Bangladeshis are pouring in tributes for the martyrs of the 1952 Language Movement amid countrywide demonstrations demanding death sentence for convicted war criminals.
The movement stands out as the inauguration of Bangladesh’s struggle for self-determination.
The successors of the Language Movement martyrs, who had shed their blood on the streets on Feb 21 in 1952 to make their mother tongue a state language, took up arms against the Pakistani army and secured independence of Bangladesh.
Those who opposed the Language Movement again stood against independence struggles of Bengalis and collaborated with the Pakistani occupation force in perpetrating crimes, including genocide, rape, loot and arson.
Now the new generation has waged a movement demanding the capital punishment to the collaborators, 42 years after the War.
Amid the movement, this year’s Feb 21, universally observed as the International Mother Language Day, holds added significance.
Requests had been sent out to all educational institutions from the ‘Ganajagaran Mancha’ at Shahbagh to sing in harmony the ‘Ekushey song’ throughout Bangladesh at 3pm on Thursday.
Tight security has been put in place at the Central Shaheed Minar at Dhaka University where tens of thousands of people have thronged to pay homage to the language heroes.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was the first to lay a wreath at the Central Shaheed Minar a minute past Wednesday midnight.
She inaugurated new Bengali font ‘Amar Barnamala’ with Unicode soon after that.
President Mohammad Zillur Rahman and opposition leader Khaleda Zia could not make it there.
President’s Deputy Press Secretary Sajjad Haider said the programme of the President has been suspended due to ‘unavoidable circumstances’.
Khaleda is currently at Singapore for treatment.
The Prime Minister later placed wreaths at the Shaheed Minar along with her Cabinet members and senior party leaders of Awami League.
Speaker Abdul Hamid also paid tribute to the martyrs followed by Dhaka University Vice Chancellor AAMS Arefin Siddique.
Leaders of political parties, social and cultural organisations and people in droves gathered there to bow their heads in gratitude to the martyrs.
The protesters at Shahbagh also showered the language warriors with tributes by placing floral wreaths at the Central Shaheed Minar around 1am on behalf of the Ganajagaran Mancha.
Spokesperson for Ganajagaran Mancha Imran H Sarker led the protesters, who have been demonstrating for the last 16 days in a row for death penalty for the war criminals.
The immortal song on Amar Ekushey “Amar Bhayer Rakte Rangano Ekushey February” was playing as slogans demanding death penalty for the war criminals filled the air.
BNP Acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and some senior BNP leaders also placed wreaths at the Central Shaheed Minar.
Workers’ Party leaders led by Rashed Khan Menon, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) led by its chief Mujahidul Islam Selim also showed respects.
On Feb 21, 1952, students at Dhaka University took to the street in protest against the then government’s denial of Bangla as the national language and imposition of Urdu as the sole official language of Pakistan.
Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar and a few other brave sons of the soil were killed in a police firing on this day in 1952 when students moved out in a procession from the Dhaka University campus, breaching Section 144, demanding recognition of Bengali as a state language of the then Pakistan.
The Pakistan government was ultimately compelled to incorporate an article in the Cnstitution on Feb 29 in 1956 that declared “the state language of Pakistan shall be Urdu and Bengali”.
The protest sparked on Feb 21, 1952 culminated into the long-drawn struggle that eventually led to the birth of independent Bangladesh in 1971.
On Nov 17 in 1999, the UNESCO declared Feb 21 as the International Mother Language Day. Since then countries across the globe observe the day to promote linguistic diversity and multilingual education, and raise awareness about cultural traditions based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.