EKUSHE: Bengali Language Martyr’s Day by Sanjukta Ghosh
SSAI Artistic Director, Sanjukta Ghosh delivered a statement on the occasion of UNESCO International Mother Language Day 2020 upon invitation by H.E. Saida Muna Tasneem, Bangladesh High Commissioner, at the commemoration of the ‘Bengali Language Martyrs Day’ on Friday, 21 February. Mother Language Day is part of a broader initiative “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world” as adopted by the UN General Assembly on May 16, 2007, in UN resolution 61/266, which also established 2008 as the International Year of Languages. UNESCO has declared ‘Languages without borders’ as the theme for International Mother Language Day in 2020.
Sanjukta spoke on the UNESCO theme of building peaceful, inclusive and sustainable societies through the promotion of cross border and shared languages by focusing on the initiative of Bangladesh where the Bangla language movement as a factor in sub-nationalism gave birth to a nation. The imposition of Urdu as an official language in the post-Partition period, not only displaced communities and material property but also traded with the spirit of being Bangali – a strong language and place-based ethnic identity.
Bengali identity is closely linked to kinship, language, etiquette, food, codes of conduct and morality that are rooted in cultural and linguistic distinctiveness. This is also due to the dominance of indigenous traditions in the form of rituals and festivities that are portable and can be artistically recreated wherever Bengalis move and choose to settle. The diaspora in the UK, Europe and the US are prime examples of how the creative industry thrives and contributes to the host economy. In South Asia, beyond the political doctrine of cooperation among the SAARC, there is a natural dialogue between Bangladesh and West Bengal among whom the official border created by the colonial era Partition does not exist in the heart and soul of millions who were displaced and made cross border settlements. She elaborated on cross-border cultural partnerships in oral traditions, sharing of skills, artistic productions such as youth rock music, textile exhibits, theatre and cinema productions, book fairs, travel and educational exchanges.
The centenary of Bangladesh’s Liberation leader Mujibur Rahman and the language architect of the Bengal Renaissance — Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s 150 years, known for his Barno Porichoy or the Bengali Alphabets has currently led to several key symbolic exchanges between Bangladesh and West Bengal such as a bicycle ride from Kolkata to Dacca. Referring to a historic family meeting, in 1971-73, post-liberation war, when Mujib first came to Kolkata he met with her maternal relation Ila Mitra, the veteran Tebhaga peasant movement leader at the airport, and asked as to why she was not in Bangladesh, where she bravely fought the prisons and the police and where she would be protected as their daughter. The example is drawn to show how cross border political talks on prisoners, those seeking refuge was permeated by ideas of cultural and linguistic friendship, familiarity, and a common political will to fight injustice.
Language as the tool of emotional sustenance is important to create dialogues and sustain international understanding between borders. To draw the full circle of the UNESCO theme of “Building peaceful, inclusive and sustainable societies through the promotion of cross border and shared languages”, she quoted from a popular poster collected by Badruddin Umar during the language movement that precisely made the connection between physical and emotional sustainability: ”Chaler Badale Khud Khaichho, Chinir Badale Gur, Labaner Katha Naiba Ballam, Ebar Sare Charkotir Mukher Bhasa Kerenite Shahas Korona” (You offered us poor rice, substandard sugar, not to mention salt, and now you’ve come to snatch away mother tongue of 45 million). The episodes from the past and examples from the present inspire future commitment to build Bangla as the bridge of communication and cross border sustenance while revealing people’s multi-layered identities.