Language Movement Day

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Language Movement Day
ভাষা আন্দোলন দিবস
Shaheed Minar.JPG
The Shaheed Minar monument commemorates those who lost their lives during the protests on 21 February 1952.
Official nameBengali: ভাষা আন্দোলন দিবস (Bhasha Andolôn Dibôs)
Also calledBengali: শহীদ দিবস (Shôhid Dibôs)
Observed byBangladesh and Bengali speakers in India and elsewhere
CelebrationsFlag hoisting, parades, singing patriotic songs, the Amar Bhaier Rokte Rangano, speeches by the President and Prime Minister, entertainment and cultural programs.
Date21 February
First time1955[1]
Related toInternational Mother Language Day

Language Movement Day (Bengali: ভাষা আন্দোলন দিবস Bhasha Andolôn Dibôs), also called State Language Day or Language Martyrs' Day (Bengali: শহীদ দিবস Shôhid Dibôs), is a national holiday of Bangladesh taking place on 21 February each year and commemorating the Bengali language movement and its martyrs. On this day, people visit Shaheed Minar to pay homage to the movement's martyrs and arrange seminars discussing and promoting Bengali as the state language of Bangladesh.


Britain’s holdings on the Indian subcontinent were granted independence in 1947 and 1948, so becoming four new independent states: India, Burma, Ceylon, and Pakistan (including East Bengal, from 1971 Bangladesh).

After the partition of India in 1947, Bengali-speaking people in East Bengal, the non-contiguous eastern part of the Dominion of Pakistan, made up 44 million of the newly formed Dominion of Pakistan’s 69 million people.[2] The Dominion of Pakistan’s government, civil services, and military, however, were dominated by personnel from the western wing of the Dominion of Pakistan.[3] In 1947, a key resolution at a national education summit in Karachi advocated Urdu as the sole state language and its exclusive use in the media and in schools.[4][5] Opposition and protests immediately arose. Students from Dhaka rallied under the leadership of Abul Kashem, the secretary of Tamaddun Majlish, a Bengali Islamic cultural organisation. The meeting stipulated Bengali as an official language of the Dominion of Pakistan and as a medium of education in East Bengal.[6] However, the Pakistan Public Service Commission removed Bengali from the list of approved subjects, as well as from currency notes and stamps. The central education minister Fazlur Rahman made extensive preparations to make Urdu the only state language of the Dominion of Pakistan.[7] Public outrage spread and a large number of Bengali students met on the University of Dhaka campus on 8 December 1947 to formally demand that Bengali be made an official language. To promote their cause, Bengali students organised processions and rallies in Dhaka. The language movement prompted the people of East Bengal (later East Pakistan) to establish a separate national identity, distinct from that of the remainder of Pakistan (later West Pakistan.[8])


Procession march held on 21 February 1952 in Dhaka

At nine o'clock on the morning of 21 February 1952, students began gathering on the premises of the University of Dhaka in defiance of Section 144 of the penal code. The university vice-chancellor and other officials were present as armed police surrounded the campus. By a quarter past eleven, students gathered at the university gate and attempted to break the police line. Police fired tear gas shells towards the gate to warn the students.[2] A section of students ran into the Dhaka Medical College while others rallied towards the university premises cordoned by the police. The vice-chancellor asked police to stop firing and ordered the students to leave the area. However, the police arrested several students for violating Section 144 as they attempted to leave. Enraged by the arrests, the students met around the East Bengal Legislative Assembly and blocked the legislators' way, asking them to present their insistence at the assembly. When a group of students sought to storm into the building, police opened fire and killed a number of students, including Abdus Salam, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abul Barkat and Abdul Jabbar.[2][9] As the news of the killings spread, disorder erupted across the city. Shops, offices and public transport were shut down and a general strike began.[10] At the assembly, six legislators including Manoranjan Dhar, Boshontokumar Das, Shamsuddin Ahmed and Dhirendranath Datta requested that chief minister Nurul Amin visit wounded students in hospital and that the assembly be adjourned as a sign of mourning.[11] This motion was supported by some of the treasury bench members including Maulana Abdur Rashid Tarkabagish, Shorfuddin Ahmed, Shamsuddin Ahmed Khondokar and Mosihuddin Ahmed.[11] However Nurul Amin refused the requests.[2][11]


Constitutional reform[edit]

On 7 May 1954, the constituent assembly resolved, with the Muslim League's support, to grant official status to Bengali. Bengali was recognised as the second official language of Pakistan on 29 February 1956, and article 214(1) of the Constitution of Pakistan was amended to provide that "The state language of Pakistan shall be Urdu and Bengali."

However, the military government formed by Ayub Khan made attempts to re-establish Urdu as the sole national language. On 6 January 1959, the military regime issued an official statement and reinstated the official stance of supporting the 1956 constitution's policy of two state languages.[12]

Independence of Bangladesh[edit]

Although the question of official languages was settled by 1956, the military regime of Ayub Khan promoted the interests of West Pakistan at the expense of East Pakistan. Despite forming the majority of the national population, the East Pakistani population continued to be under-represented in the civil and military services, and received a minority of state funding and other government help. This was mainly due to lack of representative government in the fledgling state. Mainly due to regional economic imbalances sectional divisions grew, and support for the Bengali ethnic nationalist Awami League, which invoked the 6-point movement for greater provincial autonomy. One demand was that East Pakistan be called Bangladesh (Land/Country of Bengal), which subsequently led to the Bangladesh Liberation War.[3]


To commemorate this movement, Shaheed Minar, a solemn and symbolic sculpture, was erected in the place of the massacre.[citation needed]

Following the formation of local government by the United Front in April 1954, the anniversary of 21 February was declared a holiday.[1] The day is revered in Bangladesh where it is a public holiday and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in West Bengal as the Martyrs' Day.[citation needed]

UNESCO decided to observe 21 February as International Mother Language Day.[13] The UNESCO General Conference took the decision that took effect on 17 November 1999,[14] when it unanimously adopted a draft resolution submitted by Bangladesh and co-sponsored and supported by 28 other countries.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Islam, Syed Manzoorul (1994). Essays on Ekushey: The Language Movement 1952 (in Bengali). Dhaka: Bangla Academy. ISBN 984-07-2968-3.
  2. ^ a b c d Al Helal, Bashir (2012). "Language Movement". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Archived from the original on 7 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b Oldenburg, Philip (August 1985). "'A Place Insufficiently Imagined': Language, Belief, and the Pakistan Crisis of 1971". The Journal of Asian Studies. 44 (4): 711–733. doi:10.2307/2056443. ISSN 0021-9118. JSTOR 2056443.
  4. ^ Morning News. 7 December 1947. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ The Azad (a daily newspaper) (in Bengali). Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, Dhaka. 11 December 1948. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Umar, Badruddin (1979). Purbo-Banglar Bhasha Andolon O Totkalin Rajniti পূর্ব বাংলার ভাষা আন্দোলন ও তাতকালীন রজনীতি (in Bengali). Dhaka: Agamee Prakashani. p. 35.
  7. ^ Al Helal, Bashir (2003). Bhasa Andolaner Itihas [History of the Language Movement] (in Bengali). Dhaka: Agamee Prakashani. pp. 227–228. ISBN 984-401-523-5.
  8. ^ "University of Dhaka, Language Movement and Birth of a Nation". Daily Sun. Archived from the original on 21 February 2021. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  9. ^ "Dhaka Medical College Hostel Prangone Chatro Shomabesher Upor Policer Guliborshon. Bishwabidyalayer Tinjon Chatroshoho Char Bekti Nihoto O Shotero Bekti Ahoto". The Azad (in Bengali). 21 February 1952.
  10. ^ James Heitzman; Robert Worden, eds. (1989). "Pakistan Period (1947–71)". Bangladesh: A Country Study. Government Printing Office, Country Studies US. ISBN 0-16-017720-0. Archived from the original on 22 June 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2007.
  11. ^ a b c Al Helal, Bashir (2003). Bhasa Andolaner Itihas [History of the Language Movement] (in Bengali). Dhaka: Agamee Prakashani. pp. 377–393. ISBN 984-401-523-5.
  12. ^ Lambert, Richard D. (April 1959). "Factors in Bengali Regionalism in Pakistan". Far Eastern Survey. 28 (4): 49–58. doi:10.2307/3024111. ISSN 0362-8949. JSTOR 3024111.
  13. ^ "Commemorating the International Mother Language Day- February 21". NewsGram. 21 February 2016. Archived from the original on 8 May 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  14. ^ "Language Movement – Banglapedia". Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2016.

External links[edit]