50 years of ‘Bangladesh’
How our country got its name
I am someone from the post-independence generation of an independent country. Even though I didn’t have the understanding to perceive General Ershad’s dictatorship then, I have seen, learned, and understood the course of democracy in Bangladesh.
Due to this rise and fall of politics, the country had to pay the highest price in the 48-year history of Bangladesh. History has been repeatedly distorted. The post-independence generation has been repeatedly deprived of the actual history.
Some of which we have in mind, some we did not remember exactly. One such thing is Bangladesh’s nomenclature. How many of us know the history of naming Bangladesh?
In an interview with the BBC, Professor Syed Anwar Hossain from History Department, University of Dhaka, explained the origin of the word “Bangladesh.”
The word “Bangla” originated from the Sanskrit word “Bongo.” The Aryans called this region “Bongo.” Later, Muslims living in Bengal added the Persian “al” suffix to the word. The name stands for “Bengal” or “Banglah.”
“Al” refers to the division of land or the embankment of rivers.
Syed Anwar Hossain, quoting the historian Abul Fazal, said: “This area became known as Bengal or Bangalah during the Muslim rule, especially during the Sultanate period from 1336 to 1576 and after the Mughals occupied Bengal in 1576.” Subsequently, different kings gave different names to Bengal during their reigns.
During the British rule, the region was named as the Bengal presidency. Thereafter, during the Partition of Bengal, there was an administrative division in the whole of Bengal. Western Bengal becomes West Bengal and eastern Bengal becomes East Bengal. After the end of British colonial rule, the province of Bengal was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947. At that time, Pakistan named East Bengal as East Pakistan.
Originally the debate started from then on. During the continuation of the movement, the language movement started in East Pakistan and in the face of intense agitation, the Bangla language was recognized as one of the major mother tongues of Pakistan.
Then in 1957, while delivering a speech, young Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a member of the Pakistan People’s Assembly in Karachi, protested the name “East Pakistan” and said that East Bengal had its own history and tradition.
Then came 1969. East Bengal was blooming with protest. The people of the region had realized by then that there was no way other than independence. According to history, for the first time, East Bengal was called to be “Bangladesh.”
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared: “The name of our independent country will be Bangladesh” on December 5, 1969 at a discussion held on the 6th death anniversary of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy.
It is said that Bangabandhu said: “Once the last sign of ‘Bangla’ has been removed from the book of this country, from the page of the map, they have been forever trying to erase it. We couldn’t even detect the existence of the name ‘Bangla’ except for the name of the Bay of Bengal per se ‘Bongoposagor.’ On behalf of the people, I declare today that the eastern province of Pakistan will be addressed as only ‘Bangladesh’ from now instead of East Pakistan.”
December 5 of this year is the golden jubilee of the nomenclature of Bangladesh. Sadly, only a few people know the name we got for the independent land in exchange of the blood of the martyrs — which should have been celebrated.
Inspired by the spirit of the Liberation War, some people of this post-independence generation have taken personal initiatives to celebrate the golden jubilee of this important day our history. I applaud their initiative from the bottom of my heart.
Anando Mostofa is Senior Sub Editor and Head of Dhaka Tribune Bangla.