The greatest historic occasion of the Bengali people is the Liberation War; the biggest achievement by them is the victory of December (1971); and the strongest cultural heritage they have is the Bengali nationalism. Million drops of blood, billions of tears, immeasurable sobs and sighs, grieves and grievances, boundless sorrows and sufferings — all turning into an indomitable mettle– have given birth to what we call our Swadhinata, our beloved Independence. Our independence is, as poet Shamsur Rahman puts it, ‘the immortal poetry and imperishable song by Rabindranath Tagore’ created from a unique mix of weal and woe, pleasure and pain, delight and despair experienced by a people over the ages. And again, the historic event which laid the foundations of our independence is easily the great Ekushey, the Language Movement of 1952. It was the maiden attempt of a chain of movements for ultimate independence carried out by the Bengalis over a period of about two decades against the Pakistan neocolonial regime. A strong flow of resistance flamed up within the minds of the Bengali folks in question of the dignity of their mother tongue breaking all chains of neocolonial subjection. The popular demand for the Bengali language as the state language was consequently brought to fruition with a nation state. This is a matchless event in human history. 21st February is now the International Mother Language Day. As the May Day is celebrated throughout the world in commemoration of the historic event of 1st May 1886, so is observed the February Day (21st February) in remembrance of our immortal Ekushey. What else can be of more honour than this?
Ekushey is the mother of our independence, the lifeblood of Bengali nationalism, and the eternal source of inspiration for our nation in the face of overwhelming national odds. It is the spontaneous outburst of a powerful collective emotion, the quintessence of a patriotic people, the marrow of their cultural bones, and the guiding principle of national existence. With regard to Ekushey all are artists, all are nationalists, and all are politicians who love it. Untidy words can produce the best poetry of Ekushey; irregular melodies can compose the best songs of Ekushey; jumble of bricks or stones can make the best sculptures of Ekushey. The politics of self-respect is the politics of Ekushey. The awareness of autonomy is its paramount spirit.
Ekushey is the name of an original feeling of the Bengali, which is ingrained in their flesh and blood, bones and marrows, lives and deaths. So, in all our needs and preparations, in all our constructions and deconstructions, ensuring the spirit of Ekushey is our national obligation. The talent and industry emanating from this wholesome nationalistic fervour may come to the aid of our country and society at the present time, when values are fast deteriorating; things are getting cheaply politicized; intolerance, militancy and fundamentalism are ruling the roost, and the nation’s future is falling headlong into the abyss of all-out decay. Only the spirit of the Language Movement can rescue the land submerged in the stagnant pools of reactions, superstitions, orthodoxy, fanaticism and obscurantism. Ekushey can provide us with a terrain fairly livable. And for this, it is imperative to awaken people to the spirit of Ekushey by introducing them to its friends and enemies.
But, how to differentiate between the friends and enemies of the Language Movement? It is pretty tough to separate the sheep from the goats, because opportunistic people often chop and change. They take many different hues that suit them down to the ground. The anti-liberation forces of 1971 are seen many times to sing different tunes and the pseudo freedom fighters to jump the queue, pushing aside the real ones. Even then, the friends and enemies of Ekushey ought to be singled out for the motivation of the younger generation.
The arch enemies of Ekushey were the petty neo-colonial rulers who chanced upon the right to rule erstwhile East Pakistan following the division of India (1947). In the first instance, they tried to seize the right to our language by imposing another Urdu, which was not our mother tongue. This was a vile attempt the likes of which had not been done even by the British colonial rulers or other alien rulers in the past. The Pakistan rulers also tried to rob us of our literary and cultural heritage by corrupting it with the help of their local lackeys. These subservient local agents who danced to the tune of their godfathers in the saddle and worked against the popular interest in regard to our cultural heritage are also the enemies of Ekushey.
Although the whole plan of the enemies was a gigantic bungle, and Bengali remained the state language of Bangladesh, the enemies of Ekushey have not been vanquished. They tried to avenge themselves on the Bengali in 1971, but to no avail. The freedom-loving people of Bangladesh were already imbued with the spirit of Ekushey, i.e., the spirit of defiance, and won the battle against the foes. But the foes are as if immune to ruin. As the spirit of Ekushey is an unflagging energy of progressivism, so are its enemies an undying force of reaction. And hence, they once again assume a phoenix resurrection after the August tragedy (1975), the most dastardly assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The enemies of Ekushey are the enemies of the Independence of Bangladesh. Though the Liberation War is won, we are not yet rid of the enemies. They have appeared and reappeared in various guises against our independence, and our national progress. They have gained the upper hand, and are posing serious threats to Ekushey ideals. The deliberate restoration of the beaten anti-liberation forces to power, political conspiracies, coups, killings, army interventions, poll rigging are a complete antithesis to the ideals of our great Liberation War and Ekushey as well. So, the people involved in these nefarious deeds are the enemies of our Independence and of Ekushey as well. They are a direct deterrent to the development of the Ekushey spirit, and the advancement of Bengali life and culture through a secular democratic process, which was the chief objective of our Liberation War. These people and their present and future followers are the enemies of Ekushey, who have been working against our national interest since the weird birth of Pakistan. We should be well aware, and our future generation, very careful, of them.
The friends of Ekushey are those — who passionately participated in or now support all the movements from language to liberty i.e. the resistance fighters of 1952, the autonomy-conscious people of 1960s; the revolutionary masses of 1969; the liberty-mad people of 1971—the freedom fighters– farmers, labours, and intellectuals; the students and teachers; poets, litterateurs, and journalists; doctors, engineers, and the lawyers; potters, weavers, and blacksmiths; the people whose sacrifices made our independence inevitable, and the people who in the post-liberation period have worked, and are still working for realizing the dreams of our Liberation War, for restoring democracy and rule of law from recurrent captivity, and for preserving a liberal-humanistic culture; the people who love and shall continue to love our sweet little land; love her people and culture; love her language, her soil and sovereignty, love her skies and seas, rivers and jungles; plains and hills– from Teknaf to Tentulia– love the beautiful national flag marked by the red blazing sun amid thick emerald greens; love to sing ‘my Bengal of gold/ I love you’; and love to share equal feelings with the Shahbag protesters and chant ‘Joy Bangla’. They and only they are the real friends of our country, our people and our culture and above all, our Ekushey. Hats off to them!
Dr. Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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