Ekushey February had a specific role to play in our history leading to 1971. It's not just about the cultural decorations built around it. The rituals that surround it are considered semi eternal without a time frame. Most people assemble in the early morning and some just after midnight and lay wreaths at the Shaheed minar as they sing solemn songs.

The gathering is there to do and witness the same. As it's a sacred place, no shoes are allowed and the sense of the assemblage is solemn befitting a memorial ceremony to the dead. It is in every way a traditional homage ceremony to confirm a link to history and gather strength to aspire for socio-historical objectives.

Anyone who has been involved with the ritual will understand the ambience of a sacred ritual. This is beyond a historical remembrance but observing a religious political ritual. The observance is akin to the "Shahdiyana" memorial of Karbala in the Bangladeshi political world underscoring both grief and resolve.

It's a tragedy that is also playing the role not just of mourning but also of inspiring the next step of struggle. It's not by accident that it's called the "Shaheed Dibosh". The shaheed is the uncontested entity that produces the political reality, both in the secular and non-secular world.

Objective of Ekushey before 1971

The movement that led to Bangladesh began in 1940 - Lahore Resolution - which first spoke of an independent state for the majority of Bengal-Bengali Muslims. This movement took off under the leadership of Bengal Muslim League but was derailed in 1946 by Jinnah himself claiming it was about a central single state of Pakistan.

Bengal Muslim League under Abul Hashim responded by proposing the United Bengal outside Pakistan to which Bengal Congress after discussions lent support. Interestingly, Jinnah himself supported it so he in practice had become a great supporter of a Bengali state. It may sound ironic but is historically events wise true.

Jinnah by that account is a great promoter of a Bengali independent state which Nehru duly opposed. It also shows how tenuous and fluid was the concept of Pakistan. And Jinnah did so right after denying Bengal an independent state in 1946. So in 1947, he was doing so because it suited his politics of denying clout to Nehru's Congress politics. He promoted a counter that would promote his own politics. Congress countered Jinnah by ultimately denying United Bengal and seeking the partition of Bengal in 1947.

Today's Bangladesh overcame the political short term view and opportunism of Jinnah and established what is mentioned as a reality in the Lahore Resolution. And given all functions, it is ruled by the same impulses of 1940 than the unreal "artificial" aspirations of the 1972 constitution. And the same party that led the 1940 march is still around and right now in power.

Ekushey after 1971

What Ekushey or Shaheed dibosh did was to produce the necessary sanctification of the cultural semiotics of politics. It meant the movement was anchored to martyrdom and state seeking was not just a political objective but a holy one. With 16th December 1971, the objective of its guardians - the broad shushil middle class - was achieved. Ironically, it created a crisis of an event in history. It had no further role or objective beyond the ceremonial and the cultural.

There was no desperate need to pay homage to the martyrs and raise voice against Pakistan anymore which Ekushey helped do. That need was over so a new objective was necessary in the post-state formation stage.

Mother language was not a problem in 1952 but in the public imagination, it became so or was turned into so. The song "ora amar mayer bhasha kaire nite chay" (they want to steal my mother's tongue) expresses the brilliant fiction that was necessary to keep the anger potent and functional. Rastro Bhasha or state language is a formal issue and doesn't appeal to the heart as much as a threat to the mother language does. Enter the "International Mother Language" day.

So is Ekushey relevant anymore?

The old middle class that was built around Ekushey has played out its historical role and Ekushe too perhaps has. Thus the old Ekushey is over. Many have expressed sadness and anger at the loss of the Shaheed Dibosh but its purpose as a memorial can remain but not as an historical product that needs nurturing as a state objective as it is over.

International Mother Language Day is potentially international in impact and may expand the status of the existing state. But language as a functional issue is over because it has links to sentiments but not to livelihood anymore.

So what will happen? The ceremonies will remain but it will be more ceremonial than real. Some will observe Shaheed Dibosh, some will observe it as a socio-religious ceremony and some will have some nice cultural fun. But the reasons which made Ekushey historically significant are over as the objective is achieved. Whether the re-birth as international mother language day will be useful is an entirely different matter.

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