2 November 1886|
Ramrail, Tipperah, Bengal, British India
|Died||29 March 1971
Moynamoti, East Pakistan
Dhirendranath Datta (Bengali: ধীরেন্দ্রনাথ দত্ত Dhirendronath Dôtto) (1886–1971) was a Bengali lawyer by profession who was also active in the politics of undivided Bengal in pre-partition India, and later in East Pakistan (1947–1971). He was born on 2 November 1886 in Ramrail, in Brahmanbaria District, Bengal Province (in today's Bangladesh).
His father Jagabandhu Datta was a lawyer, and introduced Dhirendranath to the legal profession from an early age. Dhirendranath was educated at Nabinagar High School, Comilla Zilla School and Ripon College in Calcutta.
Datta began his career as a school teacher, eventually becoming Assistant Headmaster of the Bangora High school in Comilla. He was very active in the local community, and was a leader of the relief effort following devastating floods in 1915. He formed the Mukti Sangha, a welfare organization, after becoming inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. Datta's relief work continued up to the Bengal Famine of 1943. He joined the Comilla District Bar in 1911, and continued to practice until he was advised to give up his profession in favour of politics by his political comrade Chittaranjan Das.
Along with many politically active Bengalis of his time, Datta took a firm stand following the Bengal Partition of 1905. He chose to oppose partition, working closely with other anti-partition activists such as Surendranath Banerjee and Rabindranath Tagore. Datta joined the Indian National Congress from Mymensingh District and was first elected to the Bengal Legislative Council in 1937. He was arrested by the British rulers of India for his participation in the Quit India movement of 1942.
Datta firmly opposed the creation of Pakistan and partition of India on religious lines; but when it became clear that partition of Bengal was inevitable and that his home district of Comilla would be in the new Muslim majority state, he opted to remain in East Bengal (unlike many other Hindu leaders), and as a result, was invited to be part of the constitutional committee to draft the legislative framework of the new country before the actual independence of Pakistan.
The Pakistan era
Datta continued to represent his constituency as a Hindu member of the renamed Pakistan National Congress (seats were allocated by a quota according to religion). On 23 February 1948 in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly in Karachi, he made a speech calling for Bengali to be made one of the official languages of Pakistan, in what was to become the action he will be most remembered for by his compatriots.
He continued to be a thorn in the side of the Pakistan establishment; in 1954, he moved an adjournment motion against the declaration of Governor's Rule in East Pakistan, and was seen as the de facto face of protest and democracy.
He served as the Minister of Health and Social Welfare (East Pakistan) in Ataur Rahman Khan's cabinet (1956–58).
He was placed under house arrest during the 1965 India-Pakistan War and declared a security threat, primarily because of his Hindu faith and because of his alleged links to the emerging underground Bengali Nationalist movement, supposed members of which included Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. After this, he refrained from active politics but kept on supporting the rising nationalist movement from behind.
Assassination by the Pakistan Army
The Pakistan establishment never forgot Datta's continued defiance of state discrimination and authoritarianism. At the onset of the Bangladesh Liberation War, three days after the arrest of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Datta was arrested at his Comilla house on 29 March 1971, and taken with his son, Dilip Kumar Datta, to Moynamoti Cantonment and tortured to death. For this reason, he is often referred to as "Shaheed" (martyr) as a sign of respect.
His granddaughter, Aroma Datta, lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and is Executive Director of PRIP Trust, a prominent NGO focused on humanitarian work.
Dhirendranath Datta's speech of 25 February 1948 to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly in Karachi, presided over by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was the first formal articulation of the demand for Bengali to be made one of the state languages of Pakistan. This culminated in the Language Movement of 1952 and the martyrdom of the Language Heroes. This movement is regarded by many as the first step towards the Liberation Movement leading to independence of Bangladesh in 1971. For this reason, Dhirendranath Datta's speech is regarded as one of the most important events in the history of East Pakistan and Bangladesh.
- "Sir, in moving this— the motion that stands in my name--- I can assure the House that I do so not in a spirit of narrow Provincialism, but, Sir, in the spirit that this motion receives the fullest consideration at the hands of members.
- I know, Sir, that Bengali is a provincial language, but, so far our state is concerned, it is the language of the majority of the people of the state. So although it is a provincial language, as a language of the majority of the people of the state it stands on a different footing. Out of six crores and ninety lakhs [69 million] of people of people inhabiting this State, 4 crores and 40 lakhs 44 million of people speak the Bengali language. So, Sir, what should be the State language of the State of Pakistan? The State language of the State should be the language which is used by the majority of the people of the State, and for that, Sir, I consider that Bengali language is a lingua franca of our State.
- It may be contended with a certain amount of force that even in our sister dominion the provincial language have not got the status of a lingua franca because in her sister dominion of India the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly is conducted in Hindustani, Hindi or Urdu or English. It is not conducted in the Bengali language but so far as the Bengali is concerned out of 30 cores of people inhabiting that sister dominion two and a half crores speak the Bengali language. Hindustani, Hindi or Urdu has been given an honoured place in the sister dominion because the majority of the people of the Indian Dominion speak that language. So we are to consider that in our state it is found that the majority of the people of the Indian Dominion speak that language. So we are to consider that in our State it is found that the majority of the people of the State do speak the Bengali language then Bengali should have an honoured place even in the Central Government.
- I know, Sir, I voice the sentiments of the vast millions of our. In the meantime I want to let the House Know the feelings of the vastest millions of our State. Even, Sir, in the Eastern Pakistan where the people numbering four crores and forty lakhs 44 million speak the Bengali language the common man even if he goes to a Post Office and wants to have a money order form finds that the money order is printed in Urdu language and is not printed in Bengali language or it is printed in English. A poor cultivator, who has got his son, Sir, as a student in the Dacca University and who wants to send money to him, goes to a village Post Office and he asks for a money order form, is printed in Urdu language. He can not send the money order but shall have to rush to a distant town and have this money order form translated for him and then the money order, Sir, that is necessary for his boy can be sent. The poor cultivator, Sir, sells a certain plot of land or a poor cultivator purchases a plot of land and goes to the Stamp vendor and pays him money but cannot say whether he has received the value of the money is Stamps. The value of the Stamp, Sir, is written not in Bengali but is written Urdu and English. But he can't say, Sir, whether he has got the real value of the Stamp. These are the difficulties experienced by the common man of the State.
- The language of the State should be such which can be understood by the common man of the State. The common man of the State numbering four crores and forty lakhs [44 million] find that the proceedings of the Assembly which is their mother of parliaments is being conducted in a language, Sir which is unknown to them. Then, Sir, English has got an honoured place, Sir, in Rule 29. I know, Sir, English has got an honoured placed because of the International Character. But, Sir, if English can have an honoured place in Rule 29 that the proceedings of the Assembly should be conducted in Urdu or English why Bengalee, which is spoken by the four crores forty lakhs [44 million] of people should not have an honoured place, Sir, in Rule 29 of the procedure Rules.
- So, Sir, I know I am voicing the sentiments of the vast millions of our State and therefore Bengali should not be treated as a Provincial Language. It should be treated as the language of the State. And, therefore, Sir, I suggest that after the word 'English, the words 'Bengali' be inserted in Rule 29. I do not wish to detain the House but I wish that the Members of the Constituent Assembly present here should give a consideration to the sentiments of the vast millions of our State, Sir, and should accept the amendment to Rule 29 that has been moved by me."
- M. Waheeduzzaman Manik (21 February 2007). "Dhirendranath Datta: Glimpses of a life". The Daily Star.
- Salam, Muhammad Abdus. "Datta, Dhirendranath". Banglapedia. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- শ্রদ্ধাঞ্জলি:এই দেশ এই মাটি যাঁর অস্তিত্ব [A Tribute to this Country]. Prothom Alo (in Bengali). 3 November 2007.
- "Language Movement". Banglapedia - The National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- Article on the history of the Bangladesh Language Movement
- Dhirendranath Datta's contribution to Bengali Language Movement by Waheeduzzaman Manik
- Letter to The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
- Reference to Dhirendranath Datta from the Bengal Studies Conference