In Bangladesh today, there remain many who continue to fight for their own rights, for their own voices and languages to be heard and acknowledged
It was on this day, 69 years ago, that our people witnessed one of the most important and significant days in the history of our country -- a day of courage, defiance, sacrifice, honour, and above all, love for our mother tongue -- Bangla.
On the morning of February 21, 1952, students and protesters gathered at the premises of Dhaka University, defying Section 144 of unlawful assembly, in order to protest the imposition of Urdu as the only state language and demanding that Bangla -- the language spoken in then-East Pakistan -- be equally recognized.
What followed was violence and unrest, with law enforcement personnel of West Pakistan firing and killing several students who were protesting. Yet, these sacrifices by these brave students would not be in vain; instead, they have been immortalized in history, and now, the entire world, not just Bangladeshis, commemorates and honours February 21 -- Ekushey February -- as International Mother Language Day.
This year’s Ekushey February is unlike any other, with the entire planet -- and Bangladesh being no exception -- still fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the arrival of vaccines to Bangladesh -- and a highly efficient start to the vaccination process for which the government must be credited -- it is imperative that the citizens of this country remain mindful of the risks associated with mass gatherings.
While the situation appears to be more under control than it was for most of 2020, everyone must continue to follow health regulations and guidelines so as to avoid, once again, aggravating a situation that appears to be trending towards the positive.
Since that fateful day in 1952, nearly seven decades later, much has changed; Bangladesh as a nation is approaching 50 years of independence, and is on the brink of turning the corner as an economy, achieving middle-income status this decade, while aspiring to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the next 10 years and becoming a fully developed country by 2041.
Yet, despite the many achievements Bangladesh has made, for which credit must be given to all the stakeholders and authorities concerned over the years, there remains much work to be done if Bangladesh is indeed to remain on track and fulfill all of its lofty ambitions, both in the short term and the long term.
On that day, students protested against oppression, against injustice, against the silencing of an entire nation, and against the suppression of democratic values. Sadly, in Bangladesh today, there remain many who continue to fight for their own rights, for their own voices and languages to be heard and acknowledged, for their identity to matter just as much.
Our economic progress has been commendable, but we remain lacking in many of the values that the brave martyrs of 1952 embodied when they faced the oppressive Pakistani regime, and demanded that their voices be heard, and their rights be honoured.
It is that spirit, those values, that must permeate the entirety of Bangladesh. It is only when all Bangladeshis are treated equally, be afforded equal rights and opportunities, and allowed to feel safe and secure in the country they call home -- that is, build an equitable Bangladesh for all -- will we truly be successful in honouring the martyrs of Ekushey February and represent all that it has stood for throughout history.