May 21st, 2019
1952-1971 / স্বাধীনতা যুদ্ধ
Bangla Language Movement: A Synopsis of Events
November 21st, 201011,447 views

Bangla Language Day, popularly known as Ekushe (21) February, is one of the most significant days, not in Bangladesh only, but in human history because on that day the valiant Bangalee boys gave their lives to defend their sweet mother tongue, Bangla language. Over the centuries people gave their lives for love, faith, freedom, nation and the state. But on 21 February 1952, ever in history, a bunch of young Bangalee students gave their lives in a protest rally at the Dhaka university campus against the Pakistani authority’s attempt to impose Urdu (as the state language of Pakistan) over the 70 million Bangalees of East Bangla (then East Pakistan).


Politically conscious and culturally advanced Bangalees of East Bangla were instrumental in the creation of the British pampered Islamic state Pakistan. Although the Lahore Proposal (proposed by a Bangalee, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq) originally proposed a confederation of Muslim majority states for Pakistan, the proposal was never unearthed since the partition (1947). Since the birth of Pakistan, the rulers of Pakistan motioned to colonize the Bangalees (and the Baluch, the Pathans, the Pustus) culturally, economically, ideologically (dominant ideology has always been Islam), linguistically and politically. In 1948, the year after the partition Jinnah, the self-proclaimed champion of Islam (which constitutes only the addition of an Islamic hat on his black suit, not the abandonment of his favorite drink, scotch and favorite breakfast, bacon) and the founder of so-called Islamic state Pakistan, declared that “Urdu and Urdu only, will be the state language of Pakistan”. The people (especially the university students) of Bangladesh protested against Jinnah’s presumptuous statement. Among the politicians only Dhirendra Nath Datta stood against Jinnah’s statement in the parliament and proposed Bangla (the language of the majority) as the state language of Pakistan. But like the Lahore proposal Datta’s state language bill was shoved under the carpet. Four years later, on 26 January 1952, Khaza Nazimuddin, the premier of Pakistan, assuming that the state language issue being considerably subsided, reiterated Jinna’s statement, in a public meeting at the Paltan ground, to secure his position in the parliament. The pro-Pakistani newspapers gave Nazimuddin’s speech massive media coverage. The ruling Muslim leaguers and their Islamic brethren started scratching their beards in anticipation of camels, deserts and dates in this life and 70 lusty houries hereafter.


The students of Dhaka University, unlike the goatee buffoons in the establishment, burst into a vehement protest against Nazimuddin’s speech the very next day and two of the leading student organizations, East Pakistan Jubo (Youth) League and East Pakistan Students’ League, organized a protest meeting and rally at the Amtala (the grassy foyer under the old Mango tree in front of the Arts faculty) of Dhaka University on 27 January 1952. In that meeting Habibur Rahman Shelly, a distinguished student of Dhaka university, publicly criticized Jinnah’s statement of 1948, gutless Liakat Ali’s unabashed sycophancy and Nazimuddin’s mimicry of Jinnah.


In order to turn the language issue into a systematic political movement the students of Dhaka University later formed an Action (Sangram) Council and elected Abdul Matin the convener of the council. Under the banner of this council three students organizations, East Pakistan Jubo League, East Pakistan Students’ League and the United Students’ Sangram (Action) Council held a students’ strike and protest rally in the Dhaka University campus on 30 January 1952. Khalek Newas Khan of Mymensingh chaired that meeting. This meeting was a warm up call for the Bangalees of East Bangla.

All Party State Language Action Council

On 31 January 1952 a conference of the leaders of all opposition parties were held in the Dhaka Bar Council Library. Maulana Bhasani, the leader of East Pakistan Awami League, called the conference. Leaders from Khilafat-e-Rabbani, Tamuddun Majlish, University Students’ Sangram Parishad, East Pakistan Muslim Students’ League and East Pakistan Youth League attended the conference. In that conference All Party State Language Action Council was formed and Maulana Bhasani was elected chairman of the council and Golam Mahbub convener. This committee later declared 21 February to be the “Language Day” and called on strike, meetings and procession all over the country. Around the country, thousands of student activists from the three mainstream students’ organizations took on the streets to make “Language Day” a political success.


4 February 1952: Student Protest Meeting in Dhaka University (recounted by Gaziul Huq)

“Being unable to wait for the chair, I jumped on the table and after a short speech announced the action plan. Ten thousand students were present in the university campus. A large procession of ten thousand students rallied around the Dhaka city and then gathered, following the procession, at the Beltala of Dhaka University. In that public gathering people around the province were called on to make 21 February Strike a success.”


“Around 3 pm on 20 February while we were making a list of volunteers at Madhu’s canteen, we heard the government making microphone announcement declaring curfew (Emergency Act 144) for the following day (21 February). The students present resented the official enforcement of the Act 144 on the “Bangla Language Day”.


“Later that evening in a meeting at the Salimullah Muslim Hall chaired by Fakir Shahabuddin it was decided that Act 144 would not be tolerated. It had to be broken. And this decision had to be passed on to the All Party State Language Action Committee. Chaired by Abdul Momen another meeting was held in Fazlul Huq hall and it was decided that Act 144 would have to be defied”.


Hartal or Election? The dilemma of the opposition political parties


By the evening of 20 February 1952 three political forces took different stances with regard to the action programs of the language day (21 February):


a. The establishment (Muslim League) was determined to crash the language movement by any means even by using severe force if necessary (they feared the secular aspect of the language movement which, they were afraid, could undermine the Islamic ideology on underlying the philosophical foundation of Muslim League)


b. Due to the sudden declaration of Emergency by the provincial government, the All Party State Language Action Committee decided to withdrew the hartal because they feared that the political turmoil that the hartal was likely to cause might give the Nurul Amin government an opportunity to defer the council election (which they were more concerned with) indefinitely.


c. For the student leaders the issue of the mother tongue was the only concern. So leaving the political parties indulge in absurd political discussions, the Banga boys of Dhaka University decided to break the curfew for the Bangla alphabet and teach the parasitical Muslim league establishment a real lesson for meddling with their mother tongue.


On this day while the students and political activists were busy all over Dhaka city campaigning for the hartal to force the govt to accept their demand to recognize Bangla as the state language of Pakistan (Bangalees were majority), few vans from the publicity department of the Muslim League government kept announcing around city declaring curfew, under Act 144, on 21 February 1952 and government ban on all political gathering, meeting and procession on that day.

21 February 1952

From 8 o’clock onwards, small groups of school students from all over Dhaka city marched towards the Dhaka University campus and assembling at the Arts faculty foyer of Dhaka University. College students’ processions joined the school boys by 9 am.  By 9:30 thousands of students from different university halls, Medical and Engineering College (now BUET) hostels streamed into the assembly via various routes. By 11:30 the total number of students assembled reached nearly 20-25 thousands. “We demand Bangla be the state language” slogan filled the air. The armed police began patrolling the streets in front of the Arts Building and behind them the ‘tear gas’ squads took position and waited for instruction.

Amtala, Arts Building, Dhaka University

In the midst of such a loaded situation Gaziul Huq stood on the table to assume his role as the president of the historic students’ assembly.  The first speaker was Samsul Huq (founder secretary of Awami league). As the representative of All Party State Language Action Council, he called on not to break the emergency Act 144. But before leaving the assembly he expressed his personal solidarity with the language movement. All on a sudden the news of police tear gas attack on one of the students’ procession near Lalbagh spread in the assembly. This news climaxed the already explosive situation. In that instance both the convener and president of Dhaka University State Language Action Council, Abdul Matin and Gaziul Huq, were giving their speeches in support of breaking the emergency Act 144. The explosive crowd shouted their consent to Huq and Matin’s decision. “We won’t stand Act 144, we won’t ” slogans thundered the Dhaka University campus. In the midst of such a huge upheaval Abdus Samad Azad somehow detailed the plan for breaking the curfew. It was famous “procession of ten”. He said if the massive crowd of 20-25 thousand goes out in procession it might lead to a horrible situation. So he suggested that instead of the big crowd a small procession of ten students would go out one after another. The proctor of Dhaka University agreed with him and ordered university staff to open the gate of the Arts faculty.


Thus started the famous “procession of ten”. All participants of the procession voluntarily turned them in to the police. Habibur Rahman Shelly led the first group. Abdus Samad Azad the second group and Anwarul Huq and Obaidullah Huq Khans led the third group. The university girls formed the fourth group. Girls’ group was followed by a number of boys’ groups. It was an unprecedented sight of self sacrifice in defense of Bangla language. So far the whole protest movement was done peacefully.


But the police interference soon turned the peaceful situation into a violent one. After few processions went through the gate, the police, without any provocation on the students’ part, started baton charge on the Arts faculty gate and the road in front it. The riot police, positioned a far, soon joined their mates by firing tear gas on the crowd. The whole Arts faculty was enveloped with the tear gas. The students ran towards the pond to wash their eyes. They washed their eyes and brought with them wet handkerchiefs to counter the police attack. Injured with tear gas shells the angry students stormed the cops with bricks and shoes. A tear shell hit Gaziul Huq and he was taken to the girls’ common room unconscious.


The fight with the police continued till 2 pm in the Arts faculty area. The whole university campus turned into a battle ground. On one side the police attacked the students with batons and tear gas. The students countered them with bricks and stones. Cornered by the brutally aggressive police forces, the students broke the wall between arts faculty and the medical college. Thus the fight then spread to the medical and engineering college areas. A large number of students were injured by police baton and tear gas charge.


Thursday, 21 February 1952,3 pm: The alphabet bleeds 

The fight between the students and the police forces went on and on. But the situation reached its darkest phase when, around 3 pm, a group of armed police, instructed by district magistrate Koreshi, sprang out from behind the shop opposite to Dhaka Medical College hostel and took position in the hostel ground and opened fire. Some bodies fell on the streets, streaming blood dyed the roads with crimson hue. Some precious young lives turned into Bangla alphabet. In the tear gas afflicted murky ground of Dhaka University the fight between the cops and students went on unaware of the great sacrifice of human lives, first in human history, for the defense of the mother tongue.


Despite brutal firing and tear gas attack, the police could not occupy the medical college hostel. The students kept them at bay by throwing bricks. Soon the news of police shooting the students spread like thunderbolt. Life in Dhaka turned into a standstill. Thousands of people streamed into the Dhaka medical hospital to pay their tribute to the martyrs. Shocked and grief-struck their face turned stone, amber in their hearts.

The First Shahid Minar

The bodies of the dead and the injured were taken to the Dhaka medical hospital. Doctors and nurses rushed into the emergency department to save their lives. One of the bodies was unidentifiable because the head was blown away. Later it was identified as martyr Barkat’s dead body. Mourning became the East Bangla.


Later that evening the dead bodies were taken to the morgue. As the police snatched few unidentified dead bodies from the teargas afflicted public earlier that afternoon, the students, fearing that the police might try to do it again, guarded the morgue gate. But in the dead of the night, a group of armed commando troops, escorted by the police, stormed the morgue gate and forcibly took the dead bodies at the gun point. But a few die-hard students followed the military jeeps on foot and watched them dumping the dead bodies in the nearby Ajimpur cemetery. As soon as the army left the cemetery, the students came out of their hidings and marked the spots where the martyrs were dumped. The following morning thousands of people went to the cemetery and paid their tributes to the martyrs of Bangla language movement.


The Bangla language movement was essentially conceived and led by the Bangalee students. Since this movement onwards, students’ role in the national politics has been central. Unlike the political parties, the students’ movement always won the indiscriminate sympathy and support of the masses. In the language movement the roles of the politicians were insignificant (many top political leaders including Sheikh Mujib were imprisoned before the movement). They could not direct the students’ emotions and passions for nationalist political achievements.


The Bangalee intelligentsia (the secular and liberal intellectuals, most of them were black listed by the Pakistani authority and brutally murdered by the collaborators of Pakistan army, the Razakars, Al-Badard and other militant Islamic fundamentalists just a week before the independence. Please visit Liberation War, Martyr Intelligentsia, Razakars and War Criminals pages for details) had a great contribution in this movement. Conservative parties like Muslim League, Jamat and other Islamic parties always opposed, and even tried to crash, the nationalistic movements. After independence, all the major political parties, whether democratic or military, tried to politicize the Bangla language day.


The traditional morning rallies to the language monument are often disrupted by the fight between the opposing political parties to place the photos of their party leaders on the top of the monument. Islamic parties always opposed the Bangla Language Day and tried to persuade the Muslims from rallying and offering flowers to the Shaheed Minar (Martyrs’ Monument) by interpreting it as idol worship. Even in some areas where the Jamatis dominate, they attempted to destroy the monuments. Despite all the mean politics about the language movement and its legacy, Ekushay February will forever inspire the Bangalees to defend and love their sweet mother tongue- Bangla.