This is Martyrs’ Day in Bangladesh. It is International Mother Language Day worldwide. In A.D. 2000, UNESCO declared Bangladesh’s holiday worth celebrating. The story behind this celebration is filled with sorrow and glory.
In 1947, when Bangladesh was partitioned from India and became the eastern portion of Pakistan, West Pakistan controlled all aspects of the new country. Schools were required to teach in the language of West Pakistan. Bengalis saw this as a scheme against their ethnicity and culture. In 1952, students in Dhaka city protested that Urdu should not be the sole official language of Pakistan. Though the students walked in peaceful procession, police fired on the demonstrators, killing students and onlookers.
The Bengali people rose up in outrage. This Language Movement inspired Bengalis to struggle for independence, which they then received in 1971.
Now, each year on 21 February, we honor the courage of those martyrs who died for the privilege of using the Bangla language. The day is solemnly observed. We march barefooted with floral wreaths that we lay at martyrs’ memorials across Bangladesh or at the base of flagpoles. We may march in silence or we may sing, “How can I ever forget the 21st of February?” With month-long book fairs and poetry readings, Bangladeshis celebrate the Bangla language.
AOB’s Literature Division sets up bookstalls around the country and markets our wide range of books. It has published more than 300 titles in Bangla during the last 40 years.