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In pictures: Of mother tongues, lands, and people

  • Published at 12:06 am February 21st, 2019

Photos depict murals painted by students of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Dhaka University near the Shaheed Minar on Wednesday

It is perhaps the prerogative of a land that has been oppressed time and time again to be resilient in the face of all adversity and tyranny. Bangalis may have been ruled over by people from many lands who spoke many languages, but the Bangla language has always absorbed them, grown from them, grown with them, and continued.

The Turkish cavalrymen brought their language, the Arab traders theirs. The preachers and mystics brought Persian, and the Mughals reinforced the latter, while encouraging the growth and independence of all regional languages.

Even when the British began to rule, local languages maintained their course.

But only when the people thought they had earned the right to self-rule, the illusion was torn apart by a droll announcement making it clear that Urdu will be the sole state language. 

Over half the people spoke Bangla, the other half was the sum total of a handful of groups each with their own language. But the statesmen believed in a young language romanticized by poets, and consecrated by mystics. 

A determined defiance grew into a nationwide movement, and finally a stalemate in spring. 

On a day when people should have been celebrating the ochre flowers in bloom, the porcelain blue skies, they marched arm in arm against armed policemen, who fired shots that claimed lives.

The bullets that would have silenced, instead ignited a fierce retaliation, exacting the demands for Bangla to be recognized as a state language.

In the years that followed, the Bangla language has been acknowledged and honoured for its monumental tribulations. Today, the world celebrates February 21 as the International Mother Language Day.