The Language Movement : An Outline
It has been suggested that the freedom struggle of Bangladesh orginatcd from the Bengali language movement. In a way this is correct, as the basic inspiration for the freedom struggle of the Bengali-speaking people of Pakistan came mainly form linguistic nationalism.
Statistically speaking, the Bengalis were the majority community of Pakistan- about fifty-five per cent of the total population. The Urdu speaking Pakistanis were mostly immigrants from India. They were mainly concentrated in the city of Karachi, the newly-formed capital of Pakistan. The Urdu-speaking people of Pakistan were not more than three per cent of the total population, although Urdu was widely understood and used in West Pakistan. The West Pakistani languages such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi and Pashtu were written in Arabic script which Urdu and Persian languages both adopted. Bengali or Bangla as we call it, by contrast, had its own script different from that of Arabic or Devanagri script.
The language Controversy:
The language controversy of Pakistan started even before the creation of Pakistan. Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed, a former Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh University of India, had suggested that Urdu should be the state or official language of the future state of Pakistan. Dr. Md. ShShidullah, a noted Bengali linguist from the Dhaka University, opposed the suggestion and put forth arguments in favour of Bengali as the future state language of Pakistan. According to Dr. Shahidullah:
To surrender Bengali to Urdu or Hindi as the language of the court and the university wit be a shameful surrender of Bengal.
Dr. Shahidullah's rejoinder was the beginning of the language controversy of Pakistan and the Bengali language movement. As soon as Pakistan came into being, a booklet came out in Dhaka, the capital city of the province of East Bengal, on 15 September 1947, entitled, Pakistaner Rashtra Bhasha Bangla na Urdu (Pakistan's state language Bengali of Urdu). In that publication it was proposed that
1. Bengali language shall be the following
a. medium of instruction in East Pakistan b. medium of court communication
c. medium of office communication
2. The language of the central government will be both Urdu and Bengali. (Tamaddun Majlis 1947 : 1-2).
In the above proposals one can see the manifestation of the sentiments of the Bengali-speaking people of Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the central government of Pakistan failed to appreciate the depth of feelings of the majority community of Pakistan and to allot the rightful place for the Bengali language in state affairs. As a censcquence, the 'Rashtra Bhasa Sangram Parishad' (the State Language Action Committee) was formed by different students and cultural organizations of Dhaka in the month of October, 1947. The Committee strongly resented the exclusion of the Bengali language from the newly-issued postal stamps, coins and office forms of the Government of Pakistan. On 5 December 1947 teachers and students of Dhaka University had their first street demonstration in favour of Bengali. On the following day, another protest meeting was held in Dhaka University against the government-sponsored Education Conference, held in Karachi, which recommended that Urdu should be the only state language of Pakistan.
The Language Movement (1948):
In the second session of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, held on 25 February 1948, Mr. Dhirendra Nath Dutta, a member from East Pakistan, moved an amendment on the rules of procedures of the Assembly. This amendment sought to give Bengali equal status along with Urdu and English as a state language of Pakistan. Speaking on the amendment, Mr. Dutta told the House
Bengali is a provincial language but so far as our state is concerned, it is the language of the majority of the people of the state. Out of sixty nine million people in Pakistan, forty four million people speak the Bengali language.... The state language of the state should be the language which is used by the majority of the people of the state and for that, I consider that Bengali languagc is a lingua franca of our state.... I am voicing the sentiments of the vast millions of our state, and therefore Bengali should not be treated as a provincial
language of the state. (Constituent Assembly of Pakistan Procceedings 1948: 15-16).
Understandably enough, Mr. Dhircndra Nath Duua's argument and amendment proposal were opposed by Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, on the following grounds
Pakistan has been created because of the demand of a hundred million Muslims in this sub-continent and the language of a hundred million Muslims is Urdu.... Pakistan is a Muslim state and it must have as its lingua franca the Iangua-c of the
Muslim nation. (Constituent Assembly of Pakistan Proceedings 1948 : 17).
Pirme Minster Liaqat Ali Khan's argument was emotional and fallacious in that the hundred million Muslims of undivided India were never a monolingual or Urdu-speaking community. Indian Muslims are historically multilingual and the Bengali-speaking Muslims have always outnumbered the Muslims of other language groups of united India.
As it happened, Mr. Dutta's arguments were rejected arbitrarily in the Constituent Assembly. The language policy of the Pakistan government was resented by the people of East Pakistan. The student community of Dhaka reacted sharply and a protest strike was observed in Dhaka on 26 February 1948. An 'All Party State Language Committee of Action' was formed. Under the auspices of this Committee a general strike was observed as a protest day throughout East Pakistan on 11 March 1948. The party in power, the Muslim League, took recourse to force. As a result, hundreds of people were injured as the police used tear gas and lathi-charged demonstrators. Nearly a thousand people were thrown into prison. In fact, the student community bore the main brunt of the police action. Defyng all this the protests and demonstrations continued with unabated fury until Mr. Khawaja Nazimuddin, the Chief Minister of East Bengal, signed an eight-point agreement with the leaders of the Committee of Action on 15 March. Two most important clauses of the agreement were the following
1. In the April (1948) session of the East Bengal legislative Assembly a special resolution will be moved to propose to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan to make Bengali one of the state languages of Pakistan and to give Bengali the same status with Urdu in the competitive examinations of the Central Services of Pakistan.
2. In the month of April another resolution will be moved in the East Bengal Legislative Assembly to make Bengal the official language of the province of East Bengali in place of English. Further, Bengali will be the medium of instruction. (Omar 1970 : 81).
Immediately after the signing of the agreement, Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Governor General of Pakistan, came to visit Dhaka. While addressing a huge gathering on 21 March 1948, he pontifically declared
Let me make it very clear to you that the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of Pakistan. Without one state language, no nation can remain tied up solidly together and function. Look at the history of other countries. Therefore, so far as the state language is concerned, Pakistan's shall be Urdu. (Jinnah 1948 : 89).
Mr. Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and father of that nation, reiterated the same while addressing the Dhaka University special convocation on 24 March 1948 :
There can be only one state language. If the component parts of this state are to march forward in unison, that language in my opinion, can only be Urdu. (Jinnah 1948 : 95).
Mr. Jinnah's categorical and emphatic support for Urdu was greeted with protests in Dhaka meetings. A deputation on behalf of the State Language Committee of Action waited upon Mr. Jinnah and submitted a memorandum demanding Bengali as one of the state languages of Pakistan, but to no avail.
Mr. Khawaja Nazimuddin, the Chief Minister of East Bengal, too, contrary to his earlier commitment to the eight-point plan he had signed with the Committee of Action, moved the following resolutions in the East Bengal Legislative Assembly on April 1948
a) Bengali shall be adopted as the official language replacing English in the province of East Bengal ; and it will be implemented as soon as the practical difficulties are resolved and
b) The medium of instruction in educational institutions in East Bengal shall, as far as possible, be Ben;.*ali, or the mother tongue of the majority of scholars in the institutions. (East Bengal Legislative Assembly Proceedings 1948 : 1G5).
The resolutions, adopted bythe East Bengal Legislative Assembly, further aggravated the situation, as the watered down version fell much short of the normal expectations of the people of the eastern region. Dr. Md. Shahidullah sharply reacted to the resolution at the First Bengali Literary Conference of East Bengal held at Dhaka on 31 December 194$. His resentment of the manifestly communal approach of Karachi to this issue was expressed in the following statement
If is true that there are Hindus and Muslims. But what transcends all differences is that they are in essence Bengali. This is a reality. Nature with her own hand has stamped the indelible mark of Bengali in such a manner on our appearance and language that it is .no - longer possible to conceal it. (Shahidullah, 1949).
In fact what Dr. Shahidullah metaphorically emphasized was the distinct ethnic and cultural identity of the Bengali-speaking people of Pakistan. But the rulers of Pakistan did not accept the reality that Pakistan was a multilingual and multi-national state.
Language Planning 1949-50:
On 27 December 1948 Mr. Fazlur Rahman, the Education Minister of Pakistan, suggested to the All Pakistan Conference that for the sake of Islamic ideology, the old and traditional scripts or writing systems should be changed in favour of Arabic or Urdu script which should be adopted by all. As a result, the Central Pakistan Education Advisory Board too, at its meeting of 7 February 1949, strongly recommended the Arabic script as the only script for all Pakistani languages. It should be noted that had this recommendation been put into effect Bengali language and literature would have been adversely affected. Arabic was already the common script of the different languages of West Pakistan. The proposed change would affect only one language-Bengali. Such a move again prompted sharp reaction among the students of the Dhaka University. A protest memorandum to the Education Advisory Board was immediately sent in the following vein
The attempt of introducing Arabic script fot the Bengali languagc, which has a rich heritage and tradition, is an attack on our language, literature and culture. This attempt has created a fear of new colonial design and of slavery in the minds of Bengalis. (Omar 1970: 263).
Despite the protest, the Pakistan government started twenty adult education centres in different parts of East Pakistan to teach primary Bengali through Arabic script. A huge,sum of money was spent on such an experiment. Over and above, the government of East Bengal, in keeping with the spirit of the central government, set up a committee on 9 March 1949 to bring about reformss in the Bengali language. The East Bengal Language Committee submitted its report to the government on 7 December 1950. The Committee had this to say in regard to the style and diction of modem Bengali writing
1. that the Sanskritisation of the language be avoided as far as possible by the use of simple phraseology and easy construction in vogue in the speech of East Bengal ;
2. that the expressions and sentiments of Muslim writers should strictly conform to the Islamic ideology. (East Bengal Language Committee Report 1949 : 102-03).
What the report meant to say by "Sanskritisation of the language be avoided" was to exclude Sanskrit words from Bengali and replace them by Urdu, Arabic or Persian words to "conform to the Islamic ideology." But Bengali, like other Indo-Aryan languages including Urdu, had assimilated large numbers of Sanskrit or old Indo-Aryan words in course of its thousand years of evolution and it would be impossible now to undo this historical process.
The Language Committee also dealt with Bengali grammar and again showed its accession to Sanskrit influence
3. that all the Sanskritic principles having no direct and important role to play in the principles of Bengali grammar be omitted and only genuine Bengali principles existing in the language and envisaged in this report be found out and established as the principles of Bengali grammar;
4. that the unintelligible technical terms of Sanskrit grammar imported to Bengali
grammar which made the confusion worse, be substituted by the simple nontechnical terms of the
Bengali language. (East Bengal Language Committee Report 1949 : 102-03).
The grammar of the Indo-Aryan language had been analyzed after Panini's classical Sanskrit grammar, and all these grammars made all of Panini's terms for grammatical descriptions. The Committee also suggested drastic modifications of the BerSgali writing system and issued a model chart as a guide. The most important part of the Committee's recommendation was, however, the,following
5. that Urdu be studied as a second language in the secondary and higher stages of our education in order that we may make the linguistic, social, political and cultural bonds between the two wings of Pakistan closer and deeper. (East Bengal Language Committee Report 1949: 102-03)
The recommendations of the Committee were highly tendentious and at once politically motivated, in that they were meant to 'create' a new fangled Bengali different from that of West Bengal. Needless to add, the report was rejected by the linguistic scholars and Bengali intelligentsia.
The Language Movement 1952:
Pakistan, almost from the moment of its birth, was overtaken by a host of problems-political, economic and ideological. These problems and the attendant controversies turned the two wings of Pakistan into warring partners. As the year 1951 wore on, the problems multiplied further. Against this background as the new year 1952 rang in, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Khwaja Nazimuddin, again declared at the Dhaka session of the ruling Muslim League Party on 26 January 1952 that "Urdu will be the state language of Pakistan."
This announcement triggered off the language controversy and a new phase of the Bengali language movement began. A new all-party (excepting the ruling Mulim League) State Language Committee of Actionn was formed, and the 21st February 1952 was declared the State Language Day. The government promulgated prohibitory orders banning all sorts of meetings, processions, and demonstrations. Dhaka University students defied government bans, held protest meetings, and brought out massive demonstrations. This brought them into direct clash with the government. The police and paramilitary forces resorted to wide-spread tear gas shelling, clubbing and finally shooting. As a result, several students were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands were arrested. A reign of terror was let loose by the government but the language movement did not stop. The students killed were declared martyrs as they had laid down their lives for their beloved mother tongue.
On 23 February a martyr's column was raised near the Medical College where the frist student fell to police firing. 'Ekushe February' or'21st February'.became a redletter day to the Bengalis. From 1952 onwards the Bengalis of East Pakistan drew their inspiration from the sacrifices of the 21st February in all their subsequent struggles. As a matter of fact, the 21st of Februrary has shaped the destiny of the Bengalis of Pakistan and it is now considered that the language movement is the beginning of that much larger movement, culminating in the emergence of Bangladesh.
The General Election of 1954 and the language Issue:
That the magic figure of 21 became a symbol of struggle, national unity, and emancipation, became clear when the major opposition political parties of East Pakistan formed a united front on the basis of a 21-point programme to fight the ruling Muslim League Party in the first general election of East Pakistan held in March 1954. The United Front pledged that in the event it won the election and formed a government the following steps would be taken
Bengali will be made one of the state languages of Pakistan.
2. Arrangements will be made to impart education through the mother tongue only.
The United Front will change the residence (Burdwan House) of the Chief Minister (as the then Chief Minister of the Province Mr. Nurul Amin was responsible for the 21st February killings) and that the residence would be converted into a centre of research for Bengali language and literature.
In memory of those killed on the 21st February, a befitting martyr's column'will be raised at the spot of the killing and the families of the dead would receive compensation.
5. The 21st of February will be declared the 'Saheed' or Martyrs' day and will be made a government holiday (Musa 1974 402-OS). (The day is now observed as a national day of mourning).
The United Front fought the general election of 1954 on the basis of 50 the 21-point programme, registered an overwhelming victory and formed a government in East Pakistan.
The Pakistan Constitution of .1956 and Bengali:
As a result of the victory of the United Front in East Pakistan the voice of Bengel could now be heard in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in Bengali. What is more, the first Constitution of Pakistan of 1956 stipulates the following
1. The state languages of Pakistan shall be Urdu and Bengali. Provided that for the period of twenty years from the Constitution Day, English shall continue to be used for all official purposes for which it was used in Pakistan immediately before the Constitution Day, and Parliament may by Act provide for the use of English after the expiration of the said period of twenty years, for such purposes as may be specified in that Act.
On the expiration of ten years from the Constitution Day, the President shall appoint a committee to make recommendations for the replacement of English (Constitution of Pakistan 1956 : 14).
The constitutional stipulation was interesting in that the implementation clause was kept in abeyance for twenty years. The Bengalis were not particularly happy about this. However, the United Front Government in East Pakistan took the necessary initiative to set up a 'Bengali Academy' at Burdwan House (the former Chief Minister's residence). The Bengali Academy was set up on 3 December 1955 with the Departments of Research (with Folklore as a section), Compilation, Translation, Publication and Sales, Culture, and Library.
The Military Rule in Pakistan:
The military coup of 1958 witnessed the abrogation of the 1956 Constitution-La blow to the constitutional guarantees that were allotted to the Bengali language. The new ruler, General Ayub Khan, proposed to introduce Roman script for all Pakistani languages and set up an Education Commission. The National Educational Commission of Pakistan submitted its report to the government in August 1959. The Commission suggested the setting up of two Boards-one for Urdu and the other for Bengali-immediately for the development of the national languages. The main concern of this Commission was, however, to bring Urdu and Bengali nearer and to create a 'common language'- an idea cherished by the Pakistani rulers of West Pakistan for a long time. Thus, the Commission maintained
The supreme need should be recognized of bringing Urdu and Bengali nearer to each other by increasing the common elements in their vocabularies and by putting such common elements to extensive use. This task should be entrusted to a committee comprising members drawn from the two national Boards suggested by us for the development of Urdu and Bengali.
(Pakistan National Educational Commission Report 1959, 1968293)
But the Urdu or Bengali scholars were not enthusiastic about bringing Urdu and Bengali nearer in such an artificial manner. Thus, the dreams of a common Pakistani language like 'Bhasha Indonesia' were never realized.
General Ayub Khan promulgated a new constitution for Pakistan in 1963. In this constitution, the provisions for languages were as follows:
The national languages of Pakistan are Bengali and Urdu, but this article shall not be construed as preventing the use of any other language and in particular, the English language may be used for official and other purposes until arrangements for its replacement are made.
In the year one thousand nine hundred and seventytwo, the President shall constitute a commission to report on the question of the replacement of the English language for official purposes. (Constitution of Pakistan 1965 : 119).
If the relevant language clauses of 1956 and 1963 Constitutions are compared it can be seen that they are basically similar differing only in minor details. What is more is that both the Constitutions had similar tactics of delaying the practical implementation of policies as formulated therein. However, a 'Central Board for the Development of Bengali' as suggested by the National Education Commission of 1959 was set up in 1963. The primary function of the Board was: to "promote national values and develop Bengali to the level at which it can become the effective media of the instruction at the higher stage of education." The aims and objectives of the Central Board for the Development of Bengali were to develop Bengali language and literature ; to remove the existing difficulties in Bengali particularly in the field on Natural and Social Sciences as well as in technologies in order that it becomes the medium of instruction at the higher educational level ; and to co-ordinate the work of other organizations engaged in promoting literary and scientific effort in Bengali. (Central Board for Bengali 1967 : 1)
The Bengali Development Board during its four-year existence had some useful work to its credit. The most important one was the evolution of a modem key-board for a Bengali typewriter (Munier Optima) and the manufacture of the machine with foreign collaboration.
Language Planning in East Pakistan 1963-69:
The Bengali Academy in Dhaka appointed a committee in April 1963 to reform Bengali grammar and the writing system. The recommendations made by this committee, if implemented, would have drastically changed the nature of the language that would not only have severed ties with the past traditions of the Bengali literature, but also with that of the Bengali literature of West Bengal. Responsibility for implementation of the Bengali Academy's recommendations was entrusted to the Dhaka University. Despite opposition from the Bengali experts and linguists, the Academic Council of the Dhaka University in its meeting of August 3, 1968 decided to implement it with minor modifications. In the meantime, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the President of Pakistan, in a meeting at Dhaka on September 25, 1968, suggested the creation of a 'Common' or 'National' language from Bengali and Urdu for Pakistan. But all these moves of reform and creation of a Pakistani language ended in a fiasco, due to the anti-Ayub mass upsurge in 1969 which brought the downfall of the dictator.
Mass Upsurge of 1969 and the Bengali Language:
The vanguard of the anti-Ayub Mass Movement was the 'All Party Students Committee of Action' which, on the basis of an 11-point programme, successfully directed the mass upsurge and brought about Ayub's fall. One of the points of the programme was "Education at all levels must be given through the mother tongue : Bengali language must be introduced in the law courts and government offices."
It was during the mass movement of 1969 that Bengali nationalism reached its highest point. In the first All-Pakistan General Election of December 1970, the Bengali nationalists contested the election. The Awami League, champion of the cause of Bengali nationalism, fought the election on the basis of a'Six-Point Programme' which envisaged full provincial autonomy for East Pakistan in administrative, economic .and cultural affairs. The Awami League won all but two East Pakistan seats of the National Assembly. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Awami League leader, became the majority party leader of the Pakistan National Assembly. The legal and logical thing would have been to invite the Awami League Party to form the Central Pakistan government and transfer power to civilian rule. But the military rulers of Pakistan totally disregarded the verdict of the people and instead of transferring power to the elected representatives of the people, handed the province over to the military for one of the most savage repressive actions of modem times.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared East Pakistan as the Independent state of Bangladesh and the, people fought back. A bloody war of liberation continued until 16 December 1971 when the Pakistan Army conceded total defeat and surrendered, and The People's Republic of Bangladesh came into being.
The Constitution of Bangladesh and the Bengali Language:
In the 'Preamble' of 'The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh' adopted on the 4th of November 1972 it was declared that ;
We, the people of Bangladesh, having proclaimed our Independence on the 26th day of March 1971, and through a historic struggle for national liberation, established the independent sovereign People's Republic of Bangladesh ; pledging that the high ideals of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism, which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in the national liberation struggle, shall be the fundamental principles of the Constitution. (Constitution of Bangladesh 1972 : 1-4).
Among the fundamental principles of state policy laid down in the Bangladesh Constitution, nationalism has been defined as
The unity and solidarity of the Bengali nation, which deriving its identity from its language and culture, attained a soverign and independent Bangladesh through a united and determined struggle in the war of independence, shall be the basis of Bengali nationalism. (Constitution of Bangladesh 1972 : 1-4).
About the state language of Bangladesh the provision is precise and simple:
" The state language of the Republic is Bengali."
Since liberation, the stress has been on the introduction of Bangla Language at all levels of national life, in Bangladesh. Bangla is now widely used in all spheres of national life administration and education. However, the language planners of Bangladesh find themselves not adequately prepared for this situation. In the process of changeover, numerous problems are cropping up everywhere and these problems are being solved by the actual users and not by the planners. It has been discovered that in an office the officers and clerks are the best language planners, as in a classroom the teachers and the students are the best translators. No manual, no dictionary of standard technical terms, has yet been compiled to everybody's satisfaction though the process has been set in motion.
In Bangladesh the language problems are being solved through a variety of public and private initiatives rather than through an administrative framework. While planners have their ideas, it is the actual users and practitioners who are doing the real work.