Language movement veteran Somela Rahman is 84 now. Once quite the rabble-rouser, she now passes most of her time at her residence in Nilphamari's Hospital Road, bed-ridden with old age complications.
Somela has her name etched on the district's folklore, literally. Along with fellow revolutionaries, her name can be found on the plaque of Nilphamari Government College's Shaheed Minar.
But for the exceptional devotion she has shown for her language, its speakers aren't speaking back to her at her loneliest hours. Stuck in bed, a sense of agony sometimes overtakes her -- of not being remembered, of being forgotten. Other than a very few close relatives, almost nobody else comes to check on her anymore, especially none from the civil society that should be celebrating her.
As luck would have it, financial woes are part and parcel of her household too. Out of her five children, only one son lives with her and takes care of her, but his meagre income gets in the way of the household's stability. Even at her age, Somela still has to deal with financial anxiety.
"All my fellows from the Language Movement have gone one by one, many of them in miserable conditions. and the almighty yet keeps me alive to let me see the golden dawn when the Language Movement veterans would be properly evaluated not merely with words but materialistic support to survive with honour," said Somela emotionally as this correspondent visited her recently.
Golam Mostofa, former head of the Bangla department at Nilphamari Government College, said when Somela Rahman and her fellows from Nilphamari Govt Girls School -- Fouzia Begum Baby, Halima Begum, Taiyeba Khanam, Zakia Sultana, Rezia Banu, Jaheda Begum, Jebunnahar and so on -- came forward to join the Language Movement, it not only helped that movement, but also the cause of women's liberation in a conservative society.
Somela Rahman, then only 15 and a student of class 10, said, "After Rafiq, Salam, Barkat, Shafiq, Jabbar and more were shot down in Dhaka in February 21, the situation turned volatile in Nilphamari too, and people brought out a protest procession the next day."
On February 23, the erstwhile East Pakistan govt arrested Khairat Hossain, a member in the then East Pakistan provincial assembly, as he along with opposition leader Maulana Abdur Rashid Tarkabagish walked out from the parliament session protesting the killings.
As the news of the arrests reached Nilphamari's sub-divisional town, people become enraged and held continuous protests on February 24, 25 and 26.
To suppress the people's voice -- loud and clear by this point -- the repressive government arrested sub-divisional Awami Muslim League president Dabiruddin Ahamed, educationist Abu Nazem Mohammad Ali, Shamsul Huque, and student leader Safiar Rahman.
Almost all the male activists went into hiding. This is when the female revolutionaries came up to the forefront. They organised processions, meetings, arranged cultural programmes, and coordinated with movement leaders, all inspiring the district's people to keep raging on.
Finding no other way, police issued arrest warrants against Fouzia and Halima and warned guardians of female protesters to force their daughters to shun the movement, or face severe consequences.
"They tried everything they could, but we were indomitable. We held on until Bangla was declared the state language," Somela told this correspondent, almost in a single breath. Her eyes, ravaged by cataract and years of neglect, glistened, and one could almost see flashbacks of the events from those difficult days that led to glory.
As the nation celebrates the 69th year of the movement, can nothing be done to soothe the alienation of those like Somela who gave it so much?