Ekushey February

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Shaheed Minar (Martyr’s Memorial), Dhaka, Bangladesh

Ekushey February (21st of February) is known as Language Martyrs’ Day and is celebrated by Bengalis all over the world. It is also known as International Mother Language Day which is celebrated worldwide. It is a day celebrating culture, diversity, and language. On this day, in the year 1952, the students of Dhaka University stood up against the Pakistani government in order to acquire the right to speak their native language, Bengali. Even though, their want was quickly hushed on that day; their deaths served as a missile for change and awoke the sleeping hearts of all Bangladeshis. Their resistance was not used as an excuse to be noticed; rather, it was a tool to signify their want of freedom: the freedom to live, the freedom to speak, the freedom to exercise their own will. They stood up to fight not just only for their present but for their future generations as well. This fight started here in 1952 and did not end until Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) gained independence from Pakistan at the end of the Liberation War in 1971. Bangladesh is the first country that has waged a war just on the basis of acquiring the right to speak their own language. So much blood has been shed just for our language. The song “Amar bhaiyer rakto rangano… Ekushey February… Ami ki bhulite pari” (“My brother’s blood has spattered everywhere… 21st of February… Can I ever forget it?”)was written by Abdul Gaffar Choudhury to mark the language movement. The song was then set to tune by Abdul Latif and then later recomposed to its current version by Altaf Mahmud. For this sole reason, Altaf Mahmud was deliberately killed two days before Bangladesh gained independence in December 1971 by the Pakistani government and their supporters, the rajakars (Bengali traitors). They knew that Bangladesh’s independence would lead to their defeat, so they performed one last cowardly act and killed Altaf Mahmud before he got to see his beloved Bangladesh as a free nation.

Even though many people have died, the song that marks this language movement has not. Even today, and especially during the month of February, this song not only resonates throughout the streets and alleys of Bangladesh, but in the hearts and minds of Bengalis all over the world. And with this song humming in their hearts, the people of Bangladesh pay homage to the graves of the martyrs in Azimpur and the Shaheed Minar (Martyr’s Memorial) to place flowers and pray for the martyrs: the students of Dhaka University, the freedom fighters during the 1971 war, the intelligent officials who lost their lives because it was thought that they could further the growth of the country, and the innocent families who became victims of the corrupt-minded Pakistani militia. Little did they know, the lives of these important people were enough to set fire to the heart of Bangladesh. And that fire kept on burning until war was at its end and independence was knocking at the door. What originally started as a fight for language had ended with the fight for freedom. Ultimately, breaking her shackles, a new country was born. Her language was free and so were her people.

As much as Ekushey is a day to pay respects to the people who sacrificed their lives for this country, it is as much of a celebration of the Bengali language, culture, and its rich heritage. For me, the most important thing that defines who I am is my language. I am my language and without my language, I am nothing. Despite growing up in the United States, I cannot forget my mother land. The place where I come from is my home. The language I speak is my identity. And how I embrace these two is my future.

I dedicate this poem to my language, Bangla, and to the students who started the resistance:

O’ Ma

Give me strength
o’ mother of mine,
give me the power to fight.
Give me courage to stand up,
give me power for this right.
Brothers and sisters
are mine,
I fight for them with my heart.
Give me strength, o’ ma,
so we shall never part.
Give me your tears,
your burden that you carry on your shoulders.
Let me carry it for you,
these hard, cruel boulders.
Forcing their way towards us,
forcing us to carry;
we’ll defeat them if you give me your kindness,
don’t you worry.
Give me your ear so I may listen.
Give me your sight so I can see.
Give me your words so I can speak
o’ mother language,
to crush the burden you carry.

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