What is International Mother Language Day?

Language is the bearer and conveyor of the culture, custom and creed of a community. Language helps us to express our thoughts, ideas, experiences, emotions.  Own Language or mother tongue symbolizes the identity, individuality and independence of a person so it is dear to all. But very few nations have fought, bled and sacrificed their lives to uphold the dignity and honor of their mother tongue.

Map of India and Pakistan 1947
Map of India and Pakistan 1947

In 1947 when Pakistan was created, it was divided into two different parts: East Pakistan (currently known as Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (currently known as Pakistan). The two parts were very different to each other in sense of culture, custom, creed and especially language. The two parts were also separated by India in between. In 1948, the then Government of Pakistan declared Urdu to be the sole national language of Pakistan. The East Pakistani people (whose mother tongue is Bangla) protested and demanded Bangla to be at least one of the national languages, in addition to Urdu. To demolish the protests, the government of Pakistan outlawed public meeting and rallies. The students of the University of Dhaka, with the support of general public, arranged massive rallies and meetings.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant said,

“The two great dividers are religion and LANGUAGE.”

Language Movement 1952
Language Movement 1952

This was really true in this case. This divide grew as the West Pakistani government became more oppressive and brutal.

On 21st February 1952, Pakistani police opened fire on rallies. Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar, Shafiur and many others died with hundreds others injured. This is one of the very rare incidents in human history, where people had to sacrifice their lives for their mother tongue. The sacrifice of the martyr’s was not wasted. After years of continuously growing protests, greater rallies, great other sacrifices by the Bangladeshis (then East Pakistanis), in 1956, the government was bound to grant official status to Bangla. Eventually the Language Movement led to the formation of an independent country of Bangladesh.

Shahid Minar
Shahid Minar

Since then Bangladeshis observe the Day of 21st February as “Language Martyrs Day”, one of the tragic days. They go to Shahid Minar, a monument built to honor the martyrs, and express their deep sorrow and gratefulness to the martyrs.

21st February was declared to be the International Mother Language Day by UNESCO in 1999. It has been observed throughout the world since February 21st, 2000.

International Mother Language Day is a national holiday in Bangladesh. The resolution was suggested by Rafiqul Islam, a Bengali living in Vancouver, Canada. He wrote a letter to Kofi Annan on 9 January 1998 asking him to take a step for saving the world’s languages from extinction by declaring an International Mother Language Day. Rafiq proposed the date as 21 February to commemorate the 1952 killings in Dhaka during the Language Movement.”21st February – The International Mother Language Day”.

“Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. 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.”

— From the United Nations International Mother Language Day micro site

Language is a pathway to a person’s heart. Mother tongue is the best medium to express and to convey message. Regarding this great South African leader Nelson Mandela said that:

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”.

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.Famous English writer Samuel Johnson metaphorically said,

“Language is the dress of thought.”

Again, Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein expressed,

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

American writer and activist Rita Mae Brown said,

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes stated,

“Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.”

Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear. Globally 40 per cent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand. Nevertheless, progress is being made in mother tongue-based multilingual education with growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling, and more commitment to its development in public life. Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way.

The right to speak one’s mother tongue is a basic human right. So we should encourage our children to use their mother languages to introduce themselves and talk about their families and culture. We celebrate culture by reading poetry, telling stories or sing songs in our mother tongues. We have to promote the use of our mother languages to uphold the spirit of the International Mother Language day.

Painting Commemorating Language Movement on 21st February 1952
People going to Shahid Minar
People going to Shahid Minar
Shahid Minar
Shahid Minar

Author: Qazi Syed Sayeed Nahin

I was born to serve, Not to lead, But still trying to lead. An artist, Trying to be a business man.

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