On 21 February 1952, the brave sons and daughters of this land sounded the loud message that the people of the then-new country were determined to live in dignity. Of those brave young people, some fell to the firepower of a state that was dehumanised beyond caring. But those seminal moments have remained etched in our consciousness. We therefore observe Ekushey once again, in all the dedication to principles we can muster, for Ekushey defines us all as a people.
The idea to celebrate International Mother Language Day was the initiative of Bangladesh. It was approved at the 1999 UNESCO General Conference and has been observed throughout the world since 2000. UNESCO believes in the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity for sustainable societies. It is within its mandate for peace that it works to preserve the differences in cultures and languages that foster tolerance and respect for others. The UN's adoption of our Ekushey as International Mother Language Day to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism is an honour this nation must acknowledge.
It was formally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly with the adoption of UN resolution 56/262 in 2002. Mother Language Day is part of a broader initiative "to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world" as adopted by the UN General Assembly on 16 May 2007 in UN resolution 61/266, which also established 2008 as the International Year of Languages.
Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. The UN put it on record that all moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.
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?
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 in 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, and for all peoples.
First published on 18/02/22
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