Growing up, I would have other South Asians ask me the strangest questions. Do I speak Hindi/Urdu? If not, why don’t I learn? So in honor of Ekushey February also International Mother Language Day declared in 1999 by UNESCO in recognition of those who fought and died to speak Bangla, this post is my response.
Imagine being told you couldn’t speak your language, the language that binds you to your ancestors and adds color to the curve of your life. The language that flows so effortlessly between families, enriching my culture was refused to be recognized as a language. In 1952, West Pakistan (now just Pakistan) refused to recognize Bangla-the language spoken by Bangladesh formally known as East Pakistan. In response the Language Movement became a bigger fight which caused an uproar that led to protests held on February 21 by various student groups. The morning of February 21, 1952 students defiantly gathered at the University of Dhaka and faced off with armed police who awaited them. During the attempt to storm into the legislator several student protesters were shot and killed by police. The movement continued for years and catalyzed the rise of nationalist movements in East Bengali leading to the rise of a free and independent Bangladesh.
Forever remembered as the language martyrs of February 21st are Abdus Salam, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abul Barkat, Abdul Jabbar, Shafiur Rahman, Ahi Ullah, Abdul Awal, and an unnamed victim.
Now that I’ve enlightened you in the history of this day, I’d like you to understand why it burns my Bengali blood when other South Asians have the nerve to ask me why I don’t learn their language especially the Pakistani’s who tell me to speak Urdu. Why is my language, the one that people lost their lives to deemed as not important? Why am I required to learn your mother language when people died to speak mine? How inconsiderate are you to ignore the genocide, blood and rape my country suffered to speak Bangla and embrace the only culture that defines us? I can only speak Bangla to my family and friends because of those who fought for it. I can only sing along to Habib Wahid’s songs because of those who saw the beauty of the words intertwining East Bengal. I proudly can pass down Bangla to my future children knowing that we were the only nation that had to fight to speak our language.
So the next time you decide to be insensitive and ask me why I don’t learn/speak Hindi or Urdu, think again.