The History of the Observance of Ekushe February : Part 2
From February 11 onwards, scattered processions and street meetings were organized at regular intervals. Workers of the Committee were busy pinning badges to passersby. The badges bore the slogan -- "Proclaim Bengali as a State Language"-- written in red letters. Every part of the town was covered with posters. The workers of the Committee used to write thousands of posters overnight. Amplifiers were an unknown in those days, so metal horns were used instead for publicity.
21st February : Innumberable processions began to converge at Aswinikumar Town Hall ground from early morning. Students of schools and colleges brought out processions, they chanted various slogans and joined the mass rally. Then the main procession began. The dominant slogans were "We demand Bengali as a state language", "Release political prisoners", "Long live Bengali language". A more-than-a mile long procession went round all the important roads of the town, and when it came back to the Twon Hall, it was late aftemoon: In the evening the news of police firing on the students in Dhaka reached the twon through a police officer. Shamsul Huda, a passenger of the Dhaka Express steamer brought in some telegram issues of Dhaka dailies. There was an outburst of people's anger. There were spontaneous processions in the town again from 9 p.m. For the rest of the night the procession paraded the whole town. Nobody could tell the number of these processions, they were so numerous. Workers of the Action Committee publicized the news of the barbaric killing of students in Dhaka throughout the night.
22nd February: People began to gather in the Town Hall compound for a protest rally. Procession after procession joined the rally, many of them from distant villages. A big silent procession started from the Town Hall. In the front were the leaders of the Action Committee and hundreds of women. They had tears in their eyes, but were quite confident to establish their right of self-determination. What an unforgettable scene it was ! Those who witnessed the scene had it etched in their memory with all the brightness and warmth; it is still a source of inspiration for them. The silent procession went through all the main avenues and ended at the Muslim Institute (at present the Mohammedan Sporting Club) ground. In this same ground, in 1973, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman laid the foundation stone of the Central Martyrs' Monument of the district. A mourning rally was organised in the Town Hall in the afternoon. The rally was presided over by Abdul Malek Khan. The Town Hall, its compound and the whole of Sadar Road overflowed with crowds. The fiery language of the speakers put the crowds to excitement; they chanted slogans -- "We demand Bengali as a state language", We demand punishment of the killers", "We demand the release of the political prisoners". On the very day a number of senior Muslim League leaders . and workers resigned from the party and joined the programme of the Language Movement 23rd February : Namaj-e-Janaja (Islamic ritual in honour of the dead) was organised at the play-ground of A.K. School at 10 a.m. The huge ground was crammed with people: Thousands of people came on foot 20 to 30 miles away from the town to join the rally.
24th February Mohammad Sultan and Jahid Hossain Jahangir came forward and called on Mosharaf Hossain Nannu, Moharaf Hossain Mochan and a number of young workers to join the work of building a Martyrs' Memorial in front of the Town Hall. They were the pioneers. Construction material were collected in no time. Mr. Sultan brought about 10 yards of plain white cloth and covered the altar. Above the Memorial were hoisted two flags, one black and the other red as the respective symbols of mourning and struggle. Janab Abut Hashem, the convener of the Action Committee inaugurated the Martyrs' Monument. Three days later, it was destroyed by unknown vandals under cover of darkness. That was the first Martyrs' Memorial in Barisal.
25th February : Two Muslim League members of East Bengal Provincial Assembly, elected, from Barisal, Mr. Shamsuddin Ahmed (Sanu Miah) and Mr. Abdur Rahman Khan (Nuru Miah) reached Barisal from Dhaka. They were immediately beseiged by thousands of students and people in the steamer station. They were forced to resign from the Assembly membership.
As the movement in Dhaka subsided in the face of strong repressive measures of the Government, the movement in Barisal had also a similar fate. During the stormy days nothing untoward occured anywhere in Barisal, there was not even one incident of indiscipline during the programme. The 21st February of 1952 inspired a massive popular movement and created a strong commitment for our struggle. This was a spontaneous movement led primarily by students and youth mainly from a youth organization-- East Pakistan Youth League. The organization was born on March 27, 1951 but was disbandedd during the military regime of Ayub Khan. Non-communal and progressive students and youth of East Bengal joined the organization in large numbers. The youth organization was more popular, better organized, and stronger than many political parties of that time. Thee role and leadership of this organization in the language movement was singular and undisputed.
Chittagong was no less eventful. Mahbubul Alam Choudhury, the editor of the periodical Seemanta and the composer of the very first poem on 21st February, writes
'As Nazimuddin reiterated in his presidential address to the All Pakistan Muslim League Conference on January 26, 1952, that Urdu shall be the only state language of Pakistan, it was decided that 21st February would be observed as Language Day throughout the country. We convened an all-party meeting at the office of Chittagong Awami Muslim League. Besides members of political parties, people from various professions, intellectuals and representatives of trade unions were invited to attend the meeting. The meeting resolved to constitute an All-party Language Action Committee, which was done in due course and I was elected the convener.
MahbubuI AIam Choudhury's poem 'Not for Tears Have I Come. but I Demand -- They be Hanged' is a 17-page composition . Unfortunately nearly the whole of the poem has been lost. No copy of the poem is available even with the poet himself. Dr. Rafiqul Islam has quoted some lines of the poem which the poet recited to him
Those who have sacrificed their lives Under the Krishanchuras of Ramna
Where the lines of blood form a design With the splinters of fiery flashes
I have not come here to shed my tears. Today I'm not overwhelmed in mourning Today I'm not mad with my anger
Today I'm immersed in the glory of blood
The child who will never have the chance
To jump into his father's lap The housewife who will no more wait
Protecting the lamp with the end of her sari
To welcome her husband The mother who can no more
Embrace her child
in brimming cestasy The youth who tried to paint
The face of his beloved as he was falling down on the dust.
In the name of all of them I've come to demand punishment In this open ground of the university I demand-¬
They must be hanged
Those who have killed my brothers and sisters
Those who tried to snatch my poem for my mother in the traditional term of our ancient language And have killed my brothers and sisters
I am here to demand that they be hanged.
Trans. Shaft Ahmed
The news of the firing in Dhaka reached Chittagong in the afternoon of the same day. This acted as a catalytic force for the poet and he composed the poem. The poem was printed in Kohinoor Electric Press the same night. Police raided the press at dead of night, and composed press-matter was destroyed hastily, but by the time 15000 copies had already been printed. Next day, on February 22, the poem was distributed in the form of a pamphlet in a massive rally organized in the Laldighee ground. Choudhury Harun-ur-Rashid, at preset a senior leader of National Awami Party, recited the poem in the rally. Mr. Mahbubul alam Choudhury said about the poem
The Muslim League Government almost immediately confiscated all the copies of the poem. After that all possible efforts failed to effect a lifting of the ban. When section 92A was promulgated in 1954, the police searched my house and took away the last one or two copies that I had been able to save so far.
In this connection I want to mention that the first song about the Ekushey February -- "We'll never forget, never, Ekushey February" was composed by Gaziul Haq. Many do not take care of this particular fact. Dr. Rafiqul Islam says
In the early years, i.e., 1952, '53, '54, '55, the song `We'll never forget, never, Ekushey February'... created a passionate thrill all over the country. It had a wide popularity quite comparable to Abdul Gaffar Choudhury's 'Ekushey February, reddened by the blood of my brother.' I do not remember the whole of the song. Parts of it arc still living in my memory.
We'll never forget, never, Ekushey February
Lathi, bullet and tear gas, military and military –¬
We'll never forget.
Dhaka goes on strike
We demand Bengali as a state language
The Dhaka roads look scarlet with the blood of Barkat and Salam
We'll never forget.
They've destroyed the Martyrs' Memorial,
The stone is enlivened How can we forget the hood-dimmed flag of victory
We'll never forget.
In 1953 the student community took oath to observe Martyrs' Day on February 21st. Dr. Rafiqul Islam says
We decided to observe Martyrs' Day on the 21st February 1953. Dhaka College was then situated at Siddique Bazar at the rear of the railway station. Eden Cllege had no laboratory in those days; the'students of Eden College used to attend Dhaka College by horse-drawn carriages for their practical classes. The students of Eden College and Dhaka College met together and decided to build a martyrs' memorial in the college 'ground. In the evening they organized a meeting on the occasion of Martyrs' Day. Mrs. Fazilatunnessa Joha was the Principal of Eden College and probably Prof. Jahirul Islam of History was the Principal of Dhaka College. The construction of the martyrs' memorial in the Dhaka College ground continued under the leadership of Iqbal Ansari Khan, Atiqul Islam and Enam Ahmed Choudhury. Mrs. Fazilatunnessa, Principal of Eden College, Mr. Jahirul Islam, Principal of Dhaka College and Ahsan Ahmed Asak, Professor of Urdu, opposed the students' action. I took a number of snaps of the incident and these are still with me. The students could not complete building of the martyrs' memorial; they were forced to leave the place. A number of students were later rusticated for 2 years for their involvement in this incident. In the evening, a programme was arranged in Brittania Cinema Hall (situated along the present Bangabandu Avenue) and a number of songs were sung which later on assumed historic importance. "Amar Sonar Bangla" and "Dhana dhanye pushpe bhara" these two songs were sung in that evening's function for the first time ......
The hostility shown by the two principals only represents the attitude of the Muslim League Government. In daily Azad, the largest circulated newspaper of that time, a report appeared on Februry 20, 1953
People's cooperation for maintenance of law and order solicited. A press release of the government of East Bengal concerning the preparations of protest rally on February 21.
A press release of the government of East Bengal calls on the political parties to refrain from any action that may endanger peace. The statement is released in connection with the preparation of protest demonstrations to be organized on February 21.
The press release also says that the first and foremost duty of the government is to ensure the security of people and public property. If the government has to resort to any kind of action against its will, that will be a matter of regret. The government is therefore calling on the people with earnest request to cooperate in the task of the maintenance of law and order.
Though the first martyrs' memorial in the Dhaka medical college ground was demolished, and attempts to build such memorials elsewhere failed, the Martyrs' Day was observed with due solemnity in 1953. The following is a report from daily Azad of February 22, 1953
Dhaka citizens pay tribute to the martyrs of the language movement. Spontaneous strike, processions and meetings on Saturday. Demands to declare Bengali as a state language and to release the prisoners.
To commemorate the martyrs of the language movement of last year, Martyrs' Day was observed yesterday (Saturday)in Dhaka. The observance was a total success.
A procession started from the university campus at 12:00 noon and went round different streets of the city and assembled at the Armanitola ground at 3 p.m. The public meeting at Armanitola ground was president over by Janab Ataur Rahman. The speakers were : Sheikh Mujibur Rah-man, Acting Secretary of Awami League, Kazi Golam Mahbub of Rashtrabhasha Karma Parishad, Mahmud Ali, General Secretary of Ganatantrik Dal, Mosammat Halima Khatun, Janab Shahidul Huq of Tolabaya Arabia, Janab Selim, Secretary Rickshaw League, Syed Abdur Rahim, Secretary of Civil Liberty League, Janab Aftabuddin of East Pakistan Students League, Janab Ibrahim Taha of Islamic Brotherhood, Janab A. Wadud of Students League, and Janab Solaiman of Khelafat Party, and many others.
• Declare Bengali as a state language.
• Condemn Muslim League policies about the state language.
• Unconditional release of Maulana Bhasani and other political prisoners.
• Withdrawal of the security ordinance and
• Condolence in memory of the martyrs..
In fact, from 1953 onwards, Ekushey February became a part of the politics and the popular stream of thinking in the country. Cultural self-determination came to be established as a precondition of political rights. And this demand found expression through the spirit of Ekushey and became an indispensable part of our history. Dr. Rafiqul Islam writes
The protest demonstrations held throughout Bangladesh on February 21, 1953 actually `initiated the defeat of Nurul Amin. The slogan proclaiming Bengali as a state language which was chanted all over Bangladesh at the zero hour of February 20, 1953, seriously upset the morale of the government and the Muslim League.
Wreaths of flowers were laid at the spot of the demolished Martyrs' Memorial which was covered with cloth. From 1953 onwards, Ekushey February and protest agitations became synonymous. An unwritten and undeclared polarization became prominent; Ekushey February is a day of the people, on this day people assemble on one side-- on the other side stands the anti-people government. Zillur Rahman, a leader of the Awami League, describes those hectic February days of 1953. The picture that comes out is simply one of repression
In 1953, a number of students were rusticated from the University of Dhaka. Meetings and demonstrations at the university campus were regular features of the time. The university authorities therefore initiated some black laws to stop these meetings and demonstrations. The laws put ban on the holdings of metings and demonstrations in the university campus. We initiated a movement in protest of these laws. As a result, the university authorities expelled ten students including me. Of these ten, special punishment was meted out to Gaziul Huq and me-- Our M. A. degrees were annulled, even though we had passed the M.A. examination earlier. As a matter of protest against this action of the university, students called a strike which continued for three months. In the end, Mr. Nurul Amin surrendered: The expulsion orders were withdrawn and our degrees were restored.
Yet another of his remark is very important : "From 1953 onwards, it was found that the spirit of Ekushey was limited no more to the meetings, processions and songs; it found its expression.in Bengali literature and fine arts. A good number of books, plays, novels were published; songs were composed on the occasion of Ekushcy February. A number of plays were staged. Artists painted themes of the movement in their works."
It is worth mentioning that Ekushey February, that immortal collection edited by Hasan Hafizur Rahman, came out in March 1953. The book was banned as soon as it was published.
All the main opposition parties formed a United Front against the ruling Muslim League in December 1953. Awami Muslim League, Krishak-Praja Party, Nizam-e-Islam and Ganatantrik Dal were the constituents of the Front. The manifesto of the Front contained 21 points, in keeping with the significance of the 21st February. The Front participated in the general election with these 21 points. The intellectuals of the country fully co-operated with the Front's political programmes. Pakistan Sahitya Sangsad, a progressive organization of writers played a major role. The spirit of struggle and resistance was the source of inspiration in the unification of political and cultural consciousness. The March 1954 election put the reactionary and progressive forces in two well-defined opposing camps.
1954 started with a political upheaval. Literateur and politician Abul Mansur Ahmed writes
.... I was entrusted with the task of preparing the election manifesto of the United Front. I had already'drawn a 42-point election manifesto of the Awami League: The Maulana [Bhasani] asked me to turn it to an election manifesto of the United Front. The leaders of Krishak-Praja Party objected to it saying that the points are too many. The points must be revised and should come down to between 25 and 30.... I began the`dtafting. While doing so, something flashed in my mind. It wouln't sound like a hyperbole if I 'call it an inspiration. The 42 points of the Awami League included the building of Martyrs' Memorial to immortalize the Language Movement, the proclamation of Februrary 21 as a public holidy and turning the residence of the Prime Minister into a centre for the development of Bengali language. The leaders of Krishak -Praja Party also agreed to include these points into the manifesto. The United Front also considered February 21 as a memorable day. So in order to immortalize the figure 21, would it not be an effective thing to prepare a 21-point election manifesto for the United Front ? So I did accordingly. The historical 21 point were prepared, and the 21-point manifesto became the message of life for the students and people of East Bengal. The United Front claimed 228 seats out of 237. 97.5% people cast their votes. The 21-point manifesto was behind this landslide victory. As I met students, youth and people intimately, I understood that the 21 points really succeeded in outlining the dream of a new life.
Mr. Kamruddin Ahmed, a political worker and later an ambassador writes how Ekushey February strenghtened the pro-people force in the 1954-election
Mr. Nurul Amin shifted the election from February to March. By doing so he actually gave us some positive help. From February 1st to 21st, Maulana Bhasani went round the villages to arrange mourning processions for the martyrs of the language movement.
The citizens of Dhaka paid due respect to the martyrs: a total hartal was observed in the city; huge processions went round the city; a public meeting was held in the Paltan Maidan with Maulana Bhasani in the chair, and 22 persons including 2 women addressed the massive rally.
The election was held in March 1954 and the United Front achieved a landslide victory. Sher-e-Bangla Fazlul Haque became the Chief Minister of East Bengal (the name East Pakistan was constitutionally accepted in 1956). On April 2, the Cabinet was sworn in.
A four-day East Pakistan literary conference was held from April 20 to 23. This conference deserves special mention since the interrelation of politics and cultural thinking- an interrelation that Ekushey Februry brought in - was meaningfully translated for the first time in this conference. If we consider cultural revival as the target point in that case, the Chittagong (1951) and Comilla (1952) cultural conferences could be considered successful forerunners. The 1954 conference however, was wider in scope and had a quite far-reaching impact. 108 literateurs and artists signed in a joint declaration; representatives from almost all the districts participated; some veteran personalities of West Bengal and some men of letters from Urdu literature were also present as guests. The Chairman of the conference was Dr. Abdul Gafur Siddiqui and it was inaugurated by Dr. Mohammad Shahidullah. Dr. Shahidullah condemned the Pakistani rulers and the Muslim League Government in very categorical terms for .their conspiracy against Bangla language and culture. Dr. Rqfiqul Islam says that this conference
became a victory celebration for us. We first of all took hold of the Burdwan House on the occasion of the literary conference. The United Front Cabinet was in power and Burdwan House was no more the residence of the Prime Minister.... We arranged an exhibition of photographs and paintings on the language movement in Burdwan House. The exhibition was inaugurated by Zainul Abedin. Prof. Mohammad Abdul Hai was beside him during the inauguration ceremony. I have in my collection a photograph in which Zainul Abedin and Prof. Abdul Hai figure together. Maulana Bhasani inaugurated the cultural programme of the conference. He recited a Tagore poem, --'We want food, we want light and free air.' The stadium was not yet built. There was a playground where Ramesh Sheet performed kavigan throughout the night.
But the democratic victory of the people did not last long. The sacrifice for the language movement, the suffering of the people could not find a meaning even with the victory of the United Front. The United Front Government kept their promise : Ekushey February was declared Martyrs' Day and a public holiday, but the Front Government could not implement much. In less than two months' time the United Front Cabinet was dissolved. Through the promulgation of section 92A (May 29, 1954), East Bengal was put under Central rule and repressive measures were clamped on democratic and progressive forces. Quite naturally a ban was announced on the observance of Ekushey February and the earlier declaration of public holiday was cancelled. Any kind of procession and demonstration was prohibited in the month of February.
Ekusehy posed a desolate look in 1955. On February 22, a government press note said "21st February passed off quite peacefully in Dacca and elsewhere. The police did not have to resort to any lathi charge." The government press note is indicative of the whole state of the country. The students of Dhaka, in their helpless state, found out means to express their anger and hatred and to pay tribute to the martyrs. They decided to remain bare-footed from February 19 to 21. On February 21, 215 students including 19 girls were arrested. 10 more students, including 3 girls, were arrested the next day. Similar news poured in from different parts of the country; a total of 40 persons were arrested .in Munshiganj and Rajshahi. In Gopalganj the number of arrests was 4; there were arrests in Pabna and Bogra. A press note issued on February 24 says : "Situation in the educational institutions is fast coming back to normal." There was of course no government statement earlier as to how abnormal the situation was. In reality the students defied legal orders. Dr. Rafiqul February 21, 1955 repeated the incidents of February 21, 1952. Though nobody was killed, the indiscriminate lathi charge, tear-gassing and arrests by police created a panicky situation. Thousands of students were arrested on the day.
Anyway the government was at least successful in curbing the observance of Ekushey in Dhaka. Re-building of the Martyrs' Memorial was out of question, and nobody was allowed to visit the Azimpur graveyard. Yet one thing deserves our attention. The custom of remaining bare-footed on the Martyrs' Day and joining morning processions was initiated this year. Another important thing to note is that in 1955, like in 1952, students played the major role in the observance of Ekushey.We should also note that Bangla Academy was established on December 3, 1955.
The first constitution of Pakistan was passed on February 29, 1956 and it came into force from March 23 of that year. Mr. Abu Hossain Sarker was then the Chief Minister of East Bengal. The site of the present Martyrs' Memorial was selected and the foundation stone was laid by Mr. Sarker on 21 February, 1956. 21 February was again declared the Martyrs' Day and a public holiday. The government itself observed the day with great solemnity. In 1956, as in 1953, the foundation stone of the Martyrs' Memorial was laid twice. On the late evening of February 20, a six-year old girl Basirun, daughter of martyr Awal, a rickshaw pullet, who was killed during the language movement of 1952, laid the foundation stone. Then again the Chief Minister, Mr. Abu Hossain Sarker, the President of East Pakistan Awami League Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani and Hasina Begum, mother of martyr Abul Barkat, formally laid the foundation stone of the memorial in the morning of February 21. For long 7 years from 1956 to 1962 the Martyrs' Memorial was under construction; during this period the altar was revered as a symbolic structure. It requires an exhaustive probe to find out the tendencies which were active in the construction of martyrs memorials in other parts of the country outside Dhaka. Some objections were raised by some people on religious ground, but they were a clear minority.
In 1957 there was nothing new in the observance of Ekushey. One significant incident however, was the Kagmari cultural conference which was held in early February. A cultural conference of this nature and significance has not been repeated yet. The impact of this conference on the observance of Ekushey was quite obvious. East Pakistan was then under the Awami League rule (September, 6, 1956 to June i8, 1958) with Ataur Rahman Khan as the Chief Minister. 1957 and 1958 were the years of political instability in the country. This had its influence on the observance of Ekushey and as a result there was a marked lack of warmth.
1958 was quite important from the point of view of the observance of Ekushey: Dark days were ahead; but 1958 showed some unusual bright sparks.' Newspapers published reports about the unfinished Martyrs' Memorial. After - a break of two years the work of the construction resumed on February 1. The work was due to be completed by the month of August. The Pakistan Observer, an important daily, reports on February 21
the Memorial has been designed by Mr. Hamidur Rahman in collaboration with Miss Novera Ahmed. There will be five
columns on a raised platform. The highest column will be 262 feet in height, two each of the four other columns will be 21 feet and 18 feet high. The platform will have marble flooring and will be 92 feet in length and 65 feet in breadth. It will be approached from the ground by 15 steps. The platform and the steps will have standing accommodation for 700 people.There will be symbolic sculptured figures on two sides of the platform symbolising people paying homage to the martyrs. The martyrs will be represented by four sculptured figures at the foot of the tallest column. The column will be decorated with stained glass which will reflect morning sunlight on the marble floor of the platform. The memorial is estimated to cost about rupees two and half lakhs. The C & B department which is constructing the memorial expects that the work will be completed by August this year.
In the morning of 21 February Chief Minister Ataur Rahman addressed a public meeting at the foot of the under construction Martyrs' Memorial. He said that the monument with a height of 90 feet and width *of 75 feet would be turned into a public mausoleum. Meanwhile all public offices, educational institutions and most of the private commercial organizations were closed on the day. Most of the houses hoisted black flags. The Awami League arranged a public meeting in the Paltan Maidan. A discussion meeting was arranged at 2:30 p.m. at Curzon Hall. On the following day a number of organizations, like Bangla Academy, Pakistan Sahitya Sangsad, Sanskriti Sangsad and Pakistan Kishore Shangha jointly organized a meeting in the Bangla Academy ground. In the meeting Maulana Bhasani came up with serious criticism against the ministers who, he said, were victims of self-deception-- they were offering only lip service to the Bengali language.
Ekushey was observed with due dignity throughout the country. In Tularam College of Narayanganj a martyrs' memorial was installed and a meeting was organized in the college ground. Kabar, a play by Munier Choudhury, which represented the spirit of human freedom so akin to the message of Ekushey, was staged in Barisal. Martyrs' memorials were erected in the Anandamohan College ground, Mymensingh, and in Maulana Mohammad Ali College of Kagmari. In a public meeting in Rajshahi, Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah said that he would recommend that all the transactions of the university be made in Bengali. In Brahmanbaria workers of the National Awami Party and Bidishramik Union organized a procession where the processionists wore black badges. The radio stations of the country, as expected, were quite silent about the Martyrs' Day_ The political situation of the country showed marks of uncertainty. President Iskandar Mirza proclaimed martial law throughout the country on October 7, 1958 and on 27th of the same month Ayub Khan took over the administrative charge of the country as the chief of the army. From then on the country became mortgaged to a person in a way which nobody could foresee.
The observance of Ekushey in 1959 is a good yardstick to assess the situation prevailing in the country. A convention of writers was held in Karachi from January 29 to 31 in which Pakistan Writers' Guild was established. That was the beginning of an unholy alliance between the government and a section of the intellectuals. Of the 250 delegates to the convention, the number of Bengalees was only 30. Already a debate had started on the point whether both Bangla and Urdu could be written in Roman alphabets. In Karachi there was a resistance against this; a similar risistance also began in East Bengal.
The martial law government felt alerted and sensitive to the delicate issue of the observance of Ekushey. It was very difficult on their part to approve of the Ekushey observance. To resist it would again be difficult and delicate business. Nothing was clearly said as to the public holiday on February 21 although on the three preceding years the provincial government had declared the day a public holiday. The press informed that under the martial law orders gatherings of more than five persons, processions and public meetings were prohibited. As a result, for the first time after 1955 there was no morning procession. Though the government was silent, the University of Dhaka declared Ekushey a holiday for its offices and the students chalked out programmes for the observance of Ekushey. People could not gather at the Shahid Minar to offer flowers and there was no public meeting. Individuals however, could pay their tributes at the Martyrs' Memorial. Many cultural organizations and the Dhaka University Central Students' Union organized discussion meetings which did not encounter any opposition. The discussants dealt with matters relating to the development of Bengali language and culture but they insisted particularly on one important point : no Roman alphabet for the Bengali language. The radio station, as usual, made no reference to the day.
There were reports of the observance of Ekushey at many places outside Dhaka. But these reports also underline a receding enthusiasm. Ekushey was observed in Comilla, Bogra, Mymensingh, Munshiganj, Feni, Brahmanbaria, Gaibandha and many other places. Two martyrs' memorials were built in Bogra.
If the repressed passions of Ekushey found a sensitive outlet in 1960, in 1961 spontaneity found its unopposed outflow. Numerous morning processions came out in the streets. Girls of colleges and universities took part in the processions. The year saw the largest participation of women. Another special feature of this year's Ekushey was the carrying of flags and banners emblazoned with various slogans. A letter written by the parents of martyr abul Barkat was read out in the public meeting at the foot of the Martyrs' Memorial. The letter was addressed to the students. Amongst the resolutions adopted in the meeting were recognition of Ekushey February as the Martyrs' Day, declaration of February 21 as a public holiday, use of Bangla as the medium of instruction at all levels and condemnation of the move to adopt Roman alphabet for Bangla. Students' organizations and various cultural associations as usual organized a number of discussion meetings. The meetings dealt mainly with the questions relating to the use of Bengali language as the medium of instruction at all levels of education and the conspiracy to introduce Roman alphabet for Bengali language. The most important news in connection with the observance of Martyrs' Day in the year 1962 was the first meeting of the Martyrs' Memorial committee which was held at the residence of Dr. Mahmud Hossain, Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University. The meeting discussed the completion of the construction work of the Memorial. Prof. Munier Choudhury was elected secretary of the committee : the other members of the committee were Dr. Momtazuddin Ahmed, Vice-Chancellor of Rajshahi University, Dr. Mohammad Shahidullah, Dr. Kazi Motahar Hossain, Zainul Abedin, Abul Hashem, Syed Ali Ahsan, Dr. Muhammad Enamul Huq, Syed Sajjad Husain, Mohammad Abdul Hai and Khaja Khairuddin, Vice-President of Dhaka Municipality.
This year more than 5000 people joined the morning processions. Various slogans were chanted ; one of which was about the use of Bangla in the transactions of public offices. A public meeting was held at the foot of the Martyrs' Memorial and a number of resolutions were adopted. The meeting demanded that Bangla be used as the medium of instruction and February 21 should be declared a national holiday. Some resolutions were related to the Martyrs' Memorial itself. The meeting demanded that the Martyrs' Memorial Committee should co¬ opt more members including Mr. Ataur Rahman, first convener of the All Party Language Movement Committee. The meeting appealed to the government that the Martyrs Memorial should be built in its proper place and according to the original plan of 1958. Another important resolution was to appeal to traders and industrialists to put up the signboards of shops, establishments and factories in Bangla. Discussion meetings and cultural functions were arranged as usual. Two exceptional things happened: one was prayer meetings in the temples, mosques and churches, and the other was a poetry reading session in which the poets read out their own poems. Bangla Academy was the pioneer in this regard. In the discussion meeting of Bangla Academy Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah in his presidential address demanded that primary education should be declared compulsory. The debate on the use of Roman alphabet was still on, Dr. Kazi Motahar Hossain spoke against any such conspiracy. Prof. Abdul Hai said that unless the use of Bengali was ensured in the public offices, initiation of Bengali at all levels of our life would be a far cry. In other places of of the country Ekushey was observed with due honour 1962 marked some changes. People now participated in a spontaneous manner in the observance of Ekushey. The University of Dhaka was declared closed on February 21. On February 17 the Vice-Presidents and General Secretaries of the students organizations of the residential hall units of the university and the Dhaka University Central Students' Union jointly issued a statement calling on the people of the country to observe Ekushey with due honour. They also prepared extensive programmes. Discussion meetings were organized in different educational institutions and university halls.
On June 18, 1962 martial law was withdrawn and a new constitution was prepared; this was an important development from the political point of view. Naturally, as 1963 Ekushey approached the socio¬ political atmosphere of the country was charged with excitement and tension. Provincial Governor Monaem Khan imposed black laws on the universities. Dr. Mahmud Hossain resigned from the chair of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dhaka and on February 21, Dr. Osman Ghani was appointed the new Vice-Chancellor. The Martyrs' Memorial was by now completed. 21 leaders of students organizations issued a joint statement calling on the people to observe Ekushey with due reverence.
The long-awaited, newly-constructed Martyrs' Memorial was inaugurated. Mother of martyr Barkat, an old lady in her seventies inaugurated the Memorial in the presence of a huge gathering. In his presidential address, Mr. Ataur Rahman Khan said that the Martyrs' Memorial was the symbol of the victory of the people's democratic movement. The Martyrs' memorial, he said, had become the place of pilgrimage for all the Bengalees. There was some tension in the meeting,-somebody from the audience asked-'What did Mr. Khan do when he was the Chief Minister?' However, the meeting was generally peaceful. The public meeting demanded that February 21 be declared a-national holiday. It condemned the government's action in constructing the Memorial with less money than what the original plan had estimated, which was 141akh rupees. The public meeting became political in nature. All the speakers condemned the undemocratic and repressive measures of the government. Demands were raised for Essays on Ek - usher restoration of democracy and release of political prisoners. The students leaders warned the government that they would not hesitate to risk their lives for the sake of democracy. The meeting demanded the establishment of a Bengali university.
Bangla Academy arranged seminars and a poetry-reading session. Seminars were held on Bangla poetry, fiction and drama. Hasan Hafizur Rahman, Mohammad Maniruzzaman and Ashkar Ibne Shaikh presented papers. The discussants agreed on two important points ; (1) though Bengali had been accepted as one of the state languages, in reality it had not earned proper recognition, and that (2) Bangla could be used as the medium of instruction at the highest level of education. Mohammad Abdul Hai, Head of the Department of Bengali, Dhaka University, said that the problem of proper recognition rested on the psychological conflict of the Bengalees themselves since the Bengalees in public administration were against the language. He thought that the university teachers did not suffer from any hesitation to uphold Bengali as the medium of instruction for all subjects at all levels. Prof. Mufazzal Haider Choudhury criticised the excessive love for English as shown by a number of Bengalces. The poets recited their own poems while Munier Choudhury recited a poem by Alauddin Al Azad.
Ekushey was observed with due reverence all over the country, specially in Chittagong, Rajshahi and Khulna. Though it was not a public holiday, all the educational instutions of the counrty were closed. The day's programme included morning processions, hoisting of black flags and wearing of black badges. The students of Chittagong government college constructed a Martyrs' Memorial at the college ground. A discussion meeting was held at the Muslim Institute with Mr. Abul_ Fazal in the chair. In Khulna, a large procession was brought out in which many young boys and girls took part ; the processionists wore black badges. Some untoward incidients took place in Rajshahi Medical College. Students hoisted black flags in the college ground and atop all the buildings. The administrator of the college brought down the flags and opposed the meeting arranged by the students in the college ground. However, the functions arranged by the university groups and other cultural organizations were held peacefully. In the afternoon, a public meeting was organized in Bhubanmohan Park with Mr. Mather Box, a local political leader, in the chair. Mr. Quamruzzaman, a member of the National Council, addressed the gathering.
The Ekushey of 1964 was quite significant for two reasons: Firstly, we note a kind of compromising attitude of the government towards the observance of Ekushey, which to a great extent, indicates the success of the democratic and political movement. Secondly, the Martyrs' Memorial became a very strong political platform. There was no public holiday, though for the first time in 12 years the Dhaka centre of Radio Pakistan broadcast programmes on Ekushey. Usual light music or film-songs were not broadcast. At 8:45 p.m. a special programme on the development of Bengali language and a special newsreel covering different functions arranged in the city on the occasion of the Martyrs' Day were broadcast. In a programme the poets read out their own poems.
For the first time again, Urdu-speaking public of Dhaka participated in the programmes of the Martyrs' day. Urdu writers took part in various discussion meetings. Some Urdu-speaking people placed wreaths at the Martyrs' Memorial on behalf of their organization, Anzuman-E¬ Tariqy. These facts are indicative of the changes in outlook which took place almost in a compulsive manner at the growing success of the political movement. However, Bulbul Academy and Pakistan Arts council did not organize any programme for reasons best known to them.
People gathered in thousands in the morning at the foot of the martyrs' Memorial. Maulana Bhasani and Sheikh Mujib addressed the gathering. Representatives from various educational institutions also spoke. The public meeting placed some important political demands. The meeting emphasized that Ekushey February is a milestone in the struggle of democracy and in the event of the parliamentary and presidential elections not being held on the basis of universal franchaise people would resist the elections at any cost. The meeting demanded that all kinds of black laws be repealed; that, in order to facilitate unhindered development of the Bengali language, culture and economy, full reginoal autonomy must be granted to East Pakistan ; and that the gross inequality in the economic development between the two wings of Pakistan must be eradicated
The meeting resolved that a national anthem be written in Bangla and Bangla should be used in the national insignia. The meeting condemned the government's unfair policies which lay at the root of delaying the use of Bengali language at all levels. The meeting demanded that Bangla be used in the public offices and courts of justice.
Ekushey was observed throughout the country. In Rajshahi the local authorities had earlier proclaimed section 144 in the city but concessions were made on the occasion of Ekushey. The public meeting organised in the University campus demanded that (a) February 21 be declared a public holiday, and (b) Bangla should be used as the medium of instruction at all levels of education. In Chittagong the All Party Martyrs' Day Observance Committee organised a public meeting where similar resolutions were also taken. The meeting demanded the use of Bangla in public offices and courts of justice.
In 1965, along with the usual programmes of the Martyrs' Day something very noteworthy took place. Special publications were brought out on the Ekushey. Mention may be made of Raktaswakhhar published by Sreejani Lekhak Gosthi, Bikhkhov published by East Pakistan Students' Union and Raktalekha by the Medical College unit of Students' Union. Ekushey February (first published in 1953) edited by Hasan Hafizur Rahman was re-printed. Pakistan Radio and Television broadcast some programmes without referring to the Martyrs' Day. Ekushey was observed with fresh vigour at many places outside Dhaka, especially at Chittagong and Jessore. The public meetings at Jessore adopted resolutions, most of which were of political character.
The observance of Ekushey from 1966 to 1968 had the usual and traditional look. 1969 came to the Bengalee nation with promise and hope amidst a growing struggle for selfhood. The hopes and aspirations that 1952 first generated appeared before the nation with a greater magnitude. Political movement and demonstrations took a new dimension. The Agartala Conspiracy Case, the repressive measures of the government, police firing and killing-all these contributed to the electrifying atmosphere of those days. The Bengalees had by now understood the evil motives of the people in. power in Pakistan. So the Ekushey of 1969 was no longer just a Martyrs' Day to commemorate the language movement, it was invested with a whole new set of expectations. Newspaper reports described it as 'A day of the Masses'. The mass rally and demonstrations that shook the whole city of Dhaka were only comparable to the gathering of February 21, 1952. Black flags were hoisted on all house-tops, people came out in thousands for the morning processions as early as 4 a. m. In 1969 again, February 21 was declared a public holiday after 10 years. The offices, of the provincial and central governments were closed. Radio and television broadcast special programmes. Artists and painters organised exhibitions, adding novelty to the programmes of the Martyrs' Day.
The history of the observance of Ekushey in the following years is not restricted to the observance of one particular day. The waves that started rolling in 1969 signalled the stormy days ahead. The hopes of Ekushey were now fast maturing towards an ecstatic and victorious culmination. The observance of Ekushey appealed to our passion that lie too deep in our hearts and a solid determination to materialize our dreams. Ekushey is our national symbol. Rounaq Jahan rightly said
"In fact, the celebration of February 21st often serves as a political barometer of vernacular elite's moods. The bigger the processions and meetings and the more violent the clashes with police, the more frustrated and dissatisfied is the vernacular elite. We became a free nation in 1971. Many years have passed, but Ekushey still so warmly flows though our veins. But we do not know when the dreams and promises associated with the Ekushey will be fulfilled."
The original article can be read here.