Tuesday, 2 April 2019

B is for...Blood...Bengali...n...Bhasha andolon - the language movement





First off, here's Mousumi Bhowmick with her surreal rendition of Ami sunechhi sedin tumi (I heard the other day you..) an anthem to isolation and loneliness with what the Bengalis would call great Bhaab (expression)...





And for a different mood altogether, the band Bhoomi (Land/Earth) with their uber popular Barandaye Roddur  (Sunlight on the balcony)...



Here's another number from a Kolkata band called Blood...again a different genre and mood - Tumi thakbe ki? will you be there?


And finally, here's Bay of Bengal from Bangladesh, with Je Shohore  Ami Nei...the city where I am not present. Enjoy!
  



Bengali Blood and Blood for Bengali

One Bengali is a poet, two Bengalis is a film society,
Three Bengalis is a political party, four Bengalis is two political parties.
~ Old hat meme, but sums up Bengalis’ love for their language, arts & politics!


14th August midnight, 1947.  Pakistan was born, a new country carved out of previous British India, its two wings - West Pakistan and East Pakistan, separated by linguistic, ethnic, and vast geographical distances, united by a common religion.  


At independence, East Pakistanis (overwhelmingly Bengali speakers) represented roughly 56% of the total Pakistani population, i.e. the majority. The capital of the new country was Islamabad and the national language was Urdu, the language in which all government business was conducted. East Pakistanis wanted equal status for Bengali, the demand being tabled by a Bengali opposition legislator in early 1948. It was shot down. The Pakistani Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan was outraged.


A month later, Jinnah, the architect and the leader of Pakistan, visited Dhaka. At a gathering at the University, he made it clear that Urdu would remain the national language. Dhaka University students erupted in strikes and protests.

Credit
Jinnah died later that year, leaving behind a fractured country. The Pakistani leadership remained adamant on the official status of Urdu for all Pakistan, but so were the East Pakistanis on their demand for equality for Bengali. There was an attempt to introduce Arabic as the script for Bengali, creating more resistance.  The Easterners were increasingly politically marginalised, while East Pakistan continued to be economically underdeveloped, further escalating tensions. Support for the Muslim League, Jinnah’s party, which had so successfully negotiated a homeland for the Muslims, began eroding. The Awami Muslim League was formed in 1949 in East Pakistan.


Things spiralled out of control in 1952. A general strike was called on 21st February - a procession planned to take the demand for Bengali to the East Pakistan Legislative Assembly. The authorities banned demonstrations and prohibited a gathering of more than four people. Students, however, gathered in large numbers at the Dhaka University grounds, a group attempted to get to the nearby Assembly building. The police promptly opened fire. Several injuries resulted, five deaths, including a child. The first blood had been spilt for the Bengali cause. Dhaka, and the wider province, exploded in fury.

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The rage coalesced around the date – 21st February, Ekushe Phebruyari, which became a rallying cry across East Pakistan and changed its political landscape forever. In the next elections, the Muslim League lost heavily to a coalition of parties called the United Front, the Awami League being a prominent player in it and bringing in more than 50% of their total seats. Foremost among the UF’s programme was the demand for Bengali to be recognised as a state language. It would be almost twenty years before the East Pakistanis got what they wanted, but only after a life and death struggle in which unconscionably huge numbers of people lost their lives. Bangladesh became a nation in 1971 following a genocide and a bloody war, and Bengali was proclaimed its national language.


Ekushe, the 21st, is marked with due solemnity in many ways in Bangladesh. It was of course the inspiration for much nationalistic/patriotic poetry and songs, one among them famous across the world – Amar bhaiyer rokte rangano Ekushe Phebruyari, ami ki bhulite pari? How can I forget 21st February painted red with my brother’s blood? There is a civilian medal called Ekushe Podok in Bangladesh, the Martyr’s Monument is dedicated to Ekushe, and in 1999 UNESCO announced Ekushe as the International Mother Language Day.  


The Bengali speakers of Bangladesh have had to sacrifice an entire generation for the right to speak their language – not many nations can claim this distinction. Here is a documentary from Bangladesh outlining the story of Ekushe, but unfortunately it has no subtitles so can be appreciated only by those who follow Bengali.








Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2019 

21 comments:

  1. Politics. Sigh. Playing with other's lives...
    I hadn't realised that the Bengalis were denied their language for so long. Thank you.

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    1. Ya, nearly 25 years. East Pakistan got a raw deal, but they weren't having that.

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  2. quite a history. I had not idea. Language is so key to identity. Tough to be stifled for so long.

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    1. Language is the cornerstone of identity indeed. So many have been lost because of conquest and colonialism. Even now, there are language losses every year. Thank goodness Bengali escaped that fate.

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  3. You picked some rocking tunes - I like it!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed them! The Bengalis create some awesome music.

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  4. The desire to control totally causing so much violence. I've read more about the 1947 partition violence, but I know someone who was involved in the struggle for Bangladesh.
    http://findingeliza.com/

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    1. The Partition was before my generation was born, so we've got the stories second hand. Many people didn't really speak of the trauma at all. But the Bangladesh War happened in my lifetime and I have friends from there who have lost family members in it or been affected in other ways. I myself wasin Delhi at the time and have clear memories of the black out and going to hear Sheikh Mujibur Rahman address the crowds at Delhi when he was flying back to Dhaka from London after he was released. Very clear, very close.

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  5. What a history. Of course, unless it's specifically studied, most of this is unknown here in the US. Unreal, on so many levels.
    The music added to the reading. Thanks.

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    1. Difficult times. The history should be more widely known, especially since there is such a strong diaspora in the West. Glad you enjoyed the music, thank you.

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  6. Ekdum Bhalo post! Bengali language almost always sounds mishti. Really enjoyed the post.

    Looking forward to read upcoming A to Z posts.
    Jui Positive Cookies

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  7. and here i take speaking English for granted. that's amazing how much they had to fight to speak Bengali. :o


    Joy at The Joyous Living

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    1. Suppression of language often isn't just about language. Nobody should take their freedoms for granted - massive numbers of people have lost their lives fighting for them.

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  8. Such an interesting history lesson. How profoundly sad about the language loss.

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    1. They could have, but they didn't lose it finally, thank goodness. The language martyrs ensured that.

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  9. I liked reading that detailed historical account. I don't think many people know about this. Glad you shared this.
    You post also shows how strong is the emotional bond one has to one's language. In fact, many social and political troubles have erupted because of the inability of the leaders to handle sensitively issues regarding language.

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