Language movement spirit yet to be materialised

The spirit of the language movement was to create a nation state but it has never materialised in the country. Another important objective was to establish Bangla in all spheres of life which has remained a far cry, Ahmad Rafique, a language movement hero, tells Mohiuddin Alamgir in an interview with New Age

ek05New Age: Why and when did the Bangla language movement begin?
Ahmad Rafique: People, especially students, started the language movement as the Pakistani rulers tried to impose Urdu as the state language in place of their mother tongue Bangla. An organised form of the language movement began in February 1948 but the primary stage of the movement began in May 1947 before the independence of Pakistan.
Chowdhury Khaliquzzaman, a top leader of Pakistan, declared at an Urdu conference in Hyderabad on May 17, 1947 that the state language of the forthcoming Pakistan would be Urdu. After news had spread in Kolkata, Abdul Haque, Mahbub Jamal Zahedi and Abdul Matin wrote against the remarks of Chowdhury Khaliquzzaman. They all supported Bangla as the state language. Newspapers like Millat and Ittehad wrote several editorials supporting Bangla.
After the partition of the subcontinent, as Pakistan came into being, Professor Qazi Motahar Husain, Principal Abul Kashem, Dr Muhammad Shahidullah, Abul Mansur Ahmed and others began writing in favour of Bangla. They wrote in publications of Tamuddun Majlish and the Saugat periodical. In the period, Muhammad Enamul Haq used to write in favour of Bangla in a magazine named Krishti.
In the process of the language movement, students played the most vital role. Tamuddun Majlish also had contributions. But I think that movement forged by the people living in Nilkhet Barracks that time had been of immense significance.
Class Three government officials used to live in Nilkhet Barracks that time. They took to the streets in November 1947 and students joined in. They demanded that text should be written in Bangla along with Urdu and English on envelopes, post cards, stamps, money order forms and railway tickets. Officials thought that most of the Bangla-speaking people could not understand Urdu and English; so, there should be Bangla alongside Urdu and English.
Government officials usually do not wage movements against the government but in this case, they did because of their love for their mother tongue, especially as the students and others were vocal for Bangla to be a state language.
Dhirendranath Datta, a constituent assembly member from the East Pakistan Congress Party, moved an amendment motion to include Bangla as one of the languages of the constituent assembly in February 1948.
Dhirendranath noted that out of the 6.9 crore population of Pakistan, 4.4 crore lakh spoke Bangla as their mother tongue. The central leaders, including Liaquat Ali Khan, prime minister of Pakistan, and Khwaja Nazimuddin, chief minister of East Bengal, opposed the motion. On hearing that the motion had been rejected, students, intellectuals and politicians of East Pakistan became agitated. Newspapers also criticised the politicians who had rejected the motion.
Student’s movement during March 11–15 spread to other districts and major towns and strikes were successfully observed.
Under such circumstances, Khwaja Nazimuddin, before Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s visit to Dhaka, signed an agreement with leaders of Sarbadaliya Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parisahd. Sangram Parisahd leaders postponed their agitation programme.
Many student leaders including Mohammad Toaha, then vice-president of the Fazlul Haque Hall union of Dhaka University, protested against the agreement and Tajuddin Ahmad supported Toaha.
However, although Khwaja Nazimuddin agreed to a few terms and conditions, he did not comply with their demand that Bangla should be made a state language.
Jinnah, the governor general of Pakistan, on March 21, 1948, in addressing a rally in the Ramna Race Course (now Suhrawardy Udyan) declared that ‘Urdu, and no other language’ embodied the spirit of the Muslim nation and would remain as the state language, labelling those who disagreed with his views as ‘enemies of Pakistan’. A good portion of students who attended left the rally in protest at what Jinnah said.
Jinnah later in the special convocation of Dhaka University at the Curzon Hall on March 24, iterated that Urdu would be the only state language of Pakistan and many students attending the convocation shouted ‘No, no’.
These incidents agitated the students.
The Pakistan government’s Basic Principles Committee in 1950 primarily recommended that only Urdu would be the state language. Once again students and others took to the streets and the committee recommendations were suspended.
In the beginning of 1952, the language movement took a serious turn. Khwaja Nazimuddin, who succeeded Liaquat Ali Khan as prime minister of Pakistan on January 27, 1952, added fuel to the fire by saying in a rally in Dhaka that only Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan.
Students in Dhaka, especially of Dhaka University, sharply reacted to Nazimuddin’s statement. Dhaka Biswabidyalay Rashtra Bhasa Sangram Committee on February 4 called general strike, demonstrations and processions for February 21 throughout the province when the East Bengal assembly was due to go into its budget session.
As preparations for demonstrations were under way, the government on February 20 ordered Section 144 on the city of Dhaka for February 21, banning assemblies and demonstrations. In reaction to the order, students on their own took to the streets shouting slogans that they would not accept the ban on assemblies.
In the meantime, on January 31, Sarbadaliya Rashtrabasha Sangram Parishad, an organisation dominated by politicians, was founded at a meeting which Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani presided over. Quazi Golam Mahbub was made convener of the council. After the government had banned gatherings, the Rashtrabasha Sangram Parishad met and decided that it would be unwise to break Section 144. The students refused to comply.
The students brought out processions breaking Section 144 and about 3:20pm, the police fired into students who gathered inside the hostel, leaving several, including Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abdul Jabbar and Abul Barkat, dead.

New Age: What was the spirit of the language movement?
Ahmad Rafique: If you talk about the spirit of the language movement, I will cite examples, slogans of the movement, where it lies. There were three important slogans — ‘We want Bangla as a state language’, ‘We want all political prisoners released’, and ‘Ensure the use of Bangla in all spheres of life’ — along with others.
We demanded that Bangla should be made a state language because then it would eventually have become the national language.
We demanded political and democratic rights by raising our voice for the release of all political prisoners.
By raising the issue of the use of Bangla in all spheres, we meant that Bangla should be used everywhere, in courts and institutions of higher education. We also demanded the right of self-determination.
We put forth the demands aiming for a nation state and elements for the creation of a nation were present in the language movement slogans. We desired a nation state based on our mother tongue such as the ones like England, France and Spain.
Anyone understanding the slogans will understand that elements of Bengali nationalism were present in the language movement.
New Age: Do you think the spirit of the language movement has been materialised in Bangladesh? If not, why?
Ahmad Rafique: We earned our independence through the liberation war where lakhs of people sacrificed their lives. Our constitution has made Bangla the state language but it remains only on paper as we do not see its impact on our national life.
We hardly see the use of Bangla in the High Court and institutions of higher education. There is, rather, the use of the colonial King’s English in these areas. It happened because of the attitude of the educated class and that this educated class controls politics.
Our education is divided into three stream — Arabic medium (madrassah), Bangla medium (general education) and English medium.
The spirit of the language movement has not materialised because of class interests. The English-educated class did not want to introduce a Bangla-medium education system to maintain the status quo of the colonial times.
Education and livelihood had strong relations with English, not with the mother tongue Bangla. So it [Bangla] is lagging behind every day. Bangla is not used in all spheres of life although the High Court so ordered. For the ruling class, class interest comes before patriotism.

New Age: Who were prime leaders of the language movement?
Ahmad Rafique: Mohammad Toaha, Abdul Matin, Oli Ahad, Emadullah, Mahbub Jamal Zahedi, Gaziul Haq, Quazi Golam Mahbub and others were some of the prominent leaders.
It was general students who were the heroes. I can still remember when the students walked in a procession towards the assembly session and the police fired at them, almost all the leaders were absent.

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