February 21 of every year is observed as the International Mother Language Day. It has been recognized by the UN, as an important day to commemorate the sacrifices of the people, the Bangladeshi people to safeguard their mother tongue language.
This is an important day which serves as a reminder to the international community to help preserve the various indigenous languages around the world that are on the verge of extinction.
On February 21, 1952, Pakistani police opened fire on a group of students in Dhaka which was the capital of the erstwhile East Pakistan.
The protesters were demanding the inclusion of the Bengali language as a national language of Pakistan along with Urdu.
Earlier, the federal government had stated that Urdu shall be the sole national language of Pakistan- west and east.
The federal government had by an order ignored the claims of an entire race of people who were proud of their identity and language.
The population of Pakistan who were identified as Urdu speakers were only 3-4%, whereas the Bengali speaking population at the time was over 60%.
The firing on peacefully protesting students, further aggravated the tensions between the two Pakistans.
Priyajit Debsarkar, an UK based author and an expert on the South Asian region says:
“Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the Bangladeshi nation was a student when the university students were massacred by the West Pakistanis who were predominantly Punjabis. This was the starting point of the genocide committed by the Punjabi dominated Pakistani army which then not only carried out a cultural genocide but also an actual genocide before the 1971 liberation war.”
To commemorate this event, the UNESCO in November 1999 announced the observance of the event after a Canada based resident Rafiqul Islam wrote to them to observe the sacrifices of the young students of Dhaka.
The United Nations General Assembly, then in 2002 formally adopted a resolution on multi-culturalism after which this event has been observed every year.
Mother tongue languages are important from the point of learning outcomes. Educationists have found a direct co-relation between teaching in mother language and learning outcomes amongst school going children.
These languages also exhibit a highly evolved cultural heritage and hence need some special protections.
The event in Dhaka itself is that of selfless sacrifice of a nation that fought to safeguard its culture amidst criminal onslaught of brazen power.