Editor’s note

ek01The Bangla language movement, which began even before Pakistan officially came into existence in August 1947 and reached its climax in 1952, was the first mass movement in East Bengal that sowed the seed of a pervasive nationalist movement eventually culminating in the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. The Urdu-speaking Muslim League establishment had resolved to make Urdu the sole state language of Pakistan in May 1947 and a section of the Bengali intelligentsia immediately protested against the idea of excluding Bangla from being a state language. The politically conscious section of the Bengali intelligentsia rightly identified the neo-colonial components of the Muslim League’s language policy, which was a part of the West Pakistan-based ruling class policy of politically and economically colonising East Pakistan within Pakistan. Not surprisingly, initiated by the Bengali intelligentsia and carried forward primarily by the Bengali student community, the Bangla language movement was actively participated in by all sections of the Bengalis across East Bengal — the peasants and industrial workers included.
The people’s political message inherent in their mass participation in the language movement/s was clear. Subsequently, in the wake of the language movement in 1952, the patriotic political forces of East Bengal jointly articulated the demands for political and economic autonomy in their famous 21-point charter in 1954. It was the West’s refusal to honour the political, economic and cultural autonomy to the East that drove the latter to wage its national liberation war in 1971 with a view to creating its own state based primarily on ethno-linguistic Bengali nationalism. Bangladesh was born.
The ruling classes of Bangladesh have their political economic autonomy, without, however, much accountability to the people who successfully fought for the country’s liberation. They have also constitutionally recognised Bangla to be the state language and enacted a few laws to implement Bangla to be the official language of the state. But, it is common knowledge, Bangla is not yet the fully practiced official language of Bangladesh, for the ruling class finds the English language to be a wonderful instrument using a wall between the minority rulers and the ruled majority. Language, after all, can be used as an effective political tool of segregating the Bangla-speaking ‘ordinary’ citizens from the English-speaking ‘extra-ordinary’ ones constituting the ruling class. And, here lies the challenge of democratising the state and polity of Bangladesh. The democratic political forces must undertake the programme of abolishing the classed linguistic divide among the citizens and materialising Bangla to be the language of the transactions of business at all spheres of public life.
We fully understand the importance of acquiring command over some foreign languages, particularly English, in this age of linguistic imperialism, but we have no reason to accept the empty rhetoric of the country’s colonialised ruling class that English has to be given priority over Bangla in internally running the affairs of the state. This is directly involved with the democratic emancipation of the people at large who fought all the political battles, linguistic and otherwise, including a liberation war, for having Bangladesh emerge a territorially independent country.
Hence, we have chosen to publish some essays, along with interviews of the language movement veterans, in our special supplement on the language movement this time addressing the relation of establishing the Bangla language in the official sphere of the state with the democratic emancipation of Bangladesh.

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