The Day We
Learnt We will be
M. Tawsif Salam
A school goer in Bangladesh won’t end up without knowing the name of Jabbar, Salam, Rafiq and Barkat. Thanks to the education system we have, which according to the experts has a bunch of flaws, but explains the 21 February of 1952 in a way that we take this as a something we have to respect as part of our lives, as part of our being the Bangladeshis.
The language movement was a series of events that started immediately after Pakistan’s independence from the British Raj. Here is a very short description of the events starting from 1947 which eventually resulted at the martyrdom of 8 people in February 1952 and the triumphant conclusions for the Bangladeshis both in 1952 and 1971.
A rally taking place inside Dhaka University.
On 14 August of 1947, 69 million people got the new entity as ‘the Pakistanis’ and among them 44 million were living in the east who solely spoke in Bangla. An education summit held in Karachi in 1947 for the first time called for exclusive use of Urdu in education, media and offices.
The organization or outfit to make an immediate protest of the initiative was Tamaddun Majlish, an Islamic cultural organization based in the then East Pakistan. Abul Kashem, better known as Principal Abul Kashem, a Dhaka University physics professor, was founder and the key person behind this organization, which in fact advocated the movement to establish Bangla instead of Urdu as the state language of Pakistan.
East Pakistan, especially the capital Dhaka didn’t stop staying vibrant on the issue. Dhaka University, the heart of the language movement, in 1948 started being accompanied by some major politicians of East Pakistan. Nurul Haque Bhuiyan, another professor of Dhaka University, convened a movement of Tamaddun Majlish and simultaneously Shamsul Haque, a Bengali lawmaker, formed a committee with some other politicians to strengthen the voice.
As Bangla was not allowed to use in the assembly, Dhirendranath Datta, a senior lawmaker from Comilla and the veteran Indian National Congress leader who refused migration to India after 1947 partition, proposed a legislation to allow Bangla as an usable language in the assembly. The proposition was firmly turned down.
A mass movement mostly by the students in Dhaka took place on 11 March, 1948 where the regime became the most aggressive to the date. This protest was basically due to the dramatic removal of Bangla from coins, federal stamps, some other key official uses and especially from the recruitment exam of Pakistan Navy which was taking place during the timeline. That day a number of political and student leaders were arrested including Shamsul Haque, Ali Ahad, Abdul Wahed, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Golam Azam and 12 others. Other key persons of the procession were Abdul Malek Ukil, Mohammad Toaha and Abdul Matin. As a response to the assaulting law enforcers, Mohammad Toaha snatched a riffle from a police. Later Toaha was detained and tortured by the police, which resulted at his few weeks of stay in hospital.
Another part of this same rally on 11 March, 1952 marched toward the secretariat building where police was waiting to open attack on the students. Several students, leaders including Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Haque was injured.
On 27 November, 1948, Golam Azam, General Secretary of DUCSU and later the Amir of Jama’at-e-Islam, presented a memorandum to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liakat Ali Khan at Gymnasium Ground, Dhaka University, demanding Bangla to be the state language of Pakistan. But it got nothing but the denouncement of the Prime Minister representing the central administration.
Police formation to curb the 11 March, 1948 procession in Dhaka
It’s actually for those of the learners who at the schools have been largely taught that the movement started after Jinnah’s 1948 speech at Dhaka University convocation. Yes, the near final stage of the movement was triggered to start after Jinnah presentation of his Urdu-only policy at Dhaka University on 19 March, 1948. But the structure was very well formed before the Jinnah speech. This same structure was the spirit for our gallant freedom fighters to liberate Bangladesh.
On 27 January, 1952, Khwaja Nazimuddin, the Urdu-speaking Bengali from Dhaka’s Nawab family and the Governor-General of Pakistan, defended Jinnah’s policy of using Urdu exclusively in entire Pakistan. This in fact was not taken as an act of betrayal by a Bangali because Khwaja Nazimuddin with some other East Pakistanis holding higher positions in the central administration didn’t stood by us to protect Bangla as the major language.
Procession at Dhaka University on the fateful 21 February, 1952
As a response to Nazimuddin, a meeting at the banner of Shorbodolio Kendriyo Rashtrobhasha Kormi Porishod took place at the Bar Library Hall of Dhaka University on 31 January, 1952, chaired by Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani. The meeting decided 21 February as the date to go for a greater action. As a preparation of 21 February, students and people gathered at Dhaka University campus on 4 February and issued a final warning to the regime to come by their proposal.
As planned, students started gathering at Dhaka University premises at 21 February morning at 9am. The entire compound was cordoned by the police and amid the cordon students with the Vice Chancellor and other teachers were preparing to disobey the section 144 that police enforced earlier. At around 11am, a rally of students marched toward the Dhaka University gate.
Police waiting at the cordon shot tear shell fires to the students. This resulted the expected disarray in the rally and a group of students ran toward the Medical College. The Vice-chancellor requested the Police to stop firing. At this point police arrested a number of students due to violation of section 144.
Enraged by the arrests, a group of students gathered around the East Bengal Legislative Assembly to show anger and to present their demand to the assembly. As the students blocked the legislator’s way toward the building, Police opened fire. Rafiquddin Ahmed, a Dhaka resident who took part in the procession, was shot in the head and died instantly, being the first martyr of Bangla language movement. Others who succumbed the bullet injuries were Abdus Salam, Abul Barkat and Abdul Jabbar.
Killings took place on 22 February too, particularly on two locations. One was in front of High Court, where a military truck was deliberately driven over a procession mourning the killings of 21 February. It took the lives of Abdul Awal, a rickshawpuller, and an unidentified teenager. Dead body of the teenager was snatched by the police and his death later was never acknowledged.
A condolence rally inside Dhaka University on 22 February, mourning the killings of the previous day
Another condolence procession was in progress near Rathkhola of Nawabpur, Dhaka. Without any provocation and at all of a sudden, police opened fire on a rally. Shafiur Rahman, a Dhaka University law student and also a High Court Accounts section employee, who was in a rally beside the Khoshmahal Restaurant near Rathkhola, was martyred. The shootings also took life of a teenager named Ohi Ullah. But his body was taken by the police and later never found. Death of Ohi Ullah was later never acknowledged by the authority.
Probably the first martyr of Bangla language movement, Rafiquddin Ahmed was born to Abdul Latif Miah and Rafiza Khatun on 30 October, 1926 in the Paril village at Singair Upazila, Manikganj. Rafiq’s father has been employee of Manikganj Commercial College. Rafiq completed his matriculation from Baira School in 1949 and kept his intermediate incomplete being a student at Devendra College.
Discontinuing studies, Rafiquddin was sent to Dhaka to work in his father’s printing business. After the date 21 February was fixed for a greater action by Shorbodolio Kendriyo Rashtrobhasha Kormi Porishod, Rafiq responded and joined the movement. He was shot exactly in the position the present Shaheed Minar is situated in, in front of the then Dhaka Medical College.
Barkat’s family migrated to East Pakistan when he was 21-year old. He was born on 16 January, 1927 in the village Babla at Bharatpur, Murshidabad, West Bengal. He completed his matriculation in Talibpur High School in 1945. Completion of intermediate was in 1947 from Behrampore College, later known as the Krishnath College. His family migrated to East Pakistan in 1948.
In 1948 Barkat admitted in Dhaka University for his undergrad. His concentration was Political Science and he completed his honours in 1951 standing 4th in second class. Following the honours, he started masters in the same subject in Dhaka University.
Though there was no involvement in any student or political organization, Abul Barkat was a student with political consciousness and he couldn’t evade the call of greater gathering by Shorbodolio Kendriyo Rashtrobhasha Kormi Porishod. On 21 February, 1952, Barkat joined the fateful rally at Dhaka University and became shot at the very initial stage of police aggression. Rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital with other injured, he fought for the whole day. Abul Barkat was pronounced dead at 8pm on that day at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. He was buried at Azimpur Graveyard.
Abdul Jabbar was born to Hasan Ali and Safatun Nesa on 11 October, 1919 in the village Panchua at Gaffargaon Upazila, Mymensingh. He discontinued his education being a student of Dhopaghat Krishibazar Primary School, mostly due to poverty and the fact that he had to help his father in farming.
In order to seek better fortune, Jabbar travelled by train to Narayanganj, then an important place with commerce, naval communication etc. In Narayanganj Jabbar got in touch with a British national who found a job for him in Myanmar, the then Burma. Jabbar returned home after working for 12 years in Burma. Upon his return, Jabbar organized few youngsters of his village and formed a village defense group under his command.
In 1949 Jabbar married Amina Khatun, his friend’s sister. In one and half year, they were blessed with a boy, who was named Nurul Islam Badal.
The night before the decisive 21 February, Jabbar came to Dhaka to take his mother-in-law home. Jabbar’s mother-in-law, suffering from cancer, was being treated in Dhaka Medical College Hospital. The following day, seeing a procession onward beside the hospital, Jabbar went ahead and joined a rally. Jabbar’s rally was one of the those on which police opened fire. Jabbar was shot and was rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital where he fought for a day. Jabbar succumbed his wounds on 22 February, 1952.
Abdus Salam was an employee of Directorate of Industries Dhaka. He was born to Mohammed Fajil Miah in 1925 in the village Lakshmipur of Feni. Being a peon of the Directorate of Industries, he lived at 36B Nilkhet Barrack, the place that was allotted to him for his being a government employee.
Salam attended the pre-planned procession at Dhaka University premises on 21 February, 1952, and later became part of the action to violate section 144. As the police responded with tear shell shots, a group of protesters including Abdus Salam ran toward the assembly building where they tried to make the legislators convey their insistence to the house. As the group tried to bar the way of the legislators, police opened fire and Salam got injured with several other protesters. In the same wave of fire, Rafiquddin received a lethal head shot and died on the spot.
Abdus Salam was rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital where doctors started fighting with his blood loss. Salam’s injuries were severe and appeared to take time to recover. After nearly a two weeks fight, 27-year old Abdus Salam succumbed his wounds on 7 April, 1952 under treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Shafiur Rahman was born in 1918 in the village Konnagar at Hooghly, West Bengal, where in fact his family lived before the 1947 partition. His father Maulvi Mujibur Rahman migrated to East Pakistan in 1948 and got employed as a superintendent at the Post and Telegraph Office. Shafiur was employed at the Accounts section of High Court in Dhaka and simultaneously studied law in Dhaka University as an evening student. He was married.
The entire region turned stunned after police opened fire on the protesters on 21 February, 1952 and instantly killed at least 4 of them. A large crowd gathered for further protests and mourning in Dhaka on 22 February. In such a demonstration taking place at Rathkhola, Nawabpur, Dhaka, police again opened fire. Shafiur Rahman, who joined the mourning of the deaths of 21 February, was shot beside the Khoshmahal Restaurant near Rathkhola and died on the spot. He was 34-year old.
Abdul Awal died after a military truck was driven over a condolence procession on 22 February, 1952 taking place in front of today’s High Court. Awal was a rickshawpuller and was 26-year old.
Ohi Ullah was a teenager who died on 22 February shootings at Rathkhola, Nawabpur, Dhaka condolence rally and his death was never officially acknowledged by the government. His father Habibur Rahman was a construction worker.
Abdul Awal was not the only victim of the 22 February killings in front of the High Court. As a condolence rally was deliberately ran over by a military truck, a teenager too died who was later never identified because police snatched his corpses and later never acknowledged the killing.
- Asiatic Society of Bangladesh
- South Asia Analysis Group
- Encyclopaedia of World’s Languages
- Richard D. Lambert (Far Eastern Survey at April 1959)
- Bangla Academy
- Amar Ekushe (http://www.21stfebruary.org)
- The Azad
- Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies