Is Ekushey observance losing its earlier relevance?

| Updated: February 23, 2023 21:42:25

Is Ekushey observance losing its earlier relevance?

It's sad to note how the solemn mood of the 21st February (Omor Ekushey) eventually gave in to many frivolities in the last four-and-half decades. This year was no exception. The alarming part of the developments is newer inanities continue to sully the atmosphere every year. Things have deteriorated to such a level that many youths of today draw a blank when asked about the message of the 1952 Language Movement and the Martyrs Day. The mood of mourning has long been replaced by showy rituals. Here one would like to recall the barefoot mourning processions marching to the Shaheed Minar and the sale of Ekushey commemorative souvenirs. These publications containing the literary output of neighbourhood-based budding authors were recognised as a special feature of the day. They have long disappeared. So have the Ekushey anthems "Amar bhaiyer roktey rangano …" and some others. However, the first one being the theme song of the Ekushey, it could not be sidestepped altogether. Many dared not even think about it.

In 2023, the very Ekushey anthem, the black badges and some other ritualistic formalities still remain as fading memories of the historic event. It's because it has been historically established that the key to the birth of Bangladesh is embedded in the event. In spite of this, mindless detractions, the tendency to make serious things light and myriad types of trivialities have long been detracting from the day's solemnity. No single quarters are responsible for it. In a sense, the whole elite class is responsible for this turn of things. When the younger females and males clad in Ekushey print saris and 'punjabis' come out in the streets to join their friends in a festive mood, the Ekushey spirit remains in a limbo. Since the creeping of festivities into the Language Martyrs Day observance, there have been few in the authorities or among the conscious citizens who would sensitise the masses to the imperative of keeping the historic day's sanctity. As a consequence, the trend of engaging in jubilations began getting more intense. Many conclude that there could be a few isolated excesses. Had it been so, it could have been accepted. But as years wore on, the extent of celebrations kept reaching a crescendo --- with the participants covering fast-widening segments of society. The few Language Movement participants who are still alive today find these aberrations an affront to the Ekushey spirit. Since they were eyewitnesses to the cold-blooded killings of the movement participants, they can realise the pain of the metamorphosis of the style of the Ekushey observance. It must be agonising for many as they try to visualise the observance of the day in the future without the direct movement participants around.

Already the dearth of reliable books on the Ekushey Movement has begun being felt. Publishers rue the fact that they have failed to engage the language soldiers in chronicling the events of the day, and the days before and after the Bangla Language Movement on February 21. After the phase-out of the movement's elderly participants and eye-witnesses, the prevailing anarchy is feared to let loose a reign of confusions. Even many of today's elderly generations find it difficult to recall the events of the February 21, 1952. Memories fail them. The history-conscious people had long dreaded this development. It's only the written records inserted into the memoirs of people present at the scenes on the day which would have saved the nation of the agonising hiatuses. There were many of them. To the misfortune of the nation, those people lacked the flair for writing or procrastinated on the national task. It was only a few still photographs on which are recorded the scathing images of the day's demonstrations, especially the post-firing explosions of anger and mourning.

The few books on the Language Movement available today may go out of print in the near future. It's only the scrupulous new publishers who can take the initiatives to reprint the said books, or assign the new researchers and scholars to work on the subject. As the years of the movement ranged from 1948 to 1952, a relatively short span, scores of events filled the period. The brief length runs the risk of overlooking many small, as well as large, events. The new academics can, thus, set many records straight. And also absolve history of minor narratives. In this process, the real protagonists of the 4-year movement are expected to be placed in their due place.       

Through the passage of seven decades, the exclusive place of the 21st February, 1952, in the nation's history, and finally its independence, is being unfolded. Few nations have a history that witnesses how an all-out struggle for clinching the recognition for their mother tongue as state language is finally won. The 1952 Language Movement was the first outburst of protest against the machinations of the then Pakistani rulers both in the western wing and the Bangla-speaking East Bengal. Since it was a just movement, one that wanted to see the majority people's mother tongue Bangla as state language of Pakistan, it had to win. And it won at the cost of lives of the language heroes. Ironically, the arrogant words of Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah's declaration in favour of Urdu proved an exercise in futility. Mr Jinnah roared at a public meeting at Dhaka Race Course ground in March, 1948, --- Urdu and Urdu shall be the state language of Pakistan, and no other languages.

The students and academicians of the time were stunned at the style in which the Pakistani leader binned Bangla, the majority people's language in East Bengal. As a judgement reflecting the popular wishes, the 1948 assertion of Dhirendranath Dutta, a member of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, proved rational. His point was Bengalis comprised the majority people of Pakistan, and, hence, Pakistan's state language should be Bangla. The following developments notably the 1948 agitations including hartals led by the young leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and others, and the Sheikh's imprisonment, are a part of history. History moulded all these developments to take the shape of the All Party Students Movement for Bangla as State Language to lead the movement. The martyrdom of students in front of the Dhaka Medical College on the 21st February, 1952, was also dictated by history. The Bengalees got for Bangla the status of a state language at the cost of supreme sacrifices. This watershed prepared them to embrace three million more martyrdoms in the 1971 Liberation War. All the roads to the goals of independence and freedom and emancipation have been spawned by the Language Movement.

There are no scopes for belittling the day of Ekushey. It amply symbolises the first-ever protest against all injustices being done to Bangla. Few nations today can take pride in such a day, related to the honour of their mother tongues. To view it deeply, the Ekushey was not merely a struggle for holding aloft the invincibility of Bangla, the language of the majority people in the then Pakistan. The Ekushey encompassed a broader sphere comprising socio-political and cultural assertions. It had to be won. And the Bengali nation won it through a world-shaking bloodshed. The phase began on the 21st February, 1952, the commemoration of which cannot be trifled with.


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