Independence Day today

The word ‘BANGLADESH’: A journey from literature to politics

Even though the dreamers of a sovereign state brought the name into popular discourse, it was the poets and the writers who first used it

Bangladesh today proudly steps into its 53rd year of independence.

When the first constitution was drafted and adopted on November 4, 1972, the country was constitutionally named "People's Republic of Bangladesh'.

The etymology of the word "Bangladesh", however, goes back decades before independence.

So, how did it come to be the name of our land?

Even though the dreamers of a sovereign state brought the name into popular discourse, it was the poets and the writers who first used it.

It was in the 1960s that the demands for carving a sovereign country out of Pakistan and renaming the nation-state as "Bangladesh" were raised prominently.

"Bangladesh" made its way into the slogans after the mass upsurge of 1969, led by the students under the banner of Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad.

In 1969, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proposed the name Bangladesh for the independent country he had been dreaming of, and during the 1970 polls, Chhatra League pledged the creation of an independent country called Bangladesh.

However, modern political movements aside, undivided Bengal was referred to as "Bangladesh" in literature that goes as far back as the 19th century.

Following the Partition of Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore wrote a number of patriotic "swadeshi" songs in protest.

One of these songs was called "Bangladesh".

"Aji Bangladesher hridoy hote kokhon aponi, tumi ei oporup rupe bahir hole jononi."

Translated, it stands: "When did you come out of the heart of Bangladesh, o, Mother dear, with such inexplicable splendour!"

Another song penned during this time was "Amar Sonar Bangla, ami tomay bhalobashi (my golden Bangla, I love you)", which later became the national anthem of Bangladesh.

But this too was not the first time that he called this landmass "Bangladesh", with many of his writings mentioning this word.

Speaking to the Daily Star, Dr Soumitra Sekhar Dey, vice-chancellor of Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University, said, "The way Bangladesh is written, in its modern spelling, first came from the writings of Rabindranath."

Earlier, the writings of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Peary Chand Mitra and Rangalal Bandopadhyay wrote about this land as "Bangodesh", he said, referring to Bankim Chandra's book, titled "Bangodesher Krishok" (Farmers of Bangodesh), as an example.

Soumitra, also professor of the Bangla department at Dhaka University, added, "Rabindranath Tagore portrayed this land as being a fertile, green country, fed by a crisscrossing network of rivers and canals (shujola, shufola, shashya, shyamala).

In a letter by famous poet Jibanananda Das to Tagore in 1929, the word Bangladesh was mentioned (Pattralap: Jibanananda Das, Provat Kumar Das).

In it, he wrote, "It is the utmost good fortune of the writers of Bangladesh that the brightest sun shining above their heads is the modern world's greatest prodigy."

Then in 1932, Kazi Nazrul Islam, later made the national poet of Bangladesh, composed 71 patriotic songs in a book named "Bonogiti", where he too mentioned the word "Bangladesh".

"Nomo nomo nomo, Bangladesh momo, chiro monorom, chiro modhur;"

Translated, the song pays homage to Bangladesh as the sweetest, the most beautiful.

Poet Sukanta Bhattacharya wrote revolutionary poems, which were published in 1950, three years after his death. One of the poems, written in 1937, mentioned the dream of a great land called Bangladesh.

"Himaloy thekey Sundarban, hothat Bangladesh; kepe kepe uthey Padmar uchhashey."

Translated, it says -- "Between the Himalayas and the Sundarbans, lies Bangladesh; shaking and trembling in the exhilaration of the Padma".

The word "Bangladesh" came into political use when the dream of a sovereign state arose in the early 60s.

During the students' movement against the Sharif Education Policy, declared by the then Pakistan government in 1962, a new organisation named Apurba Sangsad (Asthayi Purba Banga Sarkar - Temporary Government of East Bengal) was born.

This organisation unveiled the formation of a government it envisioned with renowned poet Begum Sufia Kamal as president and Chhatra League leader Abdul Aziz Bagmar as prime minister.

It also released three lstehars (manifestoes) demanding the freedom of the then East Pakistan.

In the first lstehar, released on December 21, 1963, the organisation demanded freedom from Pakistani discriminations. The second one, released on January 1, 1964, described the long history of the exploitation of the Bangalees.

The last lstehar was released on October 1, 1965, in which the organisation wrote about the ways to bring about an "independent Bangladesh".

It proposed that East Pakistan be renamed "Bangladesh".

Dr Ahmed Sharif, a Dhaka University teacher at that time, had written the Istehars for Apurba Sangsad (Protinayak Serajul Alam Khan: Mohiuddin Ahmad).

Then came the slogans with the word "Bangladesh" in full use.

Those that roared through the nation at that time -- "Bir Bangalee Ostro Dhoro, Bangladesh Swadhin Koro (Valiant Bangalees, take up arms and free Bangladesh)", "Swadhin Koro, Swadhin Koro, Bangladesh Swadhin Koro (Liberate, liberate, liberate Bangladesh)", "Tomar Desh, Amar Desh Bangladesh, Bangladesh (your country, my country, Bangladesh, Bangladesh)".

On December 5, 1969, in a memorial meeting marking the fifth death anniversary of Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said East Bengal from then on would be called "Bangladesh" .

"Once, attempts were made to erase the name 'Bangla' forever from the pages of the map and the heart of this land. Except for the Bay of Bengal, the word could not be found in any usage of anything that had to do with the country … On behalf of the people of Bangladesh, I now declare that the eastern province of the country will no longer be called 'East Pakistan'; from henceforth it will be known as 'Bangladesh'." (Karagarer Rojnamcha: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman).

Before the 1970 general election, a leaflet titled "Election - Bangladesh and Chhatra Samaj" was distributed on behalf of Chhatra League's Central Committee, endorsed by its then president Nur-e Alam Siddiqui and general secretary Shahjahan Siraj.

It read that seven crore people were dedicated to freeing themselves from the oppression of West Pakistan and establish "Bangladesh".

On March 3, 1971, Bangabandhu addressed a joint rally of Chhatra League and Sramik League at Paltan Maidan, which was presided over by Nur-e Alam Siddiqui.

There, Shahjahan Siraj read out another Istehar in the presence of Bangabandhu.

In it, Siraj called for the independence of "Bangladesh". He also announced Bangabandhu as the commander-in-chief of the independent and sovereign nation, and "Amar Sonar Bangla" as the national anthem.

During his historical address on March 7 at the Race Course ground (now Suhrawardy Udyna), Sheikh Mujib uttered the word "Bangladesh" twice.

Then on March 25, 1971, when Pakistani occupation forces launched the brutal "Operation Searchlight", he issued the declaration of the independence of Bangladesh at 12:20am (March 26).

The three-line declaration contained the word "Bangladesh" thrice.

"This may be my last message: From today Bangladesh is free! I call upon the people of Bangladesh, wherever you might be and with whatever you have, to resist the occupation army till the end. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation army is expelled from the soil of Bangladesh and final victory is achieved."

The call to arms was transmitted throughout Bangladesh through radio, telephones and telegrams.

Around 1:30am, Bangabandhu was arrested from his Dhanmondi house.

On April 10, 1971, the Mujibnagar government was formed at the Baidyanathtala in Meherpur, a former subdivision of Kushtia.

The government took oath a week later, and the constituent assembly proclaimed that the provincial government had the obligation to "declare and constitute Bangladesh to be a sovereign Peoples' Republic and thereby confirm the declaration of independence already made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman".

On December 16, 1971, Bangladesh achieved victory after a nine-month war, which claimed the lives of around three million people.

On November 4, 1972, when the first constitution was adopted, the liberated country was officially christened "People's Republic of Bangladesh".

And so, the word Bangladesh became our name, our identity.


পিডিবির বকেয়ার খড়গে বিচ্ছিন্ন বিদ্যুৎকেন্দ্রের গ্যাস সংযোগ

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