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Ekushey; its spirit & challenges
BD Chronicle Special Feature:
The date is etched in history: February 21, 1952. It represents something far beyond just the fight for Bangla as our national language. Its spirit lives at the core of the dreams and aspirations of the Bengali speaking people across the globe.
Sixty-six years ago, a group of students and activists gathered around the Dhaka University premises to voice their right to speak their own language. It was a historic movement that eventually gave Bangla the official recognition the people demanded.
Their great sacrifice did not go in vain, as it was their call to the Bangalis to stand up for their right to speak their own language that had, in essence, inspired a whole series of events, including the education movement of 1962, the Six-Point movement for political and economic autonomy in 1966, the mass uprise against the autocratic Ayub regime in 1969 and, ultimately, to the establishment of an independent Bangladesh by way of a nine-month long Liberation War.
Almost half a century later, February 21 was officially proclaimed by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day.
Ekushey is, then, a celebration of a diversity of ways of speaking, and should never be used to justify any sort of oppression.
In that case, it is important to remember that our country thrives on the diversity of its own languages. Bangla may be the official language, but many linguistic minorities exist in our land, and they should not be ignored or silenced.
We must do more to preserve and promote these endangered languages — the government has taken a few laudable steps in this regard, such as the publication of textbooks in several indigenous languages. We had also pledged not only to protect and enrich our own mother language, but also to take initiatives for the preservation of some 7,000 other mother languages currently spoken in the world.
Experts caution that due to current globalisation process, the global linguistic diversity is under increasing threat. Of course, there is a huge imbalance in the world of language as 96 percent of the existing languages are spoken by only four percent of the world population. Given this scenario, the apprehension is that more than 50 percent of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today will die out in this century. At the moment, a few hundred languages are used in the education systems and in the public domain and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.
Also a matter of regret is that our country is still plagued by high rates of illiteracy, both in adults and the youth, while secondary and tertiary education reels from its own set of crises.
We owe it to the language martyrs to fix these problems as soon as possible, and truly uphold the spirit of Ekushey by fostering a culture of learning, acceptance, and harmony.
To truly uphold the essence of what “Ekushey” stands for, however, we must continue to strive towards instilling the spirit of our martyrs in the task of establishing the cultural dispositions and democratic values that they had stood for. We must also strive to preserve the dignity of the Bangla language, as well as all other languages of this land, some of which are now in danger of extinction, making the need for the state and society in general to facilitate and encourage ethnic communities to read and write in their own language greater than ever before.