Bangladesh Language Movement

Immemorial February 21 produced significant political literature. The literature is evidence of political, and to be definite, class position of concerned parties; be it a group or political party, a faction or a political trend or establishment.

The communist party in this land, brutally assaulted by the neo-colonial state of Pakistan, had not forsaken its fundamental position – a society free from exploitation, a society with democracy, a society with equal rights, a society with dignity. The flaming February 21 bears the party’s position. The party issued two leaflets on February 20 and 21, 1952 on the language question.

The East Bengal Organizing Committee [Poorba Banga Saangathhaneek Committee] – Communist Party of Pakistan [CPP – EBOC] said in the leaflet issued on February 20:

“Raise slogan:

“No more English language as the state language.

“Equal dignity for all languages of Pakistan.

“Right to all including the Baangaalee, Paanjaabee, Paathaan, Seendhee, Beloochee, and Oordoo [also spelled Urdu], etcetera speaking nations to use respective vernacular language as medium of instruction and for conducting activities at state level.

“Baanglaa should be one of the state languages.”

The slogans, essentially demands, were for all, not only for the Baanglaa language. This was a fully democratic approach. The approach admitted rights of all. The opposite was of the establishment – the state – and of the sections feeling master or brethren of the master. That was a fully undemocratic approach.

The Communist Party’s leaflet appealed to the people to organize province-wide [now, sovereign Bangladesh] general strike, strike, meetings, processions on February 21 [1952]. It, thus, appears that the Communist Party was having a full throttled drive – strike, general strike – to push with the language issue, as general strike is one of the most powerful political weapons in hands of people.

The party’s position, thus, turns clear – no appeasement, no compromise, mobilize to the maximum. The party stood for the issue. There was no lip service. This makes a difference. The rulers – the Muslim Leagueites – were on the opposite pole. Two lines appeared on the political scene: With the people vs. with the rulers. It reflected on other issues: ideological including cultural, and political, economic. A few of the demarcating positions were distinct from the beginning while the rest gradually appeared starkly. Consequently it appeared that person once lending voice to Baanglaa later publicly repented for lending his voice once-upon-a-time – a political position not only of the person, but also of a politics with certain economic interests!

The Communist Party’s leaflet, at the heading, raised the demand for equal dignity of all languages, and to recognize Baanglaa as one of the state languages.

The opposite party, it should be noted, was denying right of the Baanglaa-speaking people.

The leaflet appealed to support the call of the All-Party State Languages Working Committee.

The 174-word leaflet said:

“Movement for Baanglaa is not a movement against Oordoo. The movement is to recognize all languages including Baanglaa and Oordoo, instead of English, as state language.”

The Communist Party’s East Bengal chapter in its leaflet referred to British colonial master’s tact related to language: English language was introduced as state language to continue on imperialist-feudal exploitative system, and to impede development of different nations.

The leaflet related the Muslim League government’s motive to that of the colonial master: With the same motive the Muslim League master is trying to introduce Oordoo.

The absurd position of the Pakistan-master was exposed as Oordoo was not spoken by any people in any part of the neo-colonial state. That, imposition of Oordoo on all the peoples of Pakistan, was a mechanical effort by the ruling clique to have one unifying thread connecting all parts of the state and the country having a number of centrifugal forces. That was a futile attempt by an immature ruling regime. The regime relied on brutal force instead of looking into base, banked on propaganda instead of looking into contradictions. This limitation of the Leaguites, petty rulers, was inherent. The capital and the interests the state represented carried that seed of limitation.

The leaflet concluded with a call to all nations – Baangaalee, Paanjaabee, Paathaan, Seendhee, Beloochee, and Oordoo speaking people – of Pakistan to come forward in united way in the movement with demand to recognize different languages as state language and to have equal dignity of these languages.

The 2nd leaflet by the CPP – EBOC, issued on February 21, 1952, was headlined:

“Organize Forceful United Movement All Around East Bengal to Protest Brutal Murder by Tyrannical Nurul Amin Government”.

The leaflet described, in brief, the murderous act by the government: Police assault, baton charge, use of tear gas and firing in university campus and medical college hostel. As death figure, the leaflet said: 14 patriots have been shot dead.

It said: The martyrs will remain as immortal to the nation.

Now, near-about a century since the martyrs made supreme sacrifice, millions of people carry on chanting on February 21: Aamaar vaayer rakte raangaano Ekushey February aamee kee vooleete paaree – The martyrs are unforgettable [this is not the translation of the famous song].

It made a call to the citizens of Dhaka [then, spelled as Dacca]: March forward to counter-act the murder by the Nurul Amin government.

The leaflet raised a broader issue as it said: The Muslim League government has not resolved any problem of public life; rather, it has aggravated crisis in life.

At that time, the public life in the province was rife, according to press reports and relevant political literature, with problems.

It said: The Nurul Amin government plans to overpower our state language movement with bloodbath.

The leaflet called on all institutions and people having different languages in Pakistan to raise the following slogans/demands:

“Nurul Amin government – resign.

“Immediately declare Baanglaa as one of the state languages.

“Punishment of the murderers; constitute non-government enquiry commission; compensation for the dead and the injured.

“Immediately release all political prisoners.

“Withdraw the security act, section 144 and all repressive laws.”

The Communist Party’s leaflet called for organizing province-wide forceful movement through strikes, meetings, processions.

At conclusion, the leaflet said: “Take a vow in the name of the martyrs to carry forward the movement the martyrs flamed.”

There was call for marching forward with the movement for right – the language right. The issue – language right – is now-a-days a major issue in political science, a major part in questions related democracy, state, development, etc. The issue is increasingly discussed and dissected over the last few decades. Research/study on the issue has increased. The Communist Party was not lagging behind. Rather, the party joined the march much earlier than many.

The issue in February 1952 – Baanglaa language-right – made few other acts, which were significant in terms of politics, and in the sphere of contradiction: It broadly made a bifurcation, and the bifurcation was done in both ways – horizontally and vertically.

Political positions on the issue showed the social groups/sections that considered them aristocrats, in whatever way they considered doesn’t matter, and their camp followers, nouveau aristocrats since the creation of Pakistan by benefitting from the neo-colonial state, aspirant aristocrats, and dependents of these circles/cliques stood against Baanglaa. That was a pro-establishment stand. This group, ideologically and politically, was rightist, conservative, strongly tied to exploitative economic system. The contrary position – for Baanglaa – was held by the people, the commoners, and politically liberal and progressive camps. Thus, the vertical demarcation line made two camps: the Rightists and the Leftists, the conservatives and the liberal-progressives. The Communist Party’s position was unequivocal – for progress, for development of nations and nationalities.

The horizontal line followed property interests/connections: The commoners, the multitude, having Baanglaa their language of life and in life stood for Baanglaa; and in terms of property, and in terms of their non-beneficiary position in relation to the neo-colonial state, they had nothing or near-to-nothing. They had no position to lose with Baanglaa; rather, to win a lot if Baanglaa stands as one of the state languages. Rather, with Oordoo, they were destined to lose. The establishment camp consisted of the neo-rulers: having big capital in trade and commerce, in emerging industrial/manufacturing/processing enterprises, in land; and politically, in the ruling clique-connections. The people’s camp consisted of the poor, near-poor, the working classes, two – lower and middle – rungs of the middle class, the intelligentsia mostly from the middle class.

The two demarcating lines broadly made two camps: the people and the anti-people; and this division made far-reaching impact on following political developments and people’s struggle for democracy and dignified life. The Communist Party was there in the people’s struggle from the beginning of its journey, and from the beginning of people’s struggle in the phase of neo-colonialism since near-mid-1947. The two leaflets exemplify that trajectory.

Note: The article appeared in the special supplement of New Age, Dhaka, on the occasion of International Mother Language Day on February 21, 2022 (“Two leaflets of February 1952”, Ekushey Special, https://www.newagebd.net/article/163305/two-leaflets-of-february-1952).

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka. His recent book: With the Passing Time (NGG Books, www.nggbooks.wordpress.com).


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