On February 21, 1952, dozens of students and political activists were killed when the Pakistani police force opened fire on protesters in Dhaka. These people had assembled to demand equal status for their native tongue, Bengali.
On Sunday, the Bangladeshi residents of Tower Hamlets joined together to remember those people who lost their lives; fighting to keep their mother tongue as an official language in their country. Bengali, which became the official language of the new state of Bangladesh, is now recognised by UNESCO (United Nations) as an International Mother Language, and was commemorated throughout the world yesterday on the anniversary of killings.
This year most of the celebrations were held on February 20, to maximise weekend attendance from families and community members. The events started at in the morning with childrens’ face painting, before a film was shown to attendees. The day continued with a panel discussion, presented by Cllr. Motin Uz-Zaman, Md. Belal Ahmed, local journalist Sayed Pasha, and author Julie Begum. Rashed Bilal, the event organizer said: “It was a great event that showed the importance of our mother language.”
The event concluded with a performance of Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Shesher Kobita, a classical dance performance, and poetry recitals and music by local artists.
The events leading up to the adoption of 21 February as International Mother Language Day started when the Governor General of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, declared at a public meeting on 21 March 1948 that Urdu would be the only official language for both east and west Pakistan. The majority of the people living in eastern Pakistan were Bangla-speaking and therefore protested against this declaration.
A student meeting called for a strike on 21 February, a move which the Pakistani government would not tolerate. Five of the students who were campaigning for Bangla to be recognized as one of the state languages of Pakistan were shot and killed by police. The slain students are seen as martyrs for their cause, which ignited Bangladesh’s struggle for independence.