the two state languages of Pakistan.

The year 1951 witnessed the formation of yet another organisation supporting the cause of Bengali as a state language. It was the Purba Pakistan Jubo League, founded at a Youth Conference held at Dhaka on 27 and 28 March 1951. Former General Secretary of Assam Provincial Muslim League Mahmud Ali and Ali Ahad were elected President and General Secretary respectively.

Towards February 1952: On 16 October 1951, Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaqat Ali Khan, while addressing a public meeting at Rawalpindi, was assassinated. Khwaja Nazimuddin was made the next Prime Minister. In January 1952 Khwaja Nazimuddin visited Dhaka and addressed a public meeting at Paltan Maidan on 27 January. In course of his speech he declared that only Urdu shall be the state language of Pakistan bluntly forgetting that it was he, who, in his capacity as the Provincial Chief Minister in 1948, signed agreement with the then State Language of Action Committee to make Bengali one of the state languages of Pakistan. Nazimuddin's comments sparked off wave of protests throughout East Pakistan. People from all walks of life came out in the streets holding processions, rallies, meetings to voice their protest against the treacherous remarks of the Prime Minister.

On 30 January 1952 a meeting of representatives from different organisations was held at the Dhaka District Bar Library Hall with Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani in the chair and an All Party State Language Committee of Action was formed with the following persons: Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, Abul Hashim, Shamsul Huq, Abdul Ghafur, Prof. Abdul Quasem, Ataur Rahman Khan, Kamruddin Ahmad, Khairat Hossain MLA, Mrs. Anwara Khatun MLA, Almas Ali, Abdul Awal, Syed Abdur Rahim, Mohammad Toaha, Oli Ahad, Shamsul Huq Chowdhury, Khaleq Nawaz Khan, Kazi Golam Mahbub (Convener), Mirza Golam Hafiz, Mujibul Huq, Hedayet Hossain Chowdhury, M. Shamsul Alam, Anwarul Huq Khan, Golam Mawla, Syed Nurul Alam, Mohammad Nurul Huda, Shaokat Ali, Abul Matin and Ahtaruddin Ahmad. The meeting decided to observe general strike, and hold meeting and processions throughout East Pakistan on 21 February, the day on which the East Bengal Legislative Assembly was to go into session.[Vide-'Jatiya Rajniti', Oli Ahad, 3rd edition, 1997, P. 104-106]. Hectic activities started to make the 21 February programme a success throughout the whole province.

21 February and After: Government got panicky at the turn of events. On 20 February afternoon, Government promulgated 144 Cr. PC banning all meetings, processions in Dhaka city for one month. An emergent meeting of the All Party Committee of Action was held on 20 February night at the Awami Muslim League Office, 94, Nawabpur Road to review the latest situation. The meeting, which was chaired by Abul Hashim, after threadbare discussion for and against breaking 144 Cr. p.c. decided not to break 144 Cr. P.

C. on the basis of 11 to 4 votes. It was, however, decided that both the views would be placed before the students gathering to be held on the University campus on 21 February morning, and also that the decision of the gathering would be considered final.

The students gathering of 21 February was held at the University campus with Gaziul Huq in the chair. Mr. Shamusl Huq (Awami League) and Abdul Matin (University Committee of Action) respectively placed the majority and minority views in the meeting. The meeting overwhelmingly decided to break 144 Cr. p.c. The meeting over, the students began to go out in the streets in groups of sixes, eights and tens voluntarily courting arrest by breaking 144 cr. pc.

The process of peaceful breaking of 144 Cr.P.C. however, did not continue for long. At one stage police entered into the Univeristy campus and took resort to lathicharge on student crowds. This made the students furious. They started brick batting on the police and tried to rush towards the Legislative Assembly which was in session in the Jagannath Hall auditorium.

The police tried to resist the demonstrating students by resorting to lathicharge and firing tear gas shells on them. The student who far outnumbered the police tried to clear their path towards the Assembly by resorting to incessant brickbatting. As a result the situation fast grew tense. The caution and insight that was needed to tackle such a critical situation could not be demonstrated by the District Magistrate Qureshi who ordered the police to fire. The result of the order was tragic. One language demonstrator after another started falling on the ground in front of the Medical College Hostel, with blood spiling from their bodies. Bloodstained body of Abul Barkat fell on the ground, followed by Salahuddin who lost the skull of his head. Then there were Jabbar, Shafiq, Rafiq and a host of other known and unknown youths who either lost their lives or were admitted in the hospital in a critical state. According to government. account, the number of casualties was four, but this was far from truth. In the evening curfew was promulgated in the city and it is apprehended that many dead bodies were removed from the hospital morgue during the night.

The news of students killing spread fast throughout the city and the country. Offices and shops closed down spontaneously. Members of the Legislative Assembly including Maulana A Rashid Tarkabagish, Khairat Hossain and Anwara Khatun walked out of the Assembly session, while Abul Kalam Shamsuddin resigned as a member of the Legislative Assembly in protest. Thousands of people came out in the streets of Dhaka spontaneously to protest against the barbaric incident. For subsequent 3 to 4 days Dhaka turned into a city of demonstrations and processions by thousands and lakhs of people chanting angry slogans against police atrocities, although curfew was still in force.

On 22 February police again opened fire on demonstrators killing quite a few more of them. The Weekly Sainik 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 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 3 AM in the night following 23 February 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.

Although the country lost a good number of valuable lives on 21 February 1952, blood of the language martyrs did not go in vain. After 21 February 1952, nobody ever dared to oppose the demand of making Bengali a state language of Pakistan. In the 1954 general elections which were fought on the basis of 21-point manifesto of the United Front, the ruling Muslim League was given a crushing defeat by the Bengali-supporting United Front. Still later a new Constituent Assembly was formed including representatives of the United Front. The new Constituent Assembly enacted in 1956 in first ever constitution of Pakistan conceding the demand of making Bengali a state language, signifying constitutional victory of the struggle that was humbly initiated in 1947 the Tamaddun Majlis.

Although the Movement was formally a success in 1956, it had still to go a long way. There was no move to make Bengali the medium of instruction at the higher level. It was again Prof. M.A. Quasem of Tamaddun Majlis who took the initiative to establish, in the sixties, the first ever Bengali-medium college of the country, the Bangla College, Dhaka.

The State Language Movement, which was launched in 1947 primarily to make Bengali the state language and medium of instruction, was designed to achieve yet another greater glory for itself. The historic booklet published by Tamaddun Majlis on 15 September 1947, while voicing the demand to make the mother tongue of the people of East Pakistan one of the state languages of Pakistan, made in it a subtle reference to the historic Lahore Resolution which envisaged a separate sovereign state in the Muslim majority zone of eastern India. The State Language Movement successfully created the psychological basis of that separate sovereign state that is Bangladesh today. It is by no means a small glory for the Language Movement


Source: The New Nation, Dhaka, February 21, 2002


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