Our pride, our sorrow, our joy
A Part from 1971, Ekushey February is the noblest mark in the history of Bengal. It is our eternal fountain of great pride, deep sorrow and endless joy. The supreme sacrifice of Salam, Rafiq, Barkat, Shafiq, Jabbar and Ohiullah made Shamsur Rahman's Dukhini Barnamala the proudest letters in the world. it also sowed the seeds of an independent Bangladesh, which came into reality nineteen years later under the leadership of a legendary politician named Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Every year of Ekushey February the whole nation salutes the language martyrs. Thousands throng the central Shaheed Minar to show their respect. The nation is divided, sometimes very painfully, on a number of issues. But Ekushey February is above all division and controversy. It not only established the rights of our mother tongue but also desire economic emancipation of the neglected people of East Bengal. It shook the base of Pakistan's colonial rule and we took our first big step towards independence. Leaders like the supremely patriotic and highly meritorious Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Haque, people's man Maulana Bhashani and the suave, Oxford-educated Shaheed Suhrawardy worked in their own way to get autonomy or freedom for us. But the nation had to wait for the Pied Piper of Gopalganj, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to fight the final great battle of our independence. He had to fight for more than two decades. He was not as scholarly as Sher-e-Bangla, as smart as Suhrawardy and as poor-friendly as Maulana Bhashani. But he loved Bangladesh and her people madly and understood the felling of our men and women as deeply as it could be. No wonder he slowly but surely won their hears and united them in a rock-solid manner. In March, 1971 he was perhaps the most popular Bangladeshi leader of all times. To quote Al Mahmud, when Bangabandhu raised his hand, even trees stood in attention. The nation went through a nine-month war of Independence to get rid of colonial rule. But we should not forget that the blood of our language martyrs had laid the foundation of a free Bangladesh.
Our multi-dimensional Language Movement reached the climax in the tragic but glorious events of Ekushey February 1952. The impact of these events has created some of the finest moments of our history. The international community has rightfully acknowledged the significance of a nation's sacrifice for establishing the right of its language. The United Nations has declared Ekushey February as the International Mother Language Day.
Now Bangla enjoys her rightful place as the state language in Bangladesh. Our land is the principal home of this rich language. It is now the sixth most popular language in the world. It has produced quite a number of great poets and writers of fiction although only one of them has got the Nobel Prize in literature. Literacy has spread fast in recent years. Admirable steps have been taken to close the gender gap in education and literacy. More girls now get enrolled at the schools and colleges. However the quality of education is not satisfactory. We need to seriously look into the matter.
During the thirty-five years of our independence we have tried to establish Bangla in all spheres of our national life. We can't claim that we have been fully successful. But we have achieved considerable progress. We have many more schools, colleges and universities than, say, in 1970. We have a few excellent schools, colleges and universities than, say, in 1970. We have a few excellent schools, colleges and universities than, say, in 1970. We have a few excellent schools in Dhaka and many cadet colleges and zilla schools across the country. We have sent computers to schools in the villages. Child death has reduced a lot due to our leaps forward in the health sector. We have a lot of people working abroad and sending valuable foreign currency. There are lovely roads and bridges. Our crop scientists have worked hard and achieved success. Ours is a land of cyclones, tidal waves and floods. But now we know how to tackle them and limit their destructive ability. The NGOs are working in the villages and helping in poverty eradication, spreading education, improving health conditions and the empowerment of women.
Progress in the information sector has been very remarkable. We first saw a TV in 1964. Coloured TV appeared in 1980. In the early nineties we got introduced to satellite TV channels. We now learn about an incident in seconds, even if it occurs in Siberia or Greenland. There are month-long bulletins on Ekushey February on March, 1971 on the Bangladeshi TV channels. Our newspapers have improved a lot in quality and there is a remarkable amount of press freedom. Although journalists faced harassment in the past and occasionally even got killed, we have some excellent newspapers and magazines. We couldn't even dream of newspapers like Prothom Alo, The Daily Star, Jugantar and Samakal twenty or ten years back. We couldn't dream of lovely magazines like The Star Weekend, The Independent Weekend or The Escapade even ten years back. Some of the Bangla weeklies and fortnightlies are simply superb. Even traditional but good newspapers like The Sangbad are getting smart and bringing out daily supplements. Reporting, editing and printing have improved a lot. Computer composition has given newspapers a new look. Kali O Kalam, the literary monthly, is perhaps the best of its kind in both sides of Bengal. The printing industry has gone through a radical change. People are, in general, very well-informed these days.
Books in the Ekushey Boimela look very smart indeed. Thousands visit the Boimela in February. In fact all new books are published in Bangladesh with the Boimela in mind. It is true that books of popular writers like Humayun Ahmed or his brother Zafar Iqbal are more in demand than the books of the likes of Serajul Islam Choudhury or Anisuzzaman. Even then we are happy because the number of reaers of Bangla books is increasing every year. There are more and more stalls each year. The management of the mela needs improvement but it has become an integral part of our national life, our culture.
The Bangla Academy deserves dynamic administrative and research staff. There are a few devoted souls but we need more of them. The academy should publish more books and journals. They should carry on their Young Writers' Project and help the budding writers get published. Stalls should be allotted to genuine publishers only. And lastbut not the least, the most talented people should get the Bangla Academy as well as the Ekushey awards. A truly deserving Abu Kaiser dies at sixty without being recognised but an upstart half his age gets the award! The brilliant Abid Anwar is yet to get the Bangla Academy prize but much lesser men have been blessed with it. There are many such cases. The government should be careful with the Ekushey Padak also. They should remember that the prize bearts the memory of our beloved martyrs. This year a neutral government is in power and we expect a good selection.
Let us not forget the fact that the immortal Ekushey February had put us firmly on our road to freedom. It had taught us to fight with rock-solid unity for our rights. Remember Alauddin Al Azad's immortal poem? The Shahid Minar has been destroyed (by policemen on February 23, 1952) but four crore of us are still standing on our feet! You have to kill all of us to kill our Bangla language. Could we do without our mother tongue and an independent Bangladesh? We simply could not.
We swear by the martyrs of 1952 and 1971 that Bangladesh and her Bangla language will live forever.
Junaidul Haque writes fiction and columns.
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