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History


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We all know that the creation of a state like Pakistan was purely based on the density of Muslim population or demographics of Muslims from the then British Empire. Even though the then East Pakistan (soon becoming Bangladesh just 24 years after the emergence of Pakistan) was more 2,000 kilometers away from the then West Pakistan, it became part of The Islamic Republic of Pakistan (also known as the dominion of Pakistan) on religious line. In other words, East Pakistan was a Muslim dominated region and that is why the people of this region or state decided to join West Pakistan as a part of Islamic republic of Pakistan.


The seed of this historic movement was sown just after weeks of the emergence of Pakistan as an Independent state. As expected, the political leaders of Muslim League dominated the power base of that newly formed country and they were mainly the inhabitants of West Pakistan. Quaid-I-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the charismatic leader of Muslim League (who played a decisive role in convincing the British Empire to agree to divide Indian Subcontinent on the basis of peoples’ faiths), and the first Governor General of Pakistan, was one of the most staunch supporters to make Urdu the only state language of the whole Pakistan. And many other leaders of the state (whose mother tongue was not Bengali off course) supported the notion of Mr. Jinnah. But it was very surprising to observe that the majority of the then people of Pakistan used to speak Bengali; some other languages like Panjabi, Postu and other regional languages were also spoken. Urdu was spoken by much fewer people than other languages across the country. So, it was inevitable that any such attempt to declare Urdu as the sole state language of Pakistan would face strong opposition.


As soon as the proposal for Urdu by some key figures of the state was motioned in West Pakistan in 1947, protests started erupting in the then East Pakistan. The foresighted persons of this part of the dominion understood it very well Bengali speaking persons would surely be sidelined in this process, sooner or later. Both Bengali speaking students and intellectuals join their hands to do whatever they peacefully can to block the motion. But continuous ignorance and stubborn attitude by the elements of West Pakistan only fueled the outbursts of the East Bengal. Even though the local government of East Pakistan ceded to the demands of its people to some extent, subsequent arrival of Quad E Azam in 1948 and his vehement insistence for making the Urdu the only state language of the whole country got even more overt. In addition, Mr. Jinnah overturned the agreement of the state government reached in favor of Bengali. During his two public meetings, one in Race Course Maidan (currently Suhrawardy Uddan) and another in Curzon Hall of Dhaka University, he strongly reiterated his words to go ahead only with Urdu. Many students and people in general protested his words for Urdu in the most expressive way possible on those very meetings.


After the sudden demise of Mr. Jinnah in September of 1948 and some apparent lack of stubbornness of the central government move on with only Urdu, the pace of the movement got somewhat weak but it did smolder among the minds of the people (since their demands were not met officially at that time). But the resurrection of that aggressiveness by the successor of Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan only fueled that smolder. Khwaja Nazimuddin , the then prime minister of Pakistan who succeeded Mr. Liaquat Al Khan went ahead with only Urdu agenda. In January 1952, during his visit to Dhaka, the capital city of the then East Pakistan, he openly declared (in Paltan Maidan) that Urdu would be the only State Language of Pakistan. It resulted in public outrages and extensive campaigns attracting huge number of people. At one point, the protestors called for massive protests on 21 February 1952. Fearing unprecedented congregation of the mass people, the government imposed section 144 meaning that any public gatherings of more than 5 people are prohibited. This restriction, in reality, reignited the spirit of the people even more.


Though the leaders of this language movement wanted to go ahead with prescheduled gathering without violating the section 144, many enthusiastic students and people at large congregated at a place located near to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH). At one point, the police fired bullets to these peaceful processions and killed a number of protestors namely Abdus Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Abdul Jabbar and many others. Instead of calming down the support and enthusiasm of the support of the just cause of Language Movement, this brutality of the police simply made everybody angrier. In the days that followed, hundreds and thousands of people started protesting against the merciless actions of the police held on 21st February, 1952 by defying the restrictions. Even after many more killings, injuries and arrests followed, the intensity of this movement remained all time high. Gradually, all elements of the country realized its importance and as such the motion to make only Urdu the state Language became weaker. Finally, after years of discussions, protests, public pressure and approaches by many statesmen from time to time, Bengali became the State Language of Pakistan in 1956 (along with Urdu) under the new constitution of Pakistan. Thus, the ultimate goal of this language movement was truly achieved.