THE MAKING OF THE FORMATIVE PHASES OF THE BENGALI ANGUAGE MOVEMENT IN THE EARLY YEARS OF PAKISTAN
Dr. M. Waheeduzzaman Manik
On this day of Twenty First February, in Bengali, simply ‘Ekushey,’ every year since 1952, the nation solemnly pays homage to the immortal martyrs of the Bengali language movement. Although the commemoration of 21st February has been transformed, over the years, into an occasion of cultural ‘celebration’ of our Bengal heritage, paying tribute to the language martyrs has remained to be the fundamental spirit of ‘Amor (immortal) Ekushey February.’ That spirit of Ekushey has not diminished. Rather, the radiant spirit of the twenty first February has remained ingrained in the core of our hearts and souls even after the elapse of almost half of a century of the historic Bengali language movement. People from all walks of life still come out in thousands in the early hours of February twenty first and mournfully trod the streets of Dhaka, and throng the Central Shaheed Minar (Marty’s Monument) for offering their heartfelt tributes to the fallen language martyrs. The memorable lines from Abdul Gaffar Choudhury’s ‘Ekushey’ anthem ("Can I forget the Twenty First February which was drenched with my brother’s blood? Twenty First February, built with tears of a hundred mothers who were robbed of their sons, Can I ever forget that?") are sung in chorus by those who take part in the mourning processions in the morning of every 21st February.
The saliency of Twenty First February has made the historic movement for establishing Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan synonymous with the 1952 phase of the Bengali language movement. However, the movement for making Bengali as one of the State languages of the then Pakistan did not, or could not, start all on a sudden on February 21, 1952. In fact, ‘Bangla Bhasha Andolon’ (the Bengali Language Movement) in the then East Bengal took place in several distinct phases. The first phase of the Bengali language movement started immediately before and after the emergence of Pakistan on August 14, 1947. Although the first phase of the language movement was not a mass uprising by any standard, those initial reactions had prepared the progressive forces of East Bengal to launch an organized movement against the anti-Bengali design of the Pakistani ruling elite. The second phase of the Bengali language movement, which started in early 1948, was essentially confined within the student community and the intelligentsia. The third phase of the Bengali language movement began in early 1952 after Khwaja Nazimuddin, the Prime Minister of the then Pakistan and a life long collaborator of the anti-Bengali ruling coterie, declared in a public meeting at Paltan Maidan on January 26, 1952, that "Urdu would be the "only" State language of Pakistan.
There is no doubt that the provocative speech of Khawja Nazimuddin can be singled out as the immediate cause of the 1952 phase of the Bengali language movement. Yet, the 1952 phase of the Bengali language movement can also be characterized as the culmination of the earlier phases of Bangalees’ resistance against the unilateral adoption of Urdu as the lingua franca of Pakistan. Doubtless, the earlier phases of the language movement, especially the organized resistance of early 1948 by the student community and the progressive forces against the imposition of Urdu as the only State language of Pakistan, had prepared a ground for building up the historic Bengali language movement of early 1952. Thus all of the phase of the Bengali language movement had profound impact on the subsequent political and cultural movements in the then East Bengal. It is within this broader context, an attempt has been made in this commentary to discuss the poignancy of the formative phases of the Bengali Language Movement.
The Roots of the Bengali Language Movement
The roots of both the 1948 and 1952 phases of the Bengali Language Movement in East Bengal can be traced back to the widespread support of the non-Bengali leaders of the All-India Muslim League (AIML) in favor of making "Urdu" as the ‘lingua franca’ of Pakistan, the emerging Muslim State. For instance, one of the professed objectives of a 14-point Manifesto, prepared by the Central Parliamentary Board of AIML in June 1936 clearly underscored the "protection and promotion of the Urdu language and Script." The 25-point program "setting out the special needs of Bengal," drawn in the summer of 1936 by the Central Parliamentary Board of AIML, contained many of the lofty and ambitious goals. Yet, those objectives did not recognize the need for "the protection and promotion" and adoption of the Bengali language and script. The Urdu-speaking leaders of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League (BPML) also spawned the idea that "Urdu" should be the official language of the "Bengali Muslims."
Although the prospect of carving out a Muslim State was at a rudimentary stage in 1937, the concept of Pakistan caught up the imagination of the Bengali Muslims by early 1940s. There is little wonder why the language issue did not prominently manifest in Bengal province during the elections of 1936-’37 and 1945-’46. There was no dearth of Muslim leaders for championing the cause of Urdu to be the State language of the Muslim nation both before and after the emergence of Pakistan. However, the Muslim middle-class intellectuals, leftist activists, and other progressive forces vehemently opposed such absurd idea, and they demanded that Bengali should be the lingua franca of Bengali Muslims. Indeed, these progressive forces were in the vanguard of the earlier phases as well as the 1952 phase of the language movements for establishing Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan.
A debate on the language issue took place in June-July, 1947 between the proponents and opponents of Urdu as the "only" State language of Pakistan, a nation-state which was soon to be carved out of British India. Pursuant to Lord Mountbatten’s declaration of June 3, 1947, the creation of Pakistan through the partition of India was imminent. The Uttar Pradesh based Urdu-speaking stalwarts of the All-India Muslim League (AIML) had already begun mobilizing their support and resources in favor of establishing Urdu language as the lingua franca of Pakistan. For example, Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed, Vice Chancellor of Aligarh University, declared in a Conference on Urdu language that only "Urdu" deserves to be the official language of a Muslim state. However, his advocacy for Urdu did not go unchallenged. Dr.Muhammad Shahidullah, a renowned and respected Bengali scholar, forcefully protested this discriminatory proposal. In a thought provoking article titled "Pakistaner Bhasha Shamashya" ("The Language Problem in Pakistan," published in Daily Azad, July 29, 1947), he effectively refuted the irrelevance, uselessness and unfairness of Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed’s advocacy for the imposition of Urdu as the only lingua franca of Pakistan. He emphasized that "Bengali being the mother tongue of 55% of the total population of Pakistan deserves to be the State language of the new nation. Once Bengali is being adopted as the State language, we may then deliberate to determine the question whether or not Urdu can also be afforded the status of one of the State languages of Pakistan."
Once Pakistan became a reality on August 14, 1947, the unresolved language controversy continued to surface during the early months of independent Pakistan. The Central Government of Pakistan had already started the unilateral use of "Urdu" in money order forms, postal stamps, currencies and coins, railway tickets, and official letterheads and forms even without formally adopting "Urdu" as the "only" State language of Pakistan. The rejection of Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan by the unilateral imposition of Urdu as the "only" State language had spawned the feeling of distrust and discontent among the student community of East Bengal. Even the common people of East Bengal started suspecting motives of Pakistani ruling elite.
The Role of Gono Azadi League (GAL) in Mobilizing Support for Bengali: Various political forces of East Bengal started mobilizing support for making "Bengali" as one of State languages of the new nation even before the emergence of Pakistan. For instance, in July 1947, some disgruntled and left-leaning Muslim Leaguers, and independent minded political activists had formed the "Gono Azadi League" (People’s Independent League) under the leadership of Kamruddin Ahmed, one of the pioneers of the early phases of the Bengali language movement. Although this party was no more than a political faction, this provided a political platform or cover for many of the non-communal Muslim League dissidents in the early months of independent Pakistan. It was forcefully emphasized, among many other Pro-Bengali statements, in its manifesto titled Ashoo Dabee Kormoshuchee Adarsha (‘Immediate Demands, Course of Action, and Ideology’) that "Bangla will be our State language. All necessary steps need to be taken immediately for making Bangla language suitable for all parts of Pakistan. Bangla shall be the only official language of East Pakistan."
The Role of Democratic Youth League (DYL): The most enlightened segment of the student community of Dhaka University started to oppose various policies of the Central Government even before the year 1947 ended. ‘Gonotantric Jubo League’ (Democratic Youth League--DYL) was founded in Dhaka on August 5, 1947 by the leftist and progressive students of East Bengal. The DYL held a Youth Conference in Dhaka on September 6 and 7, 1947 for the determination of its future course of actions through deliberations toward the protection of the integrity of Bengali language and culture. One of the professed resolutions of the Youth Conference urged the Central Government of Pakistan to recognize the distinctive features of the language, literature, and culture of various regions of Pakistan. The issue of regional autonomy was also emphasized in the resolution. The DYL took the leadership in forging unity among the various pro-Bengali forces to build up a resistance movement against the imposition of Urdu as the only State language of Pakistan. In spite of the governmental repressive measures against the DYL in the name of eradication of "communism," the dedicated workers of the DYL were in the vanguards of both the 1948 and 1952 phases of the Bengali language movement.
The Role of Tamuddun Majlish: Founded as a cultural organization in Dhaka on September 1, 1947, Tamaddun Majlish played a historic role in the defense of our mother tongue. Although the main intent of ‘Tamuddun Majlish’ was to invigorate Islamic spirit and culture among the citizens of the new nation of Pakistan, the vigorous role played by this pro-Islamic organization made it clear to the Bengali speaking Muslim population of Pakistan that the demand for adopting Bengali as one of the State languages was "not at all motivated by the anti-state elements and communists of East Bengal." Tamuddun Majlis issued on September 15, 1947, a well-written pamphlet titled "Pakistaner Rashtra Bhasha: Bangla Na Urdu?" ("Pakistan’s State Language: Bangla or Urdu?"). Among the authors of this historic booklet, Kazi Motahar Hossain, Abul Mansur Ahmed and Professor Abul Kasem (Secretary of Tamuddun Majlish) made a strong case in favor of introducing Bengali as the only language of instruction, offices and courts of East Bengal. They also forcefully articulated the demand for Bengali to be one of the State languages of Pakistan. The seminal booklet also contained a succinct proposal, authored by Abul Kasem, a lecturer in Physics of Dhaka University, in favor of Bengali language. Given the landmark nature of the demand for recognition of Bengali, the gist of that proposal is listed as follows (for details, see Badruddin Umar, "Purba Banglar Bhasha Andhoolon o Totkaleen Rajneeti, Mowla Brothers, 1970, p. 14): "1. Bengali will be: a) the medium of instruction in East Pakistan; b) the court language of East Pakistan; and c) the official language of East Pakistan. 2. Urdu and Bengali will be the two official languages of the Central Government of Pakistan. 3. (a) Bengali will be the first language for the purpose of education in East Pakistan which will be learnt by 100 percent of people; (b) Urdu may be treated as the second language or inter-wing language in East Pakistan which can be taught as a second language to those people who will be working in West Pakistan. It will be more than adequate if Urdu is learnt by only 5% to 10% of population of East Pakistan. Urdu may be taught in higher classes at the secondary school level in East Pakistan; and (c) English will be the third or international language of East Pakistan. 4. Both English and Bengali will be used for a few years as the official languages in East Pakistan."
The Role of the First Rastra Bhasha Shangram Parishad: Aimed at providing an organized resistance against the anti-Bengali policies of the Central Government of Pakistan and to lodge protest against the irresponsible and slanderous comments about Bengali language and script made by Fazlur Rahman, the Central Education Minister, the Tamuddun Majlish took the lead in the formation of the first "Rastra Bhasha Shangram Parishad" (State Language Movement Council) in October 1947. It needs to be mentioned that Fazlur Rahman, the Education Minister of Pakistan and a die-hard collaborator of the anti-Bengali ruling coterie, was one of the champions of introducing "Urdu" as the only State language of Pakistan. Although he was himself a Bangalee from Dhaka district, he had recommended Arabic script for writing Bengali. While his anti-Bengali stand had earned him a reputation among the anti-Bengali ruling clique, the progressive forces of East Bengal, especially the students and teachers of Dhaka University, were outraged with his shameless stand on the language issue.
While Professor Nurul Huque Bhuyain of Dhaka University was elected to be the Convenor of the first Rastrabhasha Bhasha Sangram Parishad, Professor Abul Kasem, the General Secretary of Tamudhun Majlish, played a pivotal role in that rudimentary stage of the language movement. Professor Abul Kasem, almost a forgotten hero of the earlier phases of the Bengali language movement, provided a yeoman’s service for garnering widespread support for adopting Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan. He succeeded in enlisting of the younger generations in general, and the teachers and students of Dhaka University and other educational institutions, in particular. Thus the first Rastra Bhasha Sangram Parishad provided the needed organizational structure for launching the language movement in later part of 1947 and early months of 1948.
The first protest meeting was assembled at the campus of Dhaka University on December 6, 1947, under the auspices of Rastra Bhasha Sangram Parishad, to protest the unilateral decision of the National Education Conference, held in Karachi, for adopting Urdu as the only State language of Pakistan. The protest meeting had attracted a large number of students, teachers and informed public from Dhaka University and other educational institutions. While the protest meeting was presided over by Professor Abul Kasem, a number of students and teachers including Munir Choudhury, Abdur Rahman, Kallayan Dasgupta, A.K.M. Ahsan, S. Ahmed, and Farid Ahmed, the Vice President of Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (DUCSU) addressed the public meeting. (For details, see Badruddin Umar’s seminal book, "Purba Banglar Bhasha Andhoolon o Totkaleen Rajneeti, Mowla Brothers, 1970, pp. 20-21).
The speakers discussed various aspects of the language issue and vehemently protested the nefarious conspiracy that had been hatched out by the Punjabi-Mohajir dominated Pakistani ruling coterie against the very fabric of Bengali language and culture. They urged the people of East Bengal to be ever vigilant against the heinous attack on the rudiments Bengali cultural heritage. Finally, a resolution in support of adopting Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan was proposed by the DUCSU Vice President Farid Ahmed (who has essentially remained an unsung hero of the language movement) and unanimously approved by those in attendance).
The Role of EPSL: It was on January 4, 1948 when the East Pakistan Students’ League (EPSL, an assortment of pro-Suhrawardy Muslim students of the defunct All Bengal Muslim Students’ League (ABMSL), was formed. Many of the younger Muslim leaguers who later organized a convention of the dissidents (Workers’ Camp) in January, 1948 were in the forefront of EPSL. The urgent need for vehemently protesting the anti-Bengali policies and postures of the Central Government of Pakistan hastened the formation of EPSL. It is fair to point out that soon after its emergence, EPSL played a crucial role in all of the phases (1948-’52) of the Bengali Language movement.
The Role of the "Workers’ Camp" of the Dissident Muslim Leaguers: By December 1947, the progressive forces enlisted enough support among the students and intelligentsia in Dhaka for protecting Bengali language. Aimed at building a resistance movement against the reactionary and anti-Bengali coterie of provincial Muslim League, a group of disenchanted dissidents of the ruling party organized a convention of the party workers. This convention of the break-away Muslim leaguers, popularly dubbed as "Workers’ Camp," was held in January 1948 at 150 Mogoltoli, Dhaka, the old office of the provincial Muslim League. Although the main objective of the convention was to confront the party’s reactionary leadership of Khwaja Nazimuddin—Akram Khan, the seven-day long Workers’ Camp was very critical about various anti-Bengali policies of the ruling Muslim League. The ‘Workers’ Camp’ also deprived the provincial Muslim League of the services and support of the most progressive and dedicated party workers. The organizers of the ‘Workers’ Camp’ were very vocal in articulating the demand for Bengali to be one of the State languages of Pakistan. (Most of those Muslim Leaguers were also instrumental in founding the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League (EPAML) in June 1949. EPAML played a glorious role in the 1952 phase of the Bengali Language Movement).
The 1948 Phase: Prelude to the 1952 Phase of the Bengali Language Movement
It is abundantly evident from the preceding that the patriotic forces of East Bengal started mobilizing or enlisting support in favor of making "Bengali" as one of the State languages of Pakistan both immediately before and after August 14, 1947. Yet, that resistance movement against the imposition of Urdu as the only official language of Pakistan remained to be confined within the scope of limited rallies and demonstrations, speeches in the meetings, press statements, pamphlets, and articles. The Bengali language movement at this rudimentary stage was by no means a mass movement. Yet, the efforts of the language activists started enlisting mass support in favor of Bengali language movement. The language protestors also exposed the ulterior motives and anti-Bengali designs of the ruling elite of Pakistan. However, the demand for making Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan started taking more concrete and volatile shape in the early months of 1948.
Dhirendranath Datta’s Role in Jumpstarting the 1948 Phase of the Language Movement: Among those who were in the vanguards of the 1948 phase of the Bengali Language Movement, Dhirendranath Datta’s role was seminal in the process of jumpstarting or igniting an organized resistance against those forces who were engaged in repudiating the rudiments of Bengali culture and language through the imposition of Urdu as the only State languages of Pakistan. Dhirendranath Datta moved an amendment at the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (CAP) on February 25, 1948 for adopting "Bengali" as one of the official languages of the CAP. His amendment was virulently criticized by the Muslim League members of the CAP. Since he was from Hindu community, his patriotism was being openly questioned. His fair and simple amendment was quickly misconstrued as an "anti-state" activity. Finally, his amendment was defeated on March 2, 1948. Doubtless, Dhirendranath Datta made history by articulating and demanding the full recognition and immediate adoption of Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan.
The rejection of the legitimate demand for adopting Bengali as one of the official languages of the Central Government fully exposed the hidden anti-Bengali design and communal agenda of the ruling coterie of Pakistan. There were protests throughout East Bengal on February 26, 1948 against the irresponsible utterances of Liaquat Ali Khan and Khwaja Nazimuddin on the CAP floor in favor of making Urdu as the ‘only’ State language of Pakistan. The restive student community also condemned the Muslim League members of the CAP from East Bengal for their opposition to Dhirendranath Datta’s amendment.
The Role of the Language Demonstrations of March 1948: The protest movement which had initially started on February 26, 1948 in East Bengal under the leadership of the student community, gained new impetus after Dhirendranath Datta’s amendment was summarily rejected on March 2, 1948 by the Muslim Leaguers. In response to such anti-Bengali stand of the Punjabi-Moohajir dominated Pakistan Government, the student community of East Bengal started building up the rudiments of an organized movement with the professed goal of establishing Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan. The second "All Party Rastra Bhasha Shangram Parishad" (All Party State Language Movement Action Committee) was quickly formed on March 2, 1948 under the leadership of the students and progressive intelligentsia of East Bengal. The second Rastra Bhasha Sangram Parishad was much broader in structure and representation than the first Rastra Bhasha Sangram Parishad which was formed five months back in October 1947.
A province wide strike was observed and pro-Bengali language demonstrations were staged on March 11, 1948. Instead of conceding to the legitimate demands of the language protestors, Chief Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin had ordered the law enforcing authorities to take repressive measures against the demonstrators. For instance, a large demonstration was tear-gased and stick-charged in Dhaka, and hundreds of protestors were arrested. Professional ruffians (goondas) were let loose on the leaders and participants of the demonstrations in Dhaka (Mohamad Toha, one of the top organizers of the language demonstrations, was mercilessly beaten by those hired ruffians). ‘Hoolias’ (warrants of arrest) were issued against the top leaders and activists of the language movements. The Muslim League Government of East Bengal also started disseminating blatant falsehoods and slanderous distortions to the effect that the Bengali language movements were "motivated and guided by the enemies of Pakistan."
In spite of the stringent repressive measures of the anti-Bengali Muslim League Government of East Bengal, the participants of the language demonstrations and rallies refused to be cowed down by brute forces. Nor were those dauntless defenders of Bengali language willing to be intimidated and blackmailed by the vilification campaign of the anti-Bengali Government of East Bengal. Indeed, the fearless language protestors kept on pressing for the unconditional release of those who were indiscriminately arrested on various concocted charges. They also demanded for immediate withdrawal of cases of those who were deliberately implicated in numerous fictitious cases by the collusive law-enforcement authorities. The political situation was volatile and the pressure on the Government was so intense that the anti-Bengali Chief Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin was compelled to negotiate an agreement on the language issue with the mainstream leadership of the language movement. On March 15, 1948, a meeting was held between the leaders of the ‘All Party Language Movement Action Committee’ and Khwaja Nazimuddin. Although the Urdu-speaking Chief Minister was not yet willing to lend his support to the basic demand of the language protestors by recognizing Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan, Khwaja Nazimuddin had to concede in writing that "after my discussion with the principal leadership of the All Party Language Action Committee, I am deeply convinced that the language movement for demanding Bengali to be one of the State languages of Pakistan is not instigated by the enemies of Pakistan." Pursuant to the stipulations of the agreement, most of the arrested language demonstrators were released from jails, and some of the warrants of arrests were either kept on hold or rescinded. In view of the prevalence of anti-Bengali policies and strategies of both the Central and Provincial Governments in the early years of Pakistan, these concessions from a non-Bengali Chief Minister of Pakistan were not at all insignificant. This limited success of the student protests during early March 1948 against the anti-Bengali policy of Pakistan Government also generated a feeling of unity within East Bengal.
It was expected by the ruling party that the compromise between the Chief Minister of East Bengal and the leaders of the Bengali language movement would subside student protests and create a conducive environment in East Bengal during the tour of the province by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the most powerful Governor General of Pakistan. However, the language issue got rekindled after Jinnah declared in a mammoth public meeting at the Race Course Maidan on March 21, 1948 that "the State language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language." He left no doubt about his anti-Bengali language policy when he repeated almost the similar message in his infamous Convocation Address at the University of Dhaka on March 24, 1948. Among many demeaning comments and insulting sermons, the authoritarian Governor General of Pakistan said: "Make no mistake about it. There can be only One State language, if the component parts of the State are to march forward in unison, and that language, in my opinion, can only be Urdu." Jinnah’s categorical assertion was instantly protested by some of the students in attendance of the Convocation ceremony. Fresh student rallies and protests erupted immediately after Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s a week-long visit to East Bengal in March.
The Muslim League Government of East Bengal was once again forced to enter into an agreement with the leaders of the All-Party Rastra Bhasha Shangram Parishad even though Khwaja Nazimuddin had broken most of his promises he made in an earlier compromise on March 15, 1948. Aimed at digressing the student community from the State language issue, Chief Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin brought a proposal in the East Bengal Legislative Assembly (EBLA) on April 6, 1948 for making Bengali the official language and medium of instruction in East Bengal. However, more than two dozen (27) amendments to Khwaja Nazimuddin’s lean proposal were submitted by the members of both the treasury bench and opposition. Of those amendments, Dhirendranath Datta’s multiple proposals were of great significance. He carefully crafted the language of those amendments in such a way so that the EBLA was at least convinced to recommend to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (CAP) for adopting Bengali as a State languages of Pakistan. Yet, Khwaja Nazimuddin refused to lend any support for making Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan. At the behest of the Urdu-speaking Prime Minister of East Bengal, most of the Muslim Leaguers in the EBLA had defeated Dhirendranath Datta’s multiple amendments. Finally, Khwaja Nazimuddin’s meager proposal on Bengali language with minor modification was adopted by the EBLA.
The Status of Language Movement between 1948 and 1951
The controversy over language issue remained dormant between mid-1948 and 1951 due to the fact that the ruling elite of Pakistan was pre-occupied with other burning issues. Certain changes in the political leadership of the new nation also had impact on the language issue. The death of Mohammad Ali Jinnah on September 11, 1948 had delayed the full implementation of Urdu language policy throughout Pakistan. After Jinnah died, Khwaja Nazimuddin, the Urdu speaking Chief Minister of East Bengal, became the Governor General of Pakistan. His elevation to such a coveted position in power structure of Pakistan could be treated as the ultimate price of his life long collaboration with the non-Bengali and anti-Bengali coterie of the Muslim League. But Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, also dwarfed the role of the office of Governor General after the passing away of Jinnah. The real power actually was exercised by the Prime Minister. On the other hand, Khwaja Nazimuddin’s tenure as the Governor General of Pakistan was characterized by dismal failures, timidity, and vacillation. His sole goal was to survive in power structure at any cost. Having himself dealt with the volatile and committed pro-Bengali language activists as the Chief Minister of East Bengal, Khwaja Nazimuddin was too weak either to revisit or deal with the language issue. Therefore, he was in favor of maintaining a status quo. Instead of revisiting the language issue, the anti-Bengali leaders of Pakistan were also waiting for the right moment to declare Urdu as the ‘only’ State language Pakistan.
Although the ferocity of the language movement relatively waned during the interlude years between mid-1948 and 1951, the relentlessness of the pursuit for establishing Bengali as one of Pakistan’s State languages had never completely stopped. There was a chorus of condemnation from the pro-Bengali language activists and other progressive forces of East Bengal when the so-called Basic Principles Committee Report (BPC) of 1950 "deliberately omitted" Bengali, the mother tongue of the majority of the people of Pakistan, as one of the State languages of Pakistan. The progressive forces including the concerned scholars and intelligentsia of East Bengal remained vigilant about the anti-Bengali policies and ploys of the Pakistani ruling coterie. For example, the Government sponsored evil proposal for Arabization of the Bengali script under the leadership of Fazlur Rahman, the Central Education Minister, was effectively resisted in early 1949 by the pro-Bengali forces of East Bengal. At the East Pakistan Literary Conference held in Dhaka on December 31, 1948, Dr. Mohammad Shahidullah, one of the most celebrated linguistics of the then Indo-Pak subcontinent, provided the most succinct rebuttal to the indecent proposal of Arabization of Bengali script. In its Final Report which was submitted on December 7, December 7, 1950, the East Bengal Language Committee (which was commissioned on March 9, 1949) under the Chairmanship of Maulana Muhahammad Akram Khan, clearly rejected the absurd proposal of introducing Arabic script for writing Bengali.
The patriotic forces of East Bengal vociferously criticized the anti-Bengali policy of the Central Government of Pakistan when the same absurd proposal for the adoption of Arabic script for writing Bengali was re-introduced at the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (CAP) in April 1950. On the CAP floor, Dhirendranath Datta vehemently opposed the most demeaning proposal of substituting Arabic script for Bengali script. It seems that Fazlur Rahman’s love for substituting Arabic script for Bengali alphabets knew no bounds. His name lives on infamy for his anti-Bengali stance. He introduced the same issue once again on CAP floor on March 27, 1951. Among others, Dhirendranath Datta and Mohammad Habibullah Bahar from East Bengal scathingly criticized the nefarious design of transforming the people of East Bengal into an inferior class of illiterate citizens of Pakistan by introducing an alien script for writing Bengali. Dhirendranath Datta strongly demanded the outright rejection of the discriminatory decision of introducing Arabic script in lieu of Bengali alphabets. He also urged the Government for immediately adopting Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan.
The students of Dhaka University had remained very active in garnering mass support for establishing Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan. At the initiative of the Youth League, a revamped "Dacca University State Language Action Committee" (DUSLAC) was formed in early 1951. Instead of banishing in oblivion or waiting in limbo, the DULSA took a pro-active stand toward adopting Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan. Aimed at enlisting the support of the central legislature, a memorandum was circulated among the members of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (CAP). Unfortunately, the anti-Bengali leaderships of both the Government and legislature were unwilling to accept Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan. Khwaja Nazimuddin, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan (he stepped down from the position of Governor General to become the Prime Minister after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951), was addressing a public meeting at Paltan Maidan on January 26, 1952 when he clearly echoed what Jinnah said in March 1948, "Urdu shall be the only State language of Pakistan." That was the beginning of the 1952 phase of the Bengali Language Movement.
The patriotic people of East Bengal were outraged--- and they responded. There were series of protests and demonstrations, and a new (third) ‘All Parties State Language Action Committee’ was formed by the progressive forces of East Bengal to provide a cohesive leadership to the language movement. Kazi Motahar Hussain was elected to be the Convenor of the Action Committee. In comparison with the first Shangram Parishad (which was formed in October 1947) and the second "all-Party Shangram Parishad (which was formed in March 1948), this Action Committee had much broad-based representation from political parties, students and intelligentsia.
It was hard for the growth of opposition parties in the early years of Pakistan. However, by the beginning of 1952, the political parties other than the Muslim League started appearing in the political scene of East Bengal. Of those opposition parties, the rise of the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League (EPAML) was a spectacular success. Along with the dedicated language activists of the Youth League and other leftist forces, EPAML and EPSL played prominent role in the Action Committee. An All-Parties Convention was organized by the Action Committee on January 30, 1952, and it was decided to observe protest rallies and a general strike throughout East Bengal on February 21, 1952. In response to this decision, the East Bengal Government banned all processions and rallies on February 21, 1952 through the imposition of the infamous section 144. Although many political leaders were not willing to organize protest rallies through violation of Government order, the younger segments of language activists and students made a conscious determination for violating section 144 by bringing out the protest rallies in support of their demand for adopting Bengali as one of the State languages. During the observance of the general strike and protest rallies on 21st February, 1952, the language protestors were killed by the police. A reign of terror was unleashed on the participants and supporters of the Bengali language movement. Yet, those dauntless language activists made history. And those who had to sacrifice their lives on 21st February, 1952 for defending our mother tongue are the immortal martyrs of the glorious Bengali language movement.
Notwithstanding the stringent repressive measures of East Bengal Government, first under Chief Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin, and later under Chief Minister Nurul Amin, protests and demonstrations in support of Bengali language and culture started gaining empathy from the general public throughout East Bengal. The dissemination of the message of the language movement also started reaching the grass roots of our society. These were by no means insignificant accomplishments in an era when the ruling Muslim League party took the unconditional support of the Muslim masses in East Bengal for granted. The formative phases of the language movement for saving Bengali language and culture from the external aggression provided the building blocks in the making of the historic1952 phase of the Bengali language movement. The formative phases were preludes to the Frebruary-1952 phase of the language movement. Although a detailed discussion of the 1952 phase of the Bengali language movement is beyond the parameter of this paper, suffice it to underscore that the irresponsible declaration by Khwaja Nazimuddin for adopting Urdu as the "only" State language of Pakistan had rekindled the fire of the historic phase of the Bengali language movement in February 1952.
It is widely recognized that the historic Bengali language movement was one of the most defining moments of Bangladesh’s history, and the foundation of the national identity of today’s Bangladesh was clearly laid down during the Bengali language movement. Thus the legacies of all of the phases of the language movement live on as the emergence of a sovereign Bangladesh owes its origin to the sacrifices of the language activists and language martyrs of the glorious Bengali language movement.
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The author is an Associate Professor and Coordinator in the Department of Public Management at Austin Peay State University.