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Bengal Recalls East Pakistan Language Movement on Mother Language Day

UNESCO’s February 21 International Mother Language Day was observed throughout West Bengal.

Kolkata: International Mother Language Day was observed throughout West Bengal on Tuesday. On February 21, 1952, unarmed protesters demanding that Bengali be given federal status like Urdu and English were fired upon by Pakistani soldiers in Dhaka leading to the deaths of five men. The Language Movement in erstwhile East Pakistan formed the basis for the separate country of Bangladesh.

To promote cultural and linguistic diversity, UNESCO announced February 21st as International Mother Language Day in 1999. This year’s theme was ‘Multilingual Education—a necessity to transform education’.

Various programmes were held in the state to observe the occasion. A morning procession organised by the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission started from Bangladesh Library and Information Centre and ended at the Commission’s office in Kolkata. The procession was led by Bangladesh’s deputy high commissioner Andelib Elias in Kolkata.

Another  programme commemorating the day was held at the India-Bangladesh border at Petropole.


The Bangiyo Sakkhorota Prasar Samity observed the day through a decorative procession and cultural  programme in Garia, South Kolkata, with students dressed as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Vidyasagar and Swami Vivekananda.

Presiding over a programme held after the procession, educationist and former Jadavpur University vice-chancellor professor Ashoknath Basu highlighted the role of mother language in imparting education. He also advocated for basic education in vernacular language though he added that does not mean  one cannot study other languages. He advocated for science and technology education in mother language.

Basu also highlighted how during his stint with the university, he took steps to launch a literacy programme in the nearby slums of Jadavpur which was a grand success.

Renowned educationist professor Maksuda Khatun said that the “seed sown by the martyrs of the Language Movement has germinated to its full growth”. 

She detailed how University of Dhaka students had launched a nationwide protest on February 21 against the imposition of Urdu on Bengali-majority East Pakistan.



Despite the Pakistani Army firing tear gas on unarmed protesters, the students continued protesting, Khatun said adding that “they were fired upon leading to the death of five protesters and injuries to hundreds of others”. “That movement was the precursor to the formation of Bangladesh as a free country in 1971,” she added.

Khatun also recalled the Bengali Language Movement in Barak Valley, Assam, on May 19, 1961, when 13 protesters were killed . “They were protesting the forcible imposition of Assamese as the sole official language, including on the three Bengali-dominated districts. The language movement soon forced the Assam government to backtrack.”

Khatun called for “preserving the right to education in mother languages”.

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