Joy Bangla,” proclaimed Bangabandhu, a phrase which is found in one of Nazrul’s poems. The poetics of “Joy Bangla” institutes a series of intertwined concepts that clarify Bangabandhu’s mission for Bangladesh.
It is a commonplace knowledge in history that Bangladesh was created on the basis of linguistic nationalism out of the religious nationalism, or more popularly known as “the two-nation theory,” which was the dynamics for the creation of Pakistan.
Bangabandhu discusses this problem in details, between pages 91 and 101, in his autobiographical book, Ashomapto Atmajiboni, where he says that on 8 February 1948 a meeting of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly was convened, in which the Congress leader, the elected member from Comilla, Babu Dhirendranath Dutta raised the demand that Bengali should be recognised as one of the state languages of Pakistan as majority of the people (56%) of the newly-formed country spoke Bengali. The Muslim League leaders were not at all agreeing to the proposal. Bangabandhu then says that they found that conspiracy was going on to deny the state language status to Bengali.
No sooner had Pakistan been created than the leaders of the then East Pakistan found themselves facing the question regarding the status of their mother tongue, Bengali.
Immediately after, protest movements were arranged and 11 March was declared as the Bengali Language Demand day. As the picketing started on that day, police dispersed the gathering mob in Dhaka by applying force, and Bangabandhu and many other leaders were arrested and put into jail. Bangabandhu was released on 15 March evening, and immediately on the following day he presided over a protest meeting from which the protesters went to submit a letter of memorandum to Khawaza Nazimuddin, who was then presiding over a meeting at the Legislative Assembly.
Bangabandhu sarcastically writes that Mr. Nazimuddin escaped through the back door to avoid meeting them. On 19 March 1948, which was a rain-soaked day, Muhammad Ali Jinnah arrived in Dhaka amidst a reception accorded to him by thousands of people at the Tejgaon Airport.
Bangabandhu too braved the dense rain to receive him at the airport. But the great expectations were soon doomed by a single blow when Jinnah pronounced at the DU convocation that “Urdu and only Urdu shall be the state language of Pakistan,” which, however, met with instant protest as the students present there shouted, “No, no, no”, to his face.
Then Bangabandhu writes two passages about the importance of the mother tongue with such cogent arguments that I cannot but re-render them to my readers in my poor translation.
“Bengali is the mother tongue of 56% of the population. So it should be the state language of Pakistan. Yet then we demanded that let there be two state languages—Bengali and Urdu. The people of the Punjab speak Punjabi, the people of Sindhi speak Sindhi, the people of the Frontier speak Pushtu, the Beluch Beluch. Urdu is not the language of any particular region of Pakistan, still then if the brethren of West Pakistan demand for Urdu to be their language, why should we object to it? Those who support Urdu as the state language their only logic is that Urdu is an Islamic language. We couldn’t understand how Urdu could be the language of Islam.
“Muslims of different countries of the world speak in different languages. The people of Arab speak Arabic, those of Iran speak Persian, those of Turkey speak Turkish, Indonesians Indonesian, Malayans Malaya, and the Muslims of China speak Chinese. Much logical discussion can be held on this matter. They only thought of cheating the devout people of East Pakistan in the name of Islam. But they were not successful. Any nation in the world loves its mother tongue. No nation in any age did ever tolerate the humiliation of its mother tongue.” (pp. 98-99)
The quoted passages above put the language question in a democratic vista, based on comparison and contrast. While all nations are proud of their respective mother tongue it was given to the East Pakistanis to understand that their own mother tongue was not a matter of pride for them. If Jinnah’s utterance smacks of arrogance, it issues from this absurd perception that Bengali language was inadequate for the people who spoke it. By contrast, Bangabandhu ran a crusade not only to establish the status of the Bengali language as one of the state registers, but also to carve out an independent nation on the basis of the demand for a sovereign status for Bengali.
The quasi-colonising efforts of Pakistan ended with the birth of Bangladesh, but the Pakistani mindset is far from dying down. By the Pakistani mindset I would like to define an attitude patronised by a section of people of our country, which wants nothing but the perishing of Bengali language and culture. During the period of British colonialism, changing of pronunciations and spellings of place names was a pattern adopted to unhinge one’s patriotic clinging to a place. Thus Kolkata was Calcutta, and Dhaka was Dacca, and the colonised people were made to feel that the Anglicisation of place names was the correct one. Basically this practice was adopted to create a feeling of humiliation in the minds of the governed, so that the governing nation (Great Britain) appears to be superior to the governed nation (India).
Similarly, nowadays, we find in our society that a kind of unwarranted Arabicization is taking place in the name of Islam. In the recent times we notice a lot of Arabicization taking place thus enforcing a fake sense of religious devoutness among the people, but which in other words is religious colonisation, and, which, thus, is working against the spirit of the nationhood for which we established the country, Bangladesh. So Arabicization and Islamization are not the same things. Yet though, here, a campaign is going on by which people are made to confuse Arabicization with Islamization, as much as we beforehand confused Pakistan with Islam.
As a result, what is happening is that a section of our people is induced to become alienated from our own culture and language. The immediate victim of this kind of propaganda is patriotism, much of which was evident in the psyche of the militant young people who executed the Gulshan carnage on July 1, 2016. Many educational institutions do cultivate the practice of Arabicization in the name of Islamicization, thus causing grave harm to national unity.
The writer is Vice-Chancellor of Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University,