The History of the Observance of Ekushe February

Rally of female students in front of DMC on 4.02.1952 ( This photograph, courtesy Prof Rafiqul Islam is from the Amar Ekushe website.)

I recently wrote a blog post on the Ekushe February Movement. My young friend Subir drew my attention to this article which was originally published in Bengali by the Bangla Academy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was translated by Shaft Ahmed for the Amar Ekushe website which brings together documents, writings and memoirs of the historic movement and it ramifications. I am reproducing the article with their permission and I am sure that this important document will be interesting to you all. As it is a fairly long document, I will publish it in two parts.

The History of the Observance of Ekushey
by Hayat Mamud Translated from the Bengali by Shaft Ahmed.


The history of the observance of Ekushey February has not followed any planned or straight path. It can be compared with a musical heptachord, the strings of which sometimes produce very loud music, sometimes soft, and sometimes they are quite eloquent in their silence. A number of research works have introduced us to be background and the events of the Language Movement. A good number of memoirs by those directly involved with the movement has been published. These and other information help us to understand the character and the nature of the Language Movement, and we can now compose a picture of the movement in a more substantial manner. This is very important in order to underline the identity and self-realization of a nation. But the events of the 21st February 1952 did not end in that year, nor will they ever exhaust themselves. These have ramifications that shape our life even now.
Every year Ekushey is observed in accordance with some set frame of activities : the same barefoot morning processions laying of wreaths at the monument, cultural programmes, seminars or publications of special issues or special supplement of daily newspapers. In reality however, the picture may not be so flat. We forget each year's events as the year passes, and since we do forget, we do not care to prepare a chronological survey. But the history of the observance of Ekushey demands, quite reasonably, our sincere research, diligence and attention. This is a task that requires lengthy, patient and laborious enterprise. And I consider this to be a task more of a historian than of a man of literature.
The task is compounded by the unavailability of materials, most of which are, we fear, lost forever. Many daily newspapers that recorded the events of the first year's observance of Ekushey have stopped publication. Old files of many others like the Sangbad, Ittefaq Morning News and Dainik Pakistan have been destroyed by fire that furious mobs set in their offices at various intervals of time. Information from other sources are difficult to collect at this distance of time. The information contained in the scattered pieces of memoris, political autobiographies and treatises are all that we may now have. This points to the fact that available materials are quite inadequate if we consider the importance and magnitude of the movement. Yet an authentic historical survey through a tireless search of facts, interviews and discussions with persons who were directly involved with the movement and the study of relevant papers and documents may yield good results. This again is no easy task since there is no library in the country which conserves all the accessible publications. The researcher will, on the one hand, have to collect all the published materials in the dailies and periodicals, while on the other, make an extensive inquiry into the history of observance of Ekushey in all parts of the country. This would help us understand how the waves of Ekushey did touch upon the life and activities of the people of Bangladesh.
The observance of Ekushey February has an integral link with our political, social and moral hisotry. I refer to the words 'poltical', 'social' and 'moral' not casually, but quite deliberately, since I believe Ekushey is not only a formal observance of a day of mourning, nor is it just a national ritual. Apparently the differences between two consecutive Ekirsheys are not quite marked. On the occasion of every . Ekushey we become ceaselessly self-critical as we underline our failures to keep up with our promises; but this self-criticism does not necessarily lead to self correction. All these are quite true. Yet Ekushey does not put up an identical appearance every year, and its impact is different every year, whether we perceive it or not. Ekushey has been an active factor in the assessment of the values of our society. As we look at the pattern of the observance of Ekushey every year, we understand how closely the day is related to the moral, social and poltical life of the people of Bangladesh. We would understand that Ekushey, as it has been observed in the last 30 years, is the history of our intellect and feelings; the history of Ekushey means a .very.., complex drawing of our hopes and frustrations, successes and deviations, advancements and retreats. - The history of the observance of Ekushey is actually the candid unfolding of the soul of the Bengalee nation.
The scope of this essay does not allow me to go much further back in history than 1952, but I would like to mention some primary facts. In the three years preceding 1952, the Language - Day was usually observed on March 11, connecting the day with the movement of 1948. Various political factors led to the observance of the Language Day on 21st February in the year 1952, and this day subsequently came to be observed as Martyrs' Day. In fact, we should consider both 21st and 22nd February as martyrs' days, since police opened fire on both the days killing at least 4 persons each day, the number of the wounded being more than a hundred. On 21st February the police opened fire in the university and medical college areas; and on the following days the areas of police voilence were around the High Court, Curzon Hall and Nawabpur. However 21st February is being observed as Martyrs' Day because we have attached a symbolic value to this day. The first Martyrs' Memorial was built quite hurriedly, without any well-made plan. The construction started on the afternoon of 23rd February and was completed by midnight. On the morning of 24th February the father of Shafiur Rahman, who was killed on 22nd February, inaugurated the monument. On 26th February the same monument was again inaugurated by Mr. Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, the editor of the daily Azad, who had just resigned from the membership of the Legislative Assembly. The first inauguration was informal, spontaneous and inspired by deep feelings; while the inauguration on 26th February was indicative of a formal, calculative political strategy. However, on the afternoon of the same day police and army personnel demolished the monument.
While the situation in Dhaka was full of events, the impact of the movement was also felt in other parts of the country. Almost all the district towns bore witness to the events of agitation and violence, though their nature cannot be exactly identified for lack of information. I have some reports at my disposal which concern the incident of Barisal and Chittagong.
Shri Nikhil Sen, a member of the State Language Observance Committee and a progressive poltical worker, writes in his Memoir
In Barisal, a 5-member,All-party District State Language Action Committee..:was constituted on January 14. The Chairman of the Committee was Janab Abdul Malek Khan (President of District Awami -Muslim League) and the Convener was Janab Abul Hashem (Secretary of East Pakistan Youth League, Barisal district branch -- popularly known as Hashem Bhai). Janab Ali Ashraf, the President of Youth League, was the undisputed leader of the Committee. Later on, the number of committee members increased to 81. Students and youth mainly dominated the Action Committee. They played a very active role. Some women members were quite active in organizational programmes; they were Mrs. Hamiuddin, Mrs. Hosne Ara Niroo, Manjusheree Sen (Sutar) and Mahe Nur, a student of Brajomohan College. Death has taken away from us some of the dedicated members of the Action Committee -- Abdul Malek Khan, Mohammad Imadullah, Abdul Aziz, Prankumar Sengupta, Abdur Rab Seriniabat, Rafiqul Islam, Abdul Karim, Dr. Habibur Rahman (Pathologist) and Shaheed Altaf Mahmud.
( To be continued)

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