Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 8, Tuesday February 19, 2008


voice of the people

Nurtured by dust and rain, basked by the sun, sons of this soil remain witness to a thousand year of struggle. To summarise it with in the brackets of 1947 to 1971, is but a mere simplification. Ekushey signifies a glorious episode of our fight for freedom. Our struggle, be it in the form of civil disobedience or armed rebellion dates back, far back in history. Ekushey however has the distinction of influencing the political thought of every post 1952 movements, a characteristic unique to ekushey alone.

The political history of the then East Pakistan is chaotic, but not without its string of continuation. The realization of a national identity took place amidst our greater identity as Pakistanis. Inevitable as it was, these contrasting identities ceased only through separation.

By 1969, the whole of East Pakistan came under one slogan- Joi Bangla. True, political thoughts differed but the smell of freedom had already soaked the air, the taste of sovereignty bewildering the seventy million Bangali. Walls glorified with propaganda graffiti, posters of defiance drawn by men, and women, rebel youths and their enchanted lovers. The six point movement had shaken the foundation of what held Pakistan together. The gulf of difference between the two wings of Pakistan was then evident in the voice of the Bangalis. No longer did the East and West chant “Pakistan Zindabad” in unison, for the people of the East had already tasted the terrific taste of a new, free identity.

The demands of East Pakistan were not different from any nation. We expected peaceful co-existence along with our western wing, under the banner of PAKISTAN but not subjugated in any form- political, economical or social. Yet time again the soul of the East had been bombarded with double standards, oppressive laws and economical deprivation.

1966 and East Pakistan shook with slogans like “bish taka mon dorey chaul chai; dosh taka mon dorey gaum chai.” While we opted for voice as weapon and civil disobedience as tool, the West Pakistanis and their favoured class in the East had always opted for the gun in retaliation. In reply to their offence, the Bangali took the street rejuvenated and recharged. As rows of men and women came across lathi charge and tear gas shells, their festoons fell to the ground only to be picked up by the next rebel. The mantra “shonar Bangla aj shoshan keno” ablazed the streets of Dhaka and the whole nation.

On March 1969, the autocratic regime of Ayub Khan came to an end, only to shift to the notorious rule of Yahya. With new heir came new words of false hope, but the people were by then determined to put the whole of Pakistan to the acid test of vote! Twenty five years with Pakistan was a saga of deprivation, double standards and oppression.

Bangali took to the streets. New political posters overlapped the old. Chants of volatile slogans, thickened Dhaka's spring air. Maulana Bhashani's quote “lakum dinukum waliyadin” created a self realisation within the nationalists for change of pleas. The Qur'anic verse spoke of segregation between idolaters and Muslims; Bhashani's subtle allegory had created a profound impact on the mindset of the people.

“Odhinota ar noe chai shadhinota” finally became the motto of the day. Civil disobedience had reached a pinnacle and the banner of green, red and gold flew mast high on roof tops. Outcry of the people propelled leaders to transform their pledge from autonomy to sovereignty- "bir bangali ostro dhoro Bangladesh shadhin koro." Once again the thought of the common people had governed the direction of movement.

Looking back into the pages of history, 21 February 1952 saw the mother language movement come at crossroads. The question presented before the student mass was simple- to show peaceful agitation or to completely defy section 144 as vehement retaliation against oppressive attempts of imposing Urdu as lingua franca. But it was better to burn out than to fade away!

“Rashtro bhasha bangle chai” hymn accounted for the defiance of the very fabric of the establishment. Lathi charge followed by tear gas shells created a mass chaos and a pledge of greater defiance. Shots fired and rebels fell to the ground. …the insolence continued.

The first poetry on ekushey was written the very same day. Abdul Latif created the master piece of music based on Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, which underwent a further rumination by Altaf Mahmud into what has emerged as the single most influential song representing the nationalist identities as Bangali. Culturally the effect of ekushey was profound, politically its influence unmatche,d and on a personal level the impact heart rendering.

Beginning from 1953, the shaheed minar erected on the very site of '52 language movement became a source of inspiration for political thoughts, a site of respect, a site for taking vows.

As Bangladesh gained independence on 16 December, people in thousands flocked the site of what remained of the shaheed minar, then shattered to the ground due to enemy bombardment. It was only natural. It was after all human nature. We went back to where it started.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Sazzd Ibne Sayed
Model: Farina Noireet

On 7 May 1954, the constituent assembly resolved, with the Muslim League's support, to grant official status to our language. Bangla was recognised as the second official language of Pakistan on 29 February 1956. It read “The state language of Pakistan shall be Urdu and Bengali."

We would like to thank Murtaja Bashir for his guidance in writing this article.

Ekushey February, edited by Hasan Hafizur Rahman
21- Dofa Theke 5-Dofa by Abdur Rahim Azad and Shah Ahmed Reza

Bangla Bhasha, Shahitto O Shangskritik Andolon by Professor Rafikul Islam

Dhaka 1948-1971, An Album of Photographs by Muntassir Mamoon and Hashem Khan.

icon of a man
Murtaja Bashir

Photo: Munem Wasif

The short statured painter does not stand out in a crowd. He is just like any other man. Yet when he speaks, his personality overwhelms his physique. Through his words Murtaja Bashir creates a persona befitting his multi faceted identity as painter, novelist, philatelist and historian.

Along with his illustrious father, Murtaja Bashir is probably the only second-generation bhasha shoinik. Yet he seemed not the least bit interested in this distinction. “I am not a bhasha shoinik” he said. “All my life I have refused to accept all accolades as my so-called identity of a language activist. Everyone who took to the streets during those periods of agitation is a hero. History has a predisposition for neglecting the average man. We did not participate in the Language Movement to be termed as a shoinik. It was a call from within. The bullets that hit the martyrs could have very well hit any other agitator. Every one of the protestors took to the street, defiant of section 144, and death itself. Terming only a handful of people as bhasha shoinik, while neglecting the wide majority is a grave injustice.”

Bashir's identity as a novelist is no less significant than his painting. “Ekti bewarish diaryr koyekti pata” a poignant description of the events of 21 February 1952 remains a classic work. Written within a few days after the red letter day, the short story portrayed an eyewitness account of the day from the point of view of an anonymous bystander. Using short, powerful sentences, his literary works illustrate a vivid picture, a characteristic possibly used by another literary maestro Zahir Raihan. “That is how we talk. I write what I see every day. It is in our nature to express ourselves in the short form. That is exactly how I portray my characters”. The use of short structured sentences is a feature of screenplay. Bashir, an accomplished author of this field has blended this unique feature in his literary work creating a master piece, not of oil, water or acrylic but of words.

Overshadowed by his identity as painter, novelist and poet, there lay another identity as a historian. Not only a student of history of oriental art, Bashir's work embraces the medieval history of the region now comprising Bangladesh. His research works on the Habshi sultans of Bengal is considered the definitive work in the field of numismatics and also general history of that turbulent period.

It goes without saying that this illustrious individual was greatly influenced by his father, a stalwart of a figure, Dr. Muhammed Shahidullah. Pointing to the photograph of his father which hung on the walls of his living room he says “My father was a progressive man, a fact hidden behind the eyes of those who fail to see what lies beneath”. And indeed he was. Adorned in a long hat and black suit, the bearded gentleman could have been mistaken for a French aristocrat. As Murtaja Bashir looked into his father's photograph, it was like the sparkling eyes of his father were speaking to him, guiding him still in his next endevour.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif


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