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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Role of government to protect the dignity of Bengali language

  • Bengali was recognized as an international mother tongue by UNESCO
  • Bangla departments are running in 100 universities in 30 countries 
Update : 21 Feb 2024, 09:19 AM

Bengali is our mother tongue, our state language. In 1952, Rafiq, Jabbar, Salam, Barkat and Safiur shed fresh blood to protect the dignity of mother language. In return for their great sacrifice, we got our mother tongue Bengali. It was the language movement that later sowed the seeds of all the freedom movements. The language movement was the first resistance of the Bengalis against colonial slavery, exploitation, oppression, and the first emergence of national consciousness. Today's independent sovereign state of Bangladesh has been achieved through the language movement.

Bengali is not only the language of Bangladesh now. It is now an international language. Our mother tongue Bengali is the first example in the history of the world to give blood for language. Bengali is known as a language that has a glorious history in the history of the world. And the first contribution to this familiarity was made by the world-poet Rabindranath Tagore. In 1913, his immortal poetry 'Gitanjali' (Song Offerings) brought him the 'Nobel Prize', through this the world could know about Bengali language, and the process of globalization of Bengali language started.

After the independence of the country in 1971, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took initiative to give full form to globalization of Bengali language. His initiative was first implemented at the UN General Assembly. UN activities are conducted in five languages. Presidents, Prime Ministers and UN envoys of all countries give speeches in any one of the five languages. Only Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's speech in Bengali as a member state in the UN General Assembly on March 23, 1974.

On 17 November 1999, Bengali was recognized as an international mother tongue by UNESCO. As a result, the status and importance of Bengali language in the world increased greatly. Since 2000, UNESCO member states have observed February 21 as International Mother Language Day.

At present, Bangla departments are running in 100 universities in 30 countries of the world, where thousands of non-Bengali students are learning Bangla language, teaching and research every year. Besides, 33 volumes of Rabindra Rachanabali have been translated into Chinese. Lalon's songs and philosophy have been translated into English and Japanese. Bengali language, literature, history and culture are most practiced abroad in Britain and America after India and Bangladesh. Apart from this, Bengali language and culture are being practiced in different countries including China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Germany, Poland and Australia. Bengali language is being practiced in at least 10 universities and Asian research centers in America. New York, Chicago, Florida, California, Virginia are notable. There are separate Bengali language channels in the state radio of six countries of the world. Separate Bangla language programs are being broadcast on radios of 10 more countries. There are six Bangladeshi-owned and Bengali-language television channels in Britain and 10 in the United States. Twelve Bengali weekly magazines are published in Bitrain. There is a Bangla radio station called 'Betar Bangla'.

Bengalis are now spread all over the world. Therefore, the scope of Bengali language has also expanded. Bengali is now spoken by about 30 crore people in the world. By 2050, the number of Bengali speakers will be 31 crore 60 lakh. Bengali ranks fifth in the world in terms of mother tongue among the conventional languages. The major languages of the world are Mandarin (Chinese), English, Hindi, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, Portuguese, Malay-Indonesian and French. Bengali is one of the top 10-11 languages in the world. Bengali is now the official language of three countries of the world— Bangladesh, India and Sierra Leone.

Even though the Bengali language is highly valued in abroad—the question generally arises as to the importance of Bengali as a mother tongue in the country. Although 72 years have passed since the recognition of Bengali as the state language, the use of Bengali language at all levels has not been implemented yet. Despite specific laws and High Court directives to ensure the use of Bengali language at all levels—no one cares. Yet court rulings are written in English, doctors also write prescriptions in English. Roads, educational institutions, banks, insurances, hospitals, business establishments, mass media and the names of various institutions, starting from signboards, billboards, banners-festoons, scattering of English in advertisements. However, in these cases, the High Court has made it mandatory to write signboards in Bengali. Instructions in this regard were issued in February 2014.

The Bengali Language Introduction Act was enacted on March 8, 1987. On 12 April of the same year, the notification of the Ministry of Establishment stated, "The government has decided that in future all new laws, ordinances, rules must be enacted in Bengali." On 24 January 1979, the Cabinet took 9 decisions to ensure Bangla language at all levels. A committee consisting of 10 secretaries was formed on 16 February of that year to implement these decisions. A few months later, on May 3, Bangabhaban's order stated that if all the notes, summaries or proposals were not written in Bengali, the President would not accept them. On May 4, the Cabinet Division informed everyone about the order.

On 12 February 1984, the order of the Ministry of Establishment stated, "Although the Heads of State and Government have repeatedly ordered the use of Bengali at all levels, it has been partially implemented, but not anywhere." The government is facing unwelcome criticism. In the midst of this outrage and criticism, on 17 November 1999, UNESCO recognized 21 February as International Mother Language Day.

On February 17, 2014, a bench of the High Court in an order directed the government to take action against all signboards, billboards, banners, vehicle number plates, nameplates of government offices, English advertisements in the media and use of mixed language. Three months after the court's order, on May 14, 2014, the Ministry of Public Administration asked the city corporations, municipalities and cantonment boards to implement the order. But since that did not happen, on August 18, 2015, the court said in strong language, there is apparently no progress in the use of Bengali. Later, in a letter on 23 February 2016, the Ministry of Public Administration requested the Ministry of Local Government to ensure the use of Bangla language on signboards, billboards, banners and vejy number plates. The letter, written along with the secretary of the Local Government Ministry, said that signboards, billboards and banners have not been replaced in Bengali instead of English. The jurists think that this is against the law of introduction of Bangla language, rules and orders of the High Court.

The government then issued a public notice. It said that the nameplates, signboards, billboards, banners of the organizations (excluding embassies, foreign agencies and related fields) which have not been written in Bengali yet, should be removed on their own initiative and replaced in Bengali within next 7 days. Otherwise, legal action will be taken against the concerned organization. But it has not been implemented yet. This is due to the indifference of different governments at different times.

Bengali is our mother tongue, state language, as well as an internationally recognized language. Such devaluation of Bengali language is by no means desirable in a country which has crossed the golden jubilee of its independence. It is high time the concern authorities took effective steps to protect the dignity of the Bengali language and to use Bengali at all levels.

It is important to take effective measures for the implementation of Bengali language as well as administrative initiatives for the widespread promotion and dissemination of the language. Institutions that will work with the Bengali language must be active. In particular, institutions like the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Bangla Academy, International Mother Language Institute have to work for Bengali language. Besides, it is necessary to ensure the supervision of the work of these institutions and the accountability of their work.

Emran Emon is a researcher, journalist and columnist

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