Positive aspects of language movement should be revived

The language movement was not for exclusion of somebody; it was neither for the exclusion of the Islamist nor of the English-speaking people. It was an anti-colonial movement. It was inclusive, language movement hero Sadek Khan tells Shahidul Islam Chowdhury in an interview with New Age

ek04New Age: Why and when did the language movement begin?
Sadek Khan: I matriculated in 1947. It was that time we became aware of the Bangla language movement. In 1948, we used to live at Lakshmibazar [in Old Town of Dhaka]. We had seen people walking in procession shouting slogans demanding Bangla as a state language. That was the beginning. We just joined the processions. But I was not too much aware of the movement at the time. One day, all of us were taken to the police station and we had been interrogated for the whole night.
My involvement in the movement was part of political activities. In 1950, I was involved with the Communist Party. Various discussions were taking place about organising the movement across the country.
On that day [February 21, 1952], I was in Narayanganj for some political chores. When I came back to the barracks [the present-day Dhaka Medical College], I was asked to stay there. Shahidullah Kaiser came forward and asked me to mobilise volunteers as many leaders of the movement went underground. We were asked to form committees in each mohalla.
The 21st [of February, 1952] onwards, the movement gained momentum, not only in Dhaka but also in other districts.
Mahbub Jamal Zahedi [a journalist] and Murtaja Baseer [painter], among others, were involved in it. In fact, unnamed young people were organising the movement in all the districts and that is how the movement spread.
From 1948 to 1952, there had been a huge change in society which left a huge impact on the language movement.

New Age: What was the spirit of the language movement?
Sadek Khan: The spirit of the movement was simple: we wanted Bangla as the state language and to use it in all spheres of life. And the slogan was ‘Bangla Urdu bhai bhai, rashtrabhasha Bangla chai’ [Bangla and Urdu are alike. We want Bangla as the state language].
The social and cultural aspect here, unlike in Calcutta, was that Urdu was the language of a very few people. Old Town people used to speak in a mix of Bangla and Urdu. So the Bangla language and the Bengali culture dominated society. This was mainly influenced by poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and Abbasuddin [Ahmed] and some other personalities. It was called the Muslim Bengal culture. But it was, in fact, a continuation of the Bengali culture introduced during the Sultanate period. There was also influence of many cultural aspects. We can name, for example, Maimansingha Gitika. There was also influence of the 17th century when the Qur’an was translated into Bangla.

New Age: Do you think that the spirit of the language movement has been materialised?
Sadek Khan: The spirit of the language movement was that Bangla is our mother tongue. We have always said that Bangladesh should be state language but we have not discarded English. Now there is an opposite trend [counter to the spirit of the language movement]. It is because of the impact of globalisation and influence of other cultures. Now there is distinct division between the culture of Gulshan-Banani and the culture of Old Town. People in an area do not know what happens in the other part of the same city. It is because of changes in our social and educational systems.

New Age: Who were prime leaders of the language movement?
Sadek Khan: Student representatives and cultural activists played an important role in the language movement. I should mention some names such as Maulana [Abdul Hamid Khan] Bhashani and Ataur Rahman Khan, Oli Ahad, Kazi Golam Mahbub and Mohammad Toaha, and [Principal] Abul Kashem.
The ultimate result of the language movement is the liberation of Bangladesh. The whole spirit of the movement was positive. It was not for exclusion of somebody —  neither for the exclusion of the Islamists nor for the exclusion of English-speaking people. It was, in fact, an anti-colonial movement. It was inclusive. I think that positive aspects of the movement should be revived.

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