International Mother Language Day

February 21, 2010

The Shaheed Minar in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, commemorates the Language Movement

The United Nations International Mother Language Day is celebrated every February 21 on the anniversary of the Language Movement in Bangladesh.  It is a time when we remember the power of language—to tell us where we came from, to share our story, to debate, to educate, and to preserve our cultures.

In 1947, India was partitioned, creating Pakistan.  Although sharing the same religion, Pakistan was split geographically, culturally and linguistically.  In the western part of Pakistan, they spoke Urdu or Punjabi, while in the eastern part of the country they spoke Bengali.  In 1948, the Pakistani government declared Urdu the national language naturally creating an uproar in the east.  The protests culminated on February 21, 1952 when protesters at the University of Dhaka were fired upon by the police, leaving dozens dead.  This sparked an uprising that eventually led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Why is this worth reading about?  Articles 19, 22, 26, and 27 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would be a good start.  The right to be able to express oneself is a cultural value that is part of the full spectrum of human rights that everyone on the planet enjoys.

So, enjoy your ভাষা আন্দোলন দিবস (bhhasha andolan dibosh) no matter what language you speak!