Bangalees in protest mode
The proceedings in the constituent assembly were keenly monitored by the students of Dhaka University. The dismissive manner in which Dhirendranath Dutta's proposal regarding the place of Bangla in the state of Pakistan was handled was not lost on them or on Bangalee intellectual circles.
The students were swift in taking action. They called a strike at the university and at all educational institutions in East Bengal on February 26, 1948. Additionally, the Dhaka-based media, especially the daily Azad, came down heavily on Khawaja Nazimuddin over his controversial comments in the constituent assembly. The newspaper described Nazimuddin's views as a blunder.
The province, as a result of the rejection of Dutta's motion in the assembly, clearly went into protest mode. And it was becoming increasingly obvious that agitation was going to be the next step in the Bangalee's rejection of all attempts to foist Urdu on the country as the language of the state.
A number of political parties and groups lost little time in putting together a State Language Action Committee as a means of resisting the imposition of Urdu on the country and particularly on its majority province. A meeting of the committee at Dhaka University decided that a general strike in support of Bangla as the state language would be observed all over East Bengal on March 11, 1948.
On March 11, as the strike got underway, the police went into harsh action against a number of youth and student leaders seen as having been instrumental in organising the agitation. Among those taken into custody were Oli Ahad, Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan, Shamsul Haq, Shawkat Ali, Kazi Golam Mahbub and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The arrests, however, had little effect on the general strike, which was spontaneously observed throughout the province.
It is revealing that the strike, called barely seven months after the establishment of Pakistan, was seen as the earliest manifestation of a revival of the essential secularist nature of the people of East Bengal. It certainly took the political classes based in West Pakistan by surprise.
The feeling, though, among them was that it was a deep-rooted conspiracy by the Hindu politicians of East Bengal, men who were fomenting rebellion among Bangalees with the ulterior motive of undoing the new state of Pakistan. The writing on the wall clearly was not being read by the authorities in Karachi, the national capital.
A day after the general strike, on March 12, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq issued a statement condemning the police action on the students of Dhaka University.