The Makers of History: International Mother Language Day – BMA salutes alumni Abdus Salam
A building in Bangladesh Marine Academy is named as Abdus Salam Block honoring a remarkable alumni of the Marine Academy
International Mother Language Day – Concept into Reality —Germination to Blossom
—- Abdus Salam. signatory on the Petition to UN and UNESCO to declare Feb 21st as International Mother Language Day. Founder Director and Presently advisor to ‘The Mother Language Lovers of the World Society’.
Salam and Rafiq
Late Mr. Rafiqul Islam, in January 09, 1998 wrote a letter to the then United Nations Secretary General Mr. Kofi Anan at New York.
In that letter he proposed that whether it would be possible that a day be declared as International Mother Language Day to celebrate all the mother languages of the world and secondly to help preserve the dying or near extinct languages where ever they may be. He additionally proposed that considering the high ultimate sacrifice that the Bangali people had given on February 21st, 1952 in the street of Dhaka, Bangladesh to successfully preserve their mother tongue Bangla, then observing this day on Feb 21st each year would be a befitting tribute to those language heroes.
Reply received from signed by Mr. Hasan Ferdous (Officer in Charge) dept of Public Information UN on Jan 23, 1998 did not display the concrete affirmativeness that Mr. Rafiq expected, but was advised that such proposals can ONLY be considered if brought up by not an individual but by any UN member state.
Mr.Rafique who hails from Comilla, Bangladesh and myself from Chittagong Bangladesh were already friends after settling in Vancouver; Canada. We shared identical views on many subjects and I was then President of Bangla School which some of us had helped to establish in Vancouver. After receiving the reply from the UN he was not very satisfied and was pondering about the next course and he approached me to discuss future strategies on the idea.
The concept conceived by Mr. Rafiqul Islam appealed to me and I encouraged him assuring him that there is nothing to despair, that I have come on board and hence forth it turned into an endeavour by both of us. Now the huge task lay ahead of us for materialising it jointly as it was like sailing on uncharted waters.
Initially, The Permanent representative of Canada to the UN, Mr. Robert Fowler was contacted and simultaneously the Bangladesh ambassador to US, Mr. K. M. Shehabuddin was telephoned and apprised of the plan that we were launching and directions was sought from that quarter to bring this up in the UN. He had advised us to send our petition to him and he would recommend it and send it to Mr. Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, the then permanent representative of Bangladesh to the UN to do the needful.
This idea of going through Canadian Foreign Office or through Bangladesh embassy in US or through the Bangladesh permanent representative was ultimately aborted as one would realise by going through the sequence of events later.
This led to the formation of our organization –’ Mother Language Lovers of the World’ in Vancouver, British Columbia; Canada, with ten members having seven different language speakers. Multi Lingualism was at the heart of this organization and we formed the group with two Bangalis, (Rafique and Salam) two English, (Jason Morin and Susan Hodgins) one German (Renet Martens), one Cantonese Chinese,(Dr. Kelvin Chao) Two Filipino,(Carmen Cristobal and Albert Vinzon) one Hindi (Karuna Joshi) and One Kacchi (Nazneen Islam). It was a unique organization without any registration number, without any website, without any permanent office, no constitution and devoid of any funds except the meagre sum from Mr. Rafique’s and my purse. Mostly both of us working at his place and from my then residence at 303- 6331, Mackay Avenue, Burnaby; BC. One thing that was maintained was secrecy out of the simple apprehension, where our navigation would lead us to!!
Amazingly all our letters and faxes was signed as, For and On behalf of MLLW (Mother Language Lovers of the World) by Rafiqul Islam and we had no printed Letter pads, mostly my friend Rafique’s home address was printed on top on a computer to indicate our organizations address. The Joint Petition signed by all ten members first to the UN at New York and then to UNESCO at Paris was an exception to the –For and On Behalf format where all ten of us signed.
In Feb 19, 1998, our organization sent a MODIFIED petition signed by all ten members to Mr. Robert Fowler, then Canadian permanent representative to UN to move it on behalf of Canada. But the office of the Canadian ambassador sent our letter to Canadian Foreign Office. Our subsequent phone calls to Mr. Fowler’s office went unanswered.
On not receiving any reply a copy of this same petition was sent directly to the Secretary General UN at New York appealing there for ‘ A day (Feb 21st) to respect and celebrate all the major, minor, tiny, and marginalised languages and to protect all the endangered languages throughout the world.’
Reply received from UN New York in Feb/1999, directed us to contact UNESCO at Paris as that was the relevant place for this subject matter. Accordingly, same petition sent to UNESCO, Paris on Feb 19/1999.
March 03/1999, Anna Maria Majloff from UNESCO Language Division, Paris replies she will come back with a reply and that the proposal was an interesting one.
We received a reply on April 08/1999 which gave some guide lines. First ; This particular natured proposal has to go to UNESCO at Paris, Second: Has to be raised by any one of the Five member UNESCO National Commission and they were Canada, Finland, Hungary, India and Bangladesh. Third: can be raised at the 30th session General Conference of UNESCO; Paris in November 1999 by any one of these countries.
WE immediately sent out letters to all the individual countries UNESCO National Commissions mentioned above and to the then Director General of UNESCO Mr. Federico Mayer seeking their help and support.
The first reply came from Hungary stating that they support in principle our proposal of an IMLD (International Mother Language Day). Next was Finland which relayed to us that if any other country tabled the proposal, Finland will follow suite. No reply from Canada or India in spite of several reminders. At this stage it was August 1999 and time to propose a draft resolution by September 09, 1999 was fast approaching.
At this point we contacted the Bangladesh UNESCO commission , the then Education minister Mr. H.S.K. Sadek, the Director General of Bangladesh UNESCO, Prof. Kafiluddin and Mr. Kazi Raquibuddin, Secretary Ministry of Education. Urgency was emphasized upon by us to the Government of Bangladesh as the draft Proposal had to be presented by the deadline of September 09th.
Mr. Sadek, took keen interest and approached the then Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina. Because of want of time the Prime minister of Bangladesh took it as a top priority, bypassed her caucus meeting for this particular subject and sent a fax to reach Paris that Bangladesh will be tabling a proposal on the subject matter. She also immediately despatched to Paris the official delegation headed by the Education minister Mr. Sadek to table the draft Proposal. This Draft proposal BNCU/ED-25/99/424/Edn was signed by Prof. Kafiluddin and received just at the eleventh hour prior to close of the deadline for acceptance on September 09th,1999. Here it was mentioned and highlighted that a multi lingual group from Canada-‘The Mother Language Lovers of the World’ had already proposed to UN and UNESCO to declare February 21st as IMLD.
After this, the Bangladeshi ambassador in France Mr. Syed Moazzem Ali with his diplomats and counselor Mr. Ikhtiar Ahmed, Mr. Tony Hoq special advisor to UNESCO Director General , Prof. Kafiluddin and many others played a very vital role in lobbying and gathering support for our proposal which is a historical piece of document having the number 30C/DR35 on the official pad of UNESCO as a Draft Resolution. This Draft Resolution of UNESCO had to pass through the first round of hurdle on October 26th, which is known as Commission 2. There the proposal that IMLD can be declared on February 21st each year went through a nerve wrecking discussion amongst member states primarily on budgetry allocations and ultimately made through the Acid test to be placed formally and finally as a Resolution by Bangladesh on November 17th, 1999. and to be voted upon. Just to mention twenty nine countries initially helped us sail through the first hurdle that is Round 2 and even co proposed Bangladesh’s proposal for the final vote. Among them was Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
After this victory in Commission 2, our organization sent letters to representatives of all 188 countries who would be voting FINALLY on Nov 17th to consider the proposal with all magnanimity and consideration. From Vancouver, we sent a letter to the then UNESCO president, the ex president of Iceland Ms. Finnbogadatoeur, the then newly appointed Secretary General Mr. Koiichiro Matsura to use their high offices to leave an indelible mark on the sands of time by shepharding this Proposal to its harbour.
We two bangalis myself and my friend Rafiq waited holding our breath but with high expectation and surely enough the news flashed that November 17th, 1999 saw the world declare February 21st as ‘International Mother Language Day’. This historical, landmark declaration by UNESCO at its 30th General Conference Plenary session at Paris was supported by all 188 countries with none to oppose.
A great victory for ALL Mother Language speakers all over the world, and in so happening Bangladesh’s or Bangalis EKUSHE became global. It is as if a small country Bangladesh and the world’s sixth largest speaking language Bangla rubbed shoulders and won without firing a single bullet contributing to the end of the dictates of any particular language in the world arena.
The first official meeting of our organization was held for the very first time at my residence at the address above, ONLY AFTER the Landmark proclamation from UNESCO. In that meeting we elected Mr. Rafiq as the Founder President of the Mother Language Lovers of the World and I was elected the Founder Director.
Such a huge undertaking had its crests and troughs and as can be expected countless hours spent on planning, executing strategies and finalising drafts between the two of us. And yes, Lots of telephone calls as well, inside Canada and beyond!!
The only thing that drove the two of us was a Passion that this is something good for humanity if it happens and when it happens. So we both toiled away at it and help came from several quarters as and when and how the process unfurled and unfolded. We both took everything in strides and eyed for the ultimate proclamation of the IMLD which ultimately came from UNESCO on November 17th,1999. An idea had come to reality. A seed germinated about twenty one month back had blossomed into a flower.
After this a giant plaque was prepared by myself and Rafiq and in that was pasted 1) the first joint petition to UNESCO with all ten signatories, 2) copy of the draft resolution tabled by the Bangladeshi delegation at UNESCO for adoption of the day and 3) the final proclamation copy from UNESCO.
This we sent to UN headquarters at New York to be displayed in the Hallways of the UN building and to be viewed by members of all nations speaking all kinds of different languages. This frame I believe will speak about the HISTORY of International Mother Language Day at a glance.
The Mother Language Lovers of the World which is currently known as ‘The Mother Language Lovers of the World Society ‘ since 2012 was awarded the ‘Ekushe Padak’ in 2001 and it was received in Feb 2002.
Rafiqul Islam and the writer were officially recognised by the Government of Bangladesh vide letters from the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 2000.
Late Rafiqul Islam (Posthumously) and Abdus Salam received the ‘Swadhinota Podok’ of Bangladesh in March 2017 from the Honorable Prime Minister of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.
Abdus Salam is a retired Chief Engineer (marine) living in Vancouver. He is from ninth batch Engineering , Juldia Marine Academy ; Chittagong. He is the Founder Director of ‘The Mother Language Lovers of the World’
Late Rafiqul Islam who passed away on Nov 20, 2013 due to blood cancer was a Freedom fighter in 1971 and an M.Com in Marketing from Dhaka University. He was the Founder President of ‘The Mother Language Lovers of the World’ till his death.