While 14 February is widely celebrated as the day of love, little of us actually know the importance of 21 February, the International Mother Language Day.
It all started in the present Bangladesh in the year of 1948 after Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the then governor of Pakistan, declared Urdu to be the official language of both East and West Pakistan. The population of East Pakistan being somewhat greater in number quite obviously felt to have been ignored.
The anguish spread like a forest fire all across East Pakistan, thereby giving rise to Bengali Language Movement or Bangla Bhasha Andolon. Instead of being subsided, day after day the unrest gained more momentum. People from every strata of the society came down to streets to protest against this atrocity. Facing serious mass discontentment and sectarian tensions with the newly passed decree, the then East Pakistan government banned any form of public gatherings.
On 21 February 1952, students from Dhaka Medical College and University of Dhaka organised a peaceful rally defying the Government diktat. The incident reached its climax when without any provocation police opened fire killing the student demonstrators. Several were killed that day thereby becoming the martyrs of Bhasha Andolon.
This gruesome event resulted into widespread civil unrest led by Awami League. After subsequent years of conflict, in 1956 the then Pakistani government gave in and granted official status for Bengali language. Later on, in 1999 UNESCO recognized the ethno-linguistic struggle of the Bengali people and announced 21 February as International Mother Language Day. Currently, the day is celebrated as Bhasha Shahid Diwas.
Bhasha Andolon left a prominent mark in not only the history of Bangladesh and Bengali language, but also in the world history. It proved to be a catalyst in asserting Bengali national identity in East Pakistan, in initiating Bengali nationalist movements, and subsequent rise of Bangladesh as an independent nation.