21 February in black and white

Toriqul Islam | Update:

Students demonstrate for language rights on 25 April 1953. Photo Source: Ekush: Bhasa Andoloner Shwachitra Itihas 1947–56 by CM Tarek RezaIt happened exactly 24,472 days ago.

On 21 February 1952, sixty six years and 11 months ago, the then Pakistani forces shot dead Rafiquddin Ahmed, Abul Barakat, Abdus Salam and Abdul Jabbar. Another nine-year-old boy was also killed the same day during the demonstration demanding ‘Bangla as a state language’.

The day after the killing, the Pakistani police once again opened fire on the innocent students at the then Dhaka Medical College’s hostel and killed Shafiur Rahman among four.

Professor Rafiqul Islam describes the tragic incident, quoting Bangla newspaper The Daily Azad published on 23 February 1952, in a photo album titled "Ekush: Bhasa Andoloner Shachitra Itihas 1947–56" by CM Tarek Reza.

In fact, the people's agitation for Bangla language began immediately after the then Pakistani leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s unyielding declaration of ‘Urdu, only Urdu shall be the state language of Pakistan” at a huge public rally at the Ramna Race Course Maidan (now Suhrawardy Uddyan) on 21 March 1948.

The agitation sparked off following Jinnah’s reiteration of the ‘Urdu-only policy’ at Curzon Hall in Dhaka University on 24 March and on a radio speech 28 March.

The agitation reached the culmination point when the then Pakistan prime minister Khwaja Nazimuddin reaffirmed the ‘Urdu-only policy’ at Paltan Maidan in Dhaka on 27 January 1952.

Students of Eden Girls College bring out a rally on 4 February 1952. Professor Fafiqul Islam took the photo. Photo Source: Ekush: Bhasa Andoloner Shwachitra Itihas 1947–56 by CM Tarek RezaIn the afternoon of 21 February, the students protesting against the Pakistani rulers’ decision, laid down their lives while violating Section 144. For their sacrifice for mother tongue, as they embraced martyrdom, Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar became heroes of history.

After more than six and a half decades, the image of the brutality still wrenches heart of Bangalees and the appeal of the movement inspires generations against any undemocratic forces.

The day turned into an ‘identity’ of the suppressed Bangalee nation in this region and eventually, Bangladesh came into being.

The glory of the language movement was then passed on from person to another, from one generation to another through slogans, poetry and music related to the language movement.

Slogans were few but powerful.

“Mani Naa, Manbo Naa... (We won’t comply with Section 144” initiated by language activist -- Abdul Matin -- moved much contemporary youth.

There were many slogans, written or unwritten. Some of them are still popular and echoed by the mourners of the ‘Prabharferi’ (dawn procession) on the day each year.

Some of the most popular ones include: ‘We want Bangla as a state language’, ‘Free the political prisoners’, ‘We want freedom of speech’, ‘Introduce Bangla as official language everywhere’ and ‘Long live the memory of language martyr.’

Back on 24 March 1948, when Jinnah reiterated the ‘Urdu-only policy’ at Curzon Hall in Dhaka University, the students did immediately protest at it shouting ‘No, No….’ (Ahmad Rafiq, ‘Bhassa Andoloner Itihas’)

On 27 January 1952, addressing a meeting at Paltan Maidan in Dhaka, the then prime minister Khwaja Nazimuddin reaffirmed the decision and said ‘the people of the province could decide what would be the provincial language, but ‘only Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan.

“There was an instantaneous, negative reaction to this speech among the students who responded with the slogan, 'Rashtrabhasha Bangla Chai' (We want Bangla as the state language).” (Banglapedia)

The slogans of 1952 were not just composed of a few words. They would describe political, economic, and cultural suppression by the Pakistani rulers.

In every subsequent year, the newer slogans were added to the list and gradually those led to several movements in the remaining two decades, until 16 December 1971, the day people of this part of the world earned independence following a bloody war.

On 30 January 1952, the students observed a ‘symbolic strike’ and gathered in historic Amtala area at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) gate for protesting against Nazimuddin’s Paltan speech. The then Purba Pakistan Muslim Chhatra League’s leaders and activists barred them.

Female students and other people join a ‘Prabhatferi’ on 21 February 1953 with placards. Photo Source: Ekush: Bhasa Andoloner Shwachitra Itihas 1947–56 by CM Tarek Reza

The students then burst into protest shouting ‘Rashtra Bhasa Bangla Chai’, (We want Bangla as a state language), ‘Arbi Bhasa Shajya Karbana’ (We won’t tolerate Arabic language) and ‘Nazimuddin Gadi Chharo’ (Step down, Nazimuddin). (Language Movement and Contemporary Politics of East Bengal’ -- Purba Banglar Bhasa Andolan O Tatkalin Rajniti Vol. 3 by Badruddin Umar).

On 4 February 1952, thousands of students gathered on the premises of Dhaka University shouting ‘We want Bangla as a state language’ and ‘Arbi Harafe Bangla Chalbe Na’ (We won’t tolerate Bangla in Arabic letter). (Badruddin Umar)

Students in the following procession were carrying many posters. One of that read “Chaler Badale Khud Khaichho, Chinir Badale Gur, Labaner Katha Naiba Ballam, Ebar Sare Charkotir Mukher Bhasa Kerenite Shahas Korona” (You offered us poor rice, substandard sugar, not to mention salt, and now you've come to snatch away mother tongue of 45 million) (Badruddin Umar).

At a press conference on 3 February 1952, ‘The State Language Action Committee’ declared 4 February as a ‘Protest Day’ following the Nazimuddin’s reiteration on ‘Urdu-only Policy’. On the ‘Protest Day’, the students of Dhaka University began a procession.

A giant poster reading two slogans -- ‘Nazim, obey the contract or relinquish power’ and ‘The struggle for state language is struggle for life’ -- were seen behind the protest rally (Ekush: Bhasa Andoloner Shachitra Itihas 1947 – 56 by CM Tarek Reza).

As per the Communist Party’s 11 February’s manifesto, the party leaders announced another cyclostyle manifesto over the language movement on 20 February 1952. In the manifesto, they raised some slogans ‘English Bhasa Ke Ar Rastra Bhasa Rakha Cholbe Na’ (English won’t be allowed as state language), ‘Pakistaner Shakal Bhasar Samamarjada Chai’ (We want equal status of every language in Pakistan), ‘Bangali, Panjabi, Pathan, Sindhi, Baluchistan, Urdu-shaha Shakal Jatike Matri Bhasai Shikkha Lav O Rastra Parichalonar Odhikar Dewa Chai,’ and ‘Bangla Bhasa Ke Onyatama Rastra Bhasa Kora Chai’ (We want Bangla to be one of the state languages) (Badruddin Umar).

According to an enquiry commission report, 91 people were arrested for violating Section 144. They were chanting ‘We want Bangla as a state language’ and ‘Police Julum Chalbe Na’ (Police repression won’t be tolerated) (Badruddin Umar).

On 21 February, 1952, the Communist Party’s cyclostyle Manifesto came up with more creative slogans, “Nazim-Nurul Amin Sarkar Gadi Chharo’ (Step down, Nazim-Nurul Amin government), Obilambe Bangla Ke Onnyatama Rashtra Bhasa Kara Chai’ (Make Bangla a state language without any delay), Hottyakarir Shasti Chai’ (We want punishment for killers), ‘Besarkari Tadanta Commission Chai’ (We want civic investigation commission), Hottya and Ahatader Jonnya Pura Khhatipuran Chai’ (We want full compensation for martyrs and the injured), Obilombe Shakal Rajnoitik Bondhir Mukti Chai’ (We want release of all political prisoners immediately), ‘Nirapatta Ain, 144 Dhara O Samasta Damanmulak Ain Prottyahar Chai’ (We want withdrawal of security laws, Section 144 and other repressive law) (Badruddin Umar).

Students carrying placards demanding language rights. Photo Source: Ekush: Bhasa Andoloner Shwachitra Itihas 1947–56 by CM Tarek Reza

After Gayebi Namaz-e-Janazah on 22 February 1952, thousands of students, workers, government and private officials brought out a procession. They were chanting many slogans including ‘Rashtra Bhasa Bangla Chai’, Urdu Bangla Birodh Nai (No contradiction between Bangla and Urdu), Khuni Nurul Amin-er Bichar Chai’ (We want trial of killer Nurul Amin), ‘Khuner Badla Khun Chai’ (We want blood for blood) (Badruddin Umar).

On 22 February morning, the students at the medical college shouting slogans, ‘Rashtra Bhasa Bangla Chai, ‘Bangla-Urdu Bhai Bhai’ (Bangla-Urdu are bothers), ‘Nurul Amin-er Rakta Chai’ (Nurul Ami won’t be spared) (Badruddin Umar).

On 26 February 1952, the father of the language martyr Shafiur Rahman inaugurated (Shaheed Smritistombho, now called Shaheed Minar) commemorating the killing of language movement leaders and activists. Two days later, the Pakistani rulers destroyed the monument (CM Tarek Reza).

A group of school students was carrying placards in a protest rally on 21 February 1953. Two of the placards read ‘Release political prisoners’ and ‘Stop torturing students’ (CM Tarek Reza).

On 21 February’s ‘Prabhatferi’ (dawn procession) female students of Dhaka University were seen carrying a huge placard that read ‘We want Bangla as state language’ and ‘Long live the martyr day’ (CM Tarek Reza).

Three placards in another Prabhatferi procession in 1953 read, ‘Want Freedom of speech’ and ‘Want Bangla as state language’ and ‘We commemorate those who laid their lives for language movement’ (CM Tarek Reza).

Another martyr monument was built in front of the old Arts Building of Dhaka University on 21 February 1953. “The world has been drenched with the blood of the martyrs” was written on the top of the monument. ‘In the memory of martyrs, long live state language Bangla’ was inscribed on another Language martyr monument on the premises of the Dhaka Medical College’s hostel (CM Tarek Reza).

Students brought out another procession with placard and festoons on 25 April 1953. Three placards read ‘Student killing won’t be tolerated, ‘Expulsion of students won't be acceptable’ and ‘students, people be united’ (CM Tarek Reza).

Students of Dhaka Fine Arts Institute brings out a rally on 21 February 1953. Monowar Ahmad took the photo. Photo Source: Ekush: Bhasa Andoloner Shwachitra Itihas 1947–56 by CM Tarek RezaThe student protest quickly spread across the then East Pakistan. On 22 February 1952, students in Chittagong (now Chattagram) brought out more than half a mile-long procession. They were changing ‘Nurul Aminer Padatyag Chai’ (We want resignation of Nurul Amin), Nazimuddin Gadi Chharo’ (Step down, Nazimuddin) (Badruddin Umar).

Sylhet students brought out a procession on 22 February 1952 and they were chanting ‘We want Bangla as a state language’, ‘Khuni Nurul Aminer Bichar Chai’ (We want trial of killer Nurul Amin) (Badruddin Umar).

Some lyrics and lines of poems, which still fill the air on 21st February, became so popular and mostly used as themes of the language movement and other movements as well.

The first song of Ekushey February was written by Mosharref Uddin, that reads, ‘Those who dare death for language, we remember them today’ (Badruddin Umar).

Language activist Gaziul Haq wrote ‘Bhulbona, Bhulbona, Ekushey February Bhulbona’ (We won’t forget, won’t forget, won’t forget Ekushey February) (Badruddin Umar).

Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury wrote a poem ‘Amar Bhaier Rokte Rangano Ekushe February Ami Ki Bhulite Pari’, which was first composed by Abdul Latif and then by Altaf Mahmud, is still most popular language movement song.

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