On 21 February 1952, the brave sons and daughters of this land sounded the loud message that the people of this country were determined to live in dignity. Of those brave young people, some fell to the firepower of a state that did not care. But those seminal moments have remained etched in our consciousness, for they were the earliest indication of the nationalism whose seeds were being planted on 21 February 1952. We therefore observe Ekushey once again, in all the dedication to principles we can muster, for Ekushey defines us all as a people. It is essential that today we reflect and ask ourselves the old and yet inevitable question: what compelling reason was there for those young men and women to do what they did in defence of the Bangla language? The answer is again simple. It is that a nation is in need of self-esteem and because it is, it needs space for itself. On 21 February 1952, we created that space for ourselves. And then the space expanded in its wider, richer dimensions.

Rare it is in history that a people have struggled in defence of their language, that in upholding the dignity of their mother tongue they have achieved supreme glory through martyrdom. When all those young Bengali men fell before the might of the Pakistan state on 21 February 1952, they were not merely telling us that in their death lay embedded the dignity of those who would live on. They were telling us something more, which is that dying in defence of Bangla was effectively and truly a giant step toward a revival of the culture that had consistently fortified the Bengali's dealings with the rest of the world.

Those martyrs first showed us the path to struggle, the road we needed to traverse if we were to thrive in freedom and dignity as a society, indeed as a nation. Ekushey 1952 was a pointer to the difficult, winding road which lay before us. It was also, in the larger sense of the meaning, a pointing out, in the gleam of starlight, to the rich, substantive destiny that was ours. Ekushey in less than twenty years would broaden out into a larger mapping out of experience through a concerted national struggle for autonomy. It would then propel us all on to the path to national freedom. Our long journey from 1952 to 1971 was thus paved and cemented by Ekushey.

Today, it is to those brave young men who perished so that we could live in freedom that we pay our deep, abiding homage today. Their courage did not go in vain. We pledge to keep their heritage alive and keep the banner of national self-respect fluttering at all times.

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