Language Martyrs’ Day | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 21, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:40 AM, February 21, 2021


Language Martyrs’ Day

Our love for the mother tongue must go beyond rituals

As we observe the 69th Anniversary of the Mother Language Day, we pay our deepest respect to those who laid the groundwork for the movement to establish the right to speak in our own language, to those who led the movement and to those who made the supreme sacrifice on this day sixty-nine years ago. But seldom do we comprehend the significance of this day. We forget that 1952 not only asserted our nationhood and accorded a pride of place to Bangla internationally, it also established the syncretic character of the nation and acted as the precursor to our independence. But how much have we been able to fulfil the dreams of the language martyrs? It is time for some self-examination.

While we can rightfully take pride in the fact that this day has been recognised universally by the UN as International Mother Language Day, we will not be remiss in suggesting that the language languishes from neglect both at the individual and official levels. There is little of substantive work in making the use of Bangla widespread in the country and at all levels of education, particularly higher education and our administration. Proficiency in other mother languages is taken with pride. Apathy towards the language has become a part of the elitist culture. While we resisted the Pakistani rulers in their effort to dilute our culture, we ask how much have we been able to retain the pristine character of the culture that is germane to this land?

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Our service to our mother language must go beyond words and manifest into actions. Admittedly, a second language is essential in today's globalised world, but its practice and learning cannot come at the expense of Bangla. We suggest that the teaching curricula be revised at all levels of our education system. One of the areas that needs to be addressed is our higher education, where Bangla is neglected totally as a medium of instruction. Lack of adequate books in Bangla, both in original and translated, is one of the main reasons for this situation. A look at the situation in the principal seat of higher learning in Bangladesh, Dhaka University, will give a clear depiction of the matter. Reportedly, except for the Department of Bangla literature and a few others in the arts faculty, not many books written or translated in Bangla can be found in the academia. At Dhaka University's sciences, biology, earth and environmental, and engineering and technology faculties, only 34 out of the 3,201 reference books are in Bangla, according to the syllabus of the departments. Seven of the 13 departments of these faculties do not have a single reference book in Bangla. This poses as a major obstacle to students who have studied in Bangla most of their lives and are suddenly having to learn from English texts. The matter needs immediate attention of the DU authorities.   However, in our effort to enrich and expand the use of Bangla countrywide, we should not ignore the need to preserve and help flourish the languages of many other ethnic communities, whose languages and cultures are being obliterated over time. That would be the best way of showing our gratitude and respect to the Language Martyrs and heroes.

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