Space For Rent
Sunday, January 31, 2016, Magh 18, 1422 BS, Rabius Sani 19, 1437 Hijri

Out of the box
On the eve of February
Dr Rashid Askari
Published :Sunday, 31 January, 2016,  Time : 12:00 AM  View Count : 26
Tirgan teanga, tirgan anam. This Irish proverb means a country without a language is a country without a soul. The Welsh proverb Cenedl hebiaith cenedl heb gallon echoes the same message: (a nation without a language is a nation without a heart). So does the Indonesian: Bahasa jiwa bangsa (language is the soul of a nation). We do not know how far the people of those three countries could understand the spirit of the sayings, but we know for sure, the people of Bangladesh could very well understand the relations between the country and the language and did their best about it. They could realize the importance of language in the building up of a nation and were able to found their nation on a firm linguistic and cultural footing. This has put their country on the map.
Bangladesh is that State which was founded on the basis of Bengali nationalism whose soul is the Bengali language. It is the quintessence of what we call a Nation-State and the core of this nationality is deeply rooted in the language. When the language felt insecure and its existence was threatened with extinction in a country ruled by outsiders, it called for self-rule. The birth of Bangladesh became inevitable when Bengali language aspired to a State of its own. So, the history of the emergence of Bangladesh is the history of the pretty long and rugged way from autonomy to independence. And the seeds of that autonomy were sown in the mind of the Bengali folks primarily on question of the right to language. They felt, for the first time, the urgency of home rule when their mother tongue fell a victim of an unprovoked attack by the Pakistani rulers, right after the division of India (1947).
The so-called 'Two-nation theory' had already started taking its toll. The people of East Bengal could realize that they would need to make amends for the historical blunder of the Indian subcontinent committed by opportunist Jinnah, egoistic Nehru, helpless Gandhi, and crafty British rulers. This crude awakening led them first to the road to autonomy and then to independence.
Really it was one of the costliest mistakes in human history to divide a country merely on the grounds of religious affiliation where people regardless of castes, creeds, and religions had been united under an anti-British umbrella. The vested quarters had split it by a preposterous religio-political surgery which has perpetuated ethnic disharmony and religious intolerance in this region. As a matter of fact, the 'Two-nation theory' proved abortive almost immediately. The true character of the self-styled guardians of Islam was unmasked. The West Pakistani rulers assumed a Big Brotherly and a holier-than-thou attitude towards the East Pakistanis. They unleashed the big stick upon them. Despite the sameness of religious identity, no other affinities could develop between the West and the East Pakistanis. In addition, the neo-champions of Islam thought a language like Bengali which was originated from and developed through non-Islamic sources and influences was not worthy of being the official language of a newly emerged 'holy place' called Pakistan. They also thought that on having been a part of the 'holy place', the then Indian province 'East Bengal' needed to be renamed and considerably sanctified. They renamed it as 'East Pakistan' and tried to make Urdu its official language.
Although Urdu is an Indian language, and a standardized form of Hindi, it is written in Arabic script, and used mostly by the Indian and Pakistani Muslims. They consider it holier than Bengali, which was originated from a vulgar dialect of India, and nurtured by the Buddhist and Hindu monks over the centuries. This was at the back of the mind of those Pakistani neo-custodians of Islam. So, they planned to make Urdu the official language of Pakistan, and did not give a damn about Bengali, although Bengali was used by the majority of the people of entire Pakistan.
But all their efforts came badly unstuck. Bengali language is the lifeblood of the Bengali people. They prefer death to dishonour of their mother tongue. They are happy with their own sweet language. They have won the Nobel Prize for their literature in that language. This is their proud possession. They do not bother about whether or not their language is sacred. When Jinnah, the Governor General of Pakistan made the declaration at Dhaka University Curzon Hall that Urdu and only Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan, the agitated audience threw a straight 'no' at him. Even then, the rulers did not see sense and abandon the unworkable policy.
The people of East Bengal came to realize that their language and literature, society and culture, politics and economy - all of their life and legacy, are not in safe hands. They discovered that the Pakistani rulers under the guise of religious fraternity are, in truth, snakes in the grass. It was no go asking them for rights to language. So, they put up the line of active resistance. The government tried to subdue it with iron hands. This fanned the flame of fight. There came 21st February (1952). Innocent blood was spilt in the resistance. But there is no holding the Bengali. They had learnt to die for their mother tongue. The public defiance gathered momentum each day. Martial law was let loose to put a curb on the popular movement. But all repressive Government measures ended in smoke.
People came up with historic 'Six-points' (1966), which amounted to full autonomy for East Bengal. The autonomy movement became so intense that the ruling Government was compelled to hold a general election (1970).The Bengali won a landslide victory. However, the rulers were not willing to give up so easily. They shot their last bolt. Operation Searchlight (March 25, 1971) was launched. The Bengalis were at the point of no return. They already had their back to the wall. So, they decided to fight it out. And they fought to a finish, and seized their most prized possession, their Independence, in exchange for a sea of blood.
If our national liberty (1971) compares with the fruit of a tree, the trunk of the tree is the 24-year struggle for autonomy, and the root is the language movement (1952). The history of Bangladesh is the history of the whole tree, from the root to the fruit. If we want to enjoy the fruit of our liberty, we have to take care of the whole tree and the ground it is planted in. As Rig Veda puts it, "One should respect his motherland, his country, and his mother tongue - because these are givers of happiness". We can never be happy in the true sense of the term without loving our national trinity - Bangladesh, Bangla language and Bangla culture.
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and
column and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]

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