Mother Language Day: Honouring the pioneers
Major General (Retd) Syed Muhammad Ibrahim, Bir Protik

Bangladesh celebrated 21st February 2001 with more enthusiasm and dignity than ever before. That was well done. But more needs to be done. The minimum this year is to invite the 10 pioneers to Bangladesh as state guests and honour them.

The pioneers I am referring to are (i) Albert Vinzon, (Philippino) (ii) Carmen Cristobal (Philippino), (iii) Jason Monir (English), (iv) Susan Hodgins (English), (v) Dr. Kelvin Chao (Cantonese), (vi) Renate Mertens (German), (vii) Karuna Joshi (Hindi), (viii) Nazneen Islam (Kachi), (ix) Rafiqul Islam (Bangla), (x) Abdus Salam (Bangla). Mr. Rafiqul Islam is the president and others are the members of 'Mother Language Lovers of the World' in Canada.

These ten persons had been awarded the 'Ekushe Padak' last year and as the system goes the medals will actually be presented this year. They need to be invited by our government. It will be an honour to honour them. As a matter of great co-incidence, two out of the ten have same names as the famous SALAM and RAFIQ of 21 February 1952 fame. These ten have honoured the people who speak 6528 Mother Languages across at least 188 countries spread over all continents.

On the 17th November 1999, the UNESCO General Conference during its 157th session, unanimously passed 21st February as the International Mother Language Day. That decision is as historic as the Day itself. People all over the globe must be made known about the background of both the days. But here I will talk of the latter days only.

Rafiqul Islam stays at Vancouvre with family. He was born in April 1953 in Comilla. He and his younger brother Saiful Islam were freedom fighters in 1971 and Saiful became a martyr in direct combat. Another gentleman staying with family in Vancouvre is Abdus Salam. Salam hails from the district of Chittagong. These two sons of the soil spent days and nights pondering how to advance the cause of Mother Languages. So on 9th January 1998 Rafiqul Islam wrote a letter of proposal to Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the UN. Rafiqul emphasized the necessity of protecting and nurturing mother languages of the world. Many mother languages have perished for want of such protection and cultural or linguistic aggression. Much effort had been made to preserve endangered species (among animals) but little effort have been made to preserve endangered mother languages. Hence the declaration of a day and its befitting observance could go a long way to achieve this goal. Rafiqul Islam and Salam proposed that no other day could be better or more relevant than 21st February.

On 23rd February Mr. Hasan Ferdous (who is the Officer in Charge of Public Enquires Department) of the Secretary General's Office wrote back to Rafiqul Islam and advised him to arrange for such a proposal to be placed or pleaded by any one or more member states. The advice was a step forward and also demanded wider action. So Rafiqul with nine others formed a ten member organization called "Mother Language Lovers of the World". Then onwards, the Language Lovers acted unitedly but they were mostly represented by Rafiqul and Salam. They approached Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada. They continued to pursue the matter with Mr. Hasan Ferdous. Rafiqul and Salam were directed to the UNESCO headquarters. Ms Ana Maria Mailof was very enthusiastic and supportive. With her informal advice, Rafiqul and Salam contacted the National Commission for UNESCO of Canada, India, Finland, Bangladesh and Hungary and requested them to formally propose the matter to UNESCO. On 16 April 1999, Hungary responded and it was the first. Then other countries followed. At Bangladesh, the then PM Sheikh Hasina was apprised but rather late. The dead-line to reach the proposal to UNESCO was before 10th September 1999, if it was to be acted upon in 1999. The Prime Minister was instrumental in ordering a 'short-circuit' of the procedures so that the proposal reached Paris in time. The then Secretary of the Education Ministry Mr Quazi Rakibuddin, the then education Minister Mr. Sadeq, UNESCO National Commissioner of Bangladesh Secretary Professor Kafiluddin, and Mr. Moshiur Rahman (one of the Directors in the PM's Office) played active role in managing the matter in Dhaka. Mr. Tony Huq who is a Senior Advisor to the Director General of UNESCO and Ambassador Syed Moazzem Ali and Mr. Ikhtear Chowdhury of Bangladesh Embassy in Paris also played a very active role in expediting the process. The entire embassy in Paris was enthusiastic. Finally 29 countries including Pakistan co-sponsored the proposal which was unanimously adopted.

Bangladesh celebrated 21st February 2001 with more enthusiasm and dignity than ever before. That was well done. But more needs to be done. The minimum this year is to invite the 10 members of the organization to Bangladesh as State Guests and honour them. Convener of the Bangladesh Chapter of Mother Language Lovers of the World, Mr. M H Mehrab, is working hard towards this goal. They would need state patronisation. We hope the PM and Education Minister would be around with enthusiasm.

Major General (Retd) Syed Muhammad Ibrahim, BP, freedom fighter, is the Executive Director of private sector think-tank "Centre for Strategic and Peace Studies" at Dhaka.


Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, February 7, 2002


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