By Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee
February 21 is observed as International Mother Language Day every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.
The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh. This was probably first time in history people laid their lives for their mother language.
A brief run down the pages of history will be pertinent here.
Pakistan got independence in two parts: West Pakistan (present Pakistan) and East Pakistan (present Bangladesh) on the basis of religion. As the two parts of Pakistan were far away from each other not only geographically but also culturally and linguistically, differences and disputes cropped up. The differences rose to a critical level when Pakistani government adopted a resolution in 1947 that Urdu would be the State language, even as most of the people of East Pakistan were only used to Bangla. The Pakistani Government also decided that Bangla would be abolished from all government stationeries including postage stamps. This infuriated people of East Pakistan and a movement to safeguard their language began. The movement grew in intensity with every passing year even as the West Pakistani government did not relent. Situation reached a boiling point in early 1952 and on February 21, several people including students of Dhaka University and Dhaka Medical College died in Police firing. Finally people of East Pakistan, mostly Bengalis got the right of their mother language. Historians believe that the language movement not only gave the people of East Pakistan the right to their mother language, but paved the way of liberation in 1971.
Languages are not only the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing the tangible and intangible heritage, it also forges emotional attachment among people who use them. Educationists opine that mother language is the best medium of education for the children.
Considering the importance of mother language in education Unesco has declared theme of this year’s Mother Language day as “Mother tongue instruction and inclusive education”.
All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.
In a message International Mother Language Day 2012 Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO says, “The language of our thoughts and our emotions is our most valuable asset. Multilingualism is our ally in ensuring quality education for all, in promoting inclusion and in combating discrimination. ”