People gathered at the Shaheed Minar on Dhaka University campus to pay tribute to the heroes who sacrificed their lives on February 21, 1952 to establish Bangalis’ right to speak in their mother tongue – Bangla.
Dressed in black and white to commemorate the occasion, men, women and children joined Probhat Feri – the long procession in the morning to lay floral wreaths and bouquets at the altar of Shaheed Minar – to pay their respects on Language Martyrs’ Day.
One minute after the zero hour on Tuesday, President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid homage to the language martyrs by laying floral wreaths at the altar of the Shaheed Minar.
Following them, the speaker and deputy speaker of the house, leader of the opposition party in parliament, lawmakers, leaders of different political parties, government bodies, foreign dignitaries and different socio-cultural organisations also paid their tribute.
The president and the prime minister also issued separate messages for the nation highlighting the importance of the occasion.
The day was observed around the world as International Mother Language Day as well.
The Shaheed Minar and its surrounding area were decorated with festoons and banners. Its premises were covered with beautiful alpanas – motifs drawn with paint. The walls near the monument carried quotes by famous Bangalis that invoked a sense of pride for the country’s history and culture.
The legendary song “Amar bhai er roktey rangano Ekushey February,” which has become the anthem for the occasion, was playing near the Shaheed Minar, adding to the solemn yet patriotic atmosphere.
Parvez Hossain, a businessman based in Dhaka, brought his five-year-old son to the Shaheed Minar to teach him the significance of the occasion.
“The Language Movement was the foundation of Bangladeshis’ struggle for independence. It is important that parents introduce their children to the history of it, and the value of our mother language and culture, at a very early age,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
“We must know our history. When some of our country’s brave sons sacrificed their lives for our mother tongue, why can we not love our country and do something good for her?” said Monowar Milon, lecturer of philosophy in Tejgaon College.
Lusia Chakma, who works in a private business, said: “I do not discriminate between Bangla and my mother tongue Chakma, because we learned both the languages from childhood.”
However, many visitors expressed concern over the negligence that Bangla is subjected to in everyday use.
“It is sad that many parents, especially those in the cities, focus more on having their children achieve good command of English and end up neglecting Bangla,” said Moin Uddin, who lives in China.
Tonmoy Majumder, political analyst at the Japanese Embassy in Dhaka, said: “The educated youth of the country believe that only being able speak good English is enough. But neglecting Bangla, their mother language, is not unacceptable.”
Foreign nationals living in Bangladesh were equally enthusiastic in showing their respect.
“The day is special to us too. We salute the language martyrs,” said Thomas, a Nigerian who is a student of a private university in Dhaka.
People outside Dhaka also observed the occasion with due solemnity.
The day was a public holiday and the national flag was at half mast in all government, semi-government, autonomous and private organisations. Television channels broadcast special programmes and newspapers brought out supplements for the occasion.