West Bengal Friday observed ‘Language Martyrs Day’ and paid homage to those who had laid down their lives for the cause of Bengali language in Dhaka in 1952.
The day is now celebrated as International Mother Language Day the world over.
The day began with ‘prabhat pheri’ (morning choir) as employees of the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission went round the Park circus area singing ‘amar bhaiyer rakte ranga ekushe February, aami ki bhulite pari’ (How can I forget February 21, it is soaked in the blood of my brethren), that was composed in memory of the martyrs of the language movement.
Eminent author Sirshendu Mukherjee was present at a discussion organised by the Deputy High Commission.
A replica of the Shaheed Minar in Bangladesh was also set up inside the Deputy High Commission.
The state government has organised a special function to pay tributes to the martyrs.
Programmes were held in the rest of the city as also the districts to commemorate the day. Local television channels and FM radio stations aired special programmes.
In 1948, Pakistan declared that only Urdu would be the official language for both West and East Pakistan. The people of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, whose main language is Bengali, protested the declaration.
On Feb 21, 1952, students and political activists took out a procession protesting Urdu being made the official language. The police opened fire, killing several protestors, resulting in the agitation spreading over all East Pakistan.
The government finally relented and gave equal status to Bengali.
Since then the day is celebrated as the ‘Language Martyrs’ Day’.
In 1999, the UNESCO declared Feb 21 as International Mother Language Day, a day intended to promote free language choice everywhere in the world.