Forgetting the lines drawn on the maps, people from both of the Bengals came together and celebrated the Bangla language. Leaders from both nations held hands and their voices soared to the sky. This is how the Bangla-speaking population on either side of the no man's land in Benapole-Petrapole checkpoint celebrated Language Martyrs’ Day and International Mother Language Day on Wednesday.
Wreaths were placed at a makeshift Shaheed Minar in the no man's land to pay homage to the language martyrs. The day’s celebrations included the gathering of thousands of people who sang and distributed sweets among themselves. Representatives from both sides spoke of compassion and unity, and the leaders promised to celebrate February 21 in an even bigger manner in the coming years.
Different social, cultural and political communities from both countries participated in the festival. The no man's land was decorated with banners, festoons and placards.
Since 2002, the people of Bangladesh and India have been celebrating International Mother Language Day in the heart of the largest land port in the country.
Every year, people from both sides observe International Mother Language Day by embracing each other and disregarding their differences. A sentimental air pervades throughout the area. Thousands of people from the Petrapole and Benapole border areas come together, and for a moment, the border separating them is forgotten.
This year, around 10 in the morning, thousands of Indians under the leadership of West Bengal Minister of Food and Transport Sree Jyoti Priyo Mallick, Bongaon Member of Parliament Momota Thakur, Sabhadhipati of North 24 Parganas Rehena Khatun, North Bongaon Vidhan Sabha Speaker Biswajit Das and South Bongaon Vidhan Sabha Speaker Surajit Das greeted Bangladeshis with flowers and sweets. Jyoti Priyo Mallick placed wreaths on the memorial of the martyrs at the beginning of the festival.
On the Bangladesh side, Awami League Presidium Member Pijush Kanti Bhattacharya, Awami League Jessore unit President Shahidul Islam Milon, General Secretary Shahin Chaklader, Joint Secretary General Abdul Majid, Commander of Jessore 49 BGB Lt Col Ariful Haque, Sharsha Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Pulock Kumar Mandal, Deputy Commissioner of Benapole Customs House Md Marufur Rahman and Benapole port police station OC Apurbo Hasan laid wreaths at the Shaheed Minar.
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Dignitaries from West Bengal, India place a floral wreath at a makeshift Shaheed Minar set up at the no man's land in Benapole-Petrapole border area to commemorate International Mother Language Day on February 21, 2018 Dhaka Tribune
The festival was jointly presided over by Benapole Municipality Mayor Ashraful Alam Liton and Bongaon Municipality Mayor Sree Shankar Adhya.
Members of the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and the Border Security Force (BSF) greeted each other with garlands of flowers, and then unfurled the national flags of the two countries, as speakers on the stage reiterated that the sacrifice made by the language martyrs had not gone to waste.
Benapole Municipality Mayor Ashraful Alam said: "The liberation movement of Bangladesh was initiated with the Language Moverment of 1952. Our Liberation War was supported by the government and the general people of India.
"The British might have divided the countries, but they could not divide our language. The bond between the two countries was strengthened by the sacrifice of the language martyrs," said Ashraful.
Addressing the Bangladeshi people in attendance, West Bengal Minister Jyoti Priyo said: "You have given your lives for the preservation of Bangla language. This is an incomparable feat.
"I am proud how Bangla has created this bond between the people from two nations. Just as this is a day of sorrow, it is also a day of great pride. It is my hope that in the future, we will have an even greater celebration for this day."
The minister added that despite the desire for the nations to come together on the basis of the language they share, they had been divided by the border. He demanded that the governments of both countries allow people to celebrate February 21 ceremoniously in the future.
The festival was celebrated with recitations, plays, discussions and songs related to February 21, which went on till the afternoon. Heavy security was imposed on the Petrapole and Benapole areas, and measures were taken to ensure that nobody entered either country through the checkpoint illegally. A large number of BGB and BSF personnel were posted on either sides of a bamboo fence to check that no one would enter unlawfully.