Bangabandhu & Language Movement

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Published on June 15, 2021
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Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had an outstanding contribution in organizing the language movement. He was active from the beginning of the language movement in 1947 till the end.

Shortly after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, a number of political activists gathered at the Sirajuddaula Hotel in Calcutta to determine their next course of actions in East Pakistan. At that meeting, it was decided to form a non-communal political movement and organization in Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then a young leader, was involved in this process.

The Democratic Juba League was formed on 6 and 7 September 1948 at the East Bengal and East Pakistan Workers' Conference held in Dhaka. The conference adopted some proposals on language. In this regard, language movement veteran Gaziul Haque said, "Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the student leader of that day, read out the resolutions adopted in the conference committee."

Professor Dr Mozharul Islam, the first biographer of Bangabandhu, said in his book 'Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib' that Sheikh Mujib took part in a campaign in 1948 with the Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad to collect signatures in support of the Bangla language demand. During the meeting of the Muslim League Working Committee at the residence of Khawaja Nazimuddin on 5 December 1947, he participated in and led a procession demanding that Bangla be made the state language.

In December 1947, for the first time, 14 language leaders including contemporary politicians, drafted a manifesto with a 21-point demand, including a language movement and other demands. It was published in the form of a small pamphlet, entitled 'State Language - 21 Point Manifesto - Historical Document'. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's contribution in the formulation of this manifesto was undeniable and he was one of the key signatories.

Chhatra League was formed on 4 January 1948. The role of this organization in the history of the language movement is very impactful. One of the 10-point demands of the organization established under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was to make Bangla one of the state languages of Pakistan and to recruit Bengalis in the army and ensure their compulsory military education.

March 11, 1948, is a unique and unforgettable day in the history of the language movement. On this day an all-out general strike was observed demanding the state language to be Bangla. This was the first successful strike in the history of the language movement in Pakistan. Sheikh Mujib led the strike and was arrested after being tortured by the police. He was released on 15 March.

On 17 March 1948, a meeting was held at Battala of Dhaka University under the chairmanship of Naimuddin Ahmed at the invitation of the East Pakistan Muslim Chhatra League. Sheikh Mujib participated in that meeting. As a result of the hard work of Sheikh Mujib, Tajuddin Ahmed, Mohammad Toaha, Naimuddin Ahmed, Shawkat Ali, Abdul Matin, Shamsul Haque and other young leaders, the language movement spread all over East Pakistan as a mass movement. The whole of Bangladesh seemed to be trembled by the public meetings, processions and slogans. In the streets, on the walls, on the posters - the Bhasha Sangram Committee started working tirelessly to realize the demand for 'Bangla as the state language'. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested twice in 1949 for his involvement in the movement.

Sheikh Mujib was in jail in 1952 during the eruption of the language movement. Although he was personally absent from the political arena, he kept in touch with the agitators on a regular basis while in jail and gave necessary instructions.

Language movement leader, eminent journalist Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury in his article 'Some Memories, Some Words About Ekush' said Sheikh Mujib sent notes to several Chhatra League leaders before and after being sent to Faridpur Jail on 16 February 1952.

A meeting was held at Dhaka University on 19 February demanding the release of all political prisoners, including Sheikh Mujib. And on 21 February, ignoring all the obstacles, the students took out the procession. When the Pakistani junta opened fire on the procession, Salam-Barkat-Rafiq-Jabbar's blood was shed on the streets.

Bangabandhu also played a significant role in celebrating the first anniversary of the Language Movement in 1953. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was at the forefront of all movements, processions and leadership that day. At a public meeting held at Armanitola Maidan, he called for declaring 21 February as Martyrs' Day and demanded that Bangla be made the state language immediately.

Later, in the session of the Legislative Assembly held on 17 January 1956, Bangabandhu demanded that the daily proceedings of the Parliament be printed in Bangla. He also demanded in another session of the Legislative Assembly on 16 February to make Bangla the state language.

Bangla was recognized as one of the state languages of Pakistan on 7 May 1954 after the Jukta Front won the provincial assembly elections that year. The Constitution was amended on 29 February 1956 by recognizing Bengali as the second state language of Pakistan. Bangabandhu also has a special contribution to this.

In the Constitution of 1972, he adopted Bangla as the state language. This was the first language constitution in the history of the world to be written in Bangla. On 12 March 1975 Bangabandhu issued the first government directive to introduce the Bangla language in offices and institutions instead of English.