Language Movement (1948-1956) : The background behind the International Mother Language Day


By reading this article, the reader will be abble to learn the primitive stage of language movement, major causes behind the movement, Tamuddin Majlish, Major event of language movement, Consequence and significance, Shahid Minar, Achievement of Language Movement, language martyrs and specifically the background behind the International Mother Language Day. Reader can also answer why 21 February is called International Mother Language Day.

Overview of Bangla Language Users

Currently the following is the stat of total Bengali users around the world –

§  Bangladesh 59.99%

§  India 38.21%

§  Other Country 1.8%


Primitive Stage of Language Movement

Right to mother language is one of the important citizen rights. The mother language of the 56% majority people was Bangla; Urdu was not the mother language of any regions in Pakistan. But the attempt was made to impose Urdu as state language. The attempt to impose Urdu as state language in an undemocratic manner was resisted by the Bangalis. The movement was thus initiated by the Bangalis which has been known as Language Movement. In an Education Conference in Karachi held in December 194 7, Urdu was proposed as state language. The student leaders, intelligentsia and political leaders of East Bengal formed Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad on the struggle for State Language. They demanded that Bangla be one of the state languages of Pakistan. Consequently, we saw that in the first session of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan held on 23 February, 1948 Mr. Dhirendranath Dutta from Comilla, an Assembly Member, tabled a bill of introducing Bangla as the language of assembly along with Urdu and English. But from the beginning the Pakistani rulers were not willing to accept this demand.

In the first stage of Language Movement, the students observed 11 March 1948 as the day for the demand of Bangla language, A general strike was declared on that day. Student leaders of East Pakistan Muslim Student’s League (established on January 4, 1948) who had been studying in the University of Dhaka were leading this movement. In the Morning on 11 March police arrested Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Shamsul Haq Oli Ahad and many others while they were picketing in front of the Secretariat

In this stage of Language Movement, on 21 March of 1948, the founder and the then Governor General of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah upon his visit to Dhaka declared at Race Course Maidan (currently Suhrawardy Uddyan) that “Urdu and only Urdu shall be the state language of Pakistan". This declaration was instantly protested. One of the prominent protesters was Bangabandhu. To initiate and organize the movement, he played a leading role. Because of this he was arrested several times. Before Jinnah's visit to Dhaka, an 8-point agreement was signed between the Chief Minister of East Bengal Khawja Nazimuddin and the student leaders. In that agreement, the decision was taken to take initiative for according Bangla the status of one of the state languages. Jinnah repeated his prior declaration while addressing the Convocation of students in Curzon Hall on 24 March. The protests were also staged there. Breaking the agreement with the students, Khawja Nazimuddin declared Urdu as the only state language on January 26, 1952 at Paltan Maidan. From this declaration started the second phase of the language movement. The All party Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad was formed with Kazi Gulam Mahbub as the Convenor. Before this, Dhaka University Rashtrabhasba Sangram Committee was formed in the Dhaka Univexsity with Abdul Matin as the Convenor. The renewed declaration of Urdu as the state language by Khawja Nazimuddin led the students in East Bengal to rise in anger. In prison, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Mobiuddin Ahmed went on hunger strike from 16 January to demand for release of state prisoners and 'State language Bangla'. This added a new dimension to the movement. On behalf of the students, general strikes and protest demonstrations were called all over East Bengal on 21st February.

“Provatfery” of Bangabandhu and Maulana Bhasani in Dhaka on 21 February 1954

On the day before 21st February, the government declared a state of emergency banning all meetings under section 11. In pursuance of the previously declared program students organized meetings and took out procession defying the section 144 imposed by the government. Police shot at the procession. Consequently, Salam, Barkat, Jabbar and many others who were at the forefront of the procession were shot dead instantly by police. The Pakistani ruling elites were compelled to accept Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan. It was recognized in 1956 Constitution. Bangali is the only nation in the world which sacrificed their lives for the cause of language. According to the decision of UNESCO, the UN recognized 21 February as the day of International Mother language (17 November, 1999). At present, our martyr day is celebrated as 'International Mother Language Day' all over the world.

Though Pakistan was founded upon the religious identity, Bangalis - beyond this religious identity- established their identity based on language. So Language Movement made the Bangalis aware of their self rights. It thus expedited their aspirations for national liberation.

Major Causes Behind the Language Movement

Social & Cultural

          Language is the crucial part of any culture.

          “Urdu” failed to represent our culture


          Bangla must be lifted to achieve freedom in real sense

          Domination of any alien language is the worst  kind of domination

          The mistake became a weapon.


          Exclusion of Bangla

          People will become “illiterate &ineligible”

          Causing economic downfall.

Tamuddun Majlish

September 1, 1947, under Principal Abul Kashem leadership, Pakistan Tamuddun Majlish, the initiating organisation of the Language Movement, was established. On September 15, 1947, Principal Abul Kashem  published `Rashtro Bhasha Bangla Na Urdu?’.


Major Events of Language Movement

IN 1947, 15th November

Educator Fazlur Rahman  opposed “URDU” as the national language in the Pakistan educational conference

IN 1947, 6th December

Teachers & students of the university of Dhaka demanded Bangla as an official language

IN 1947, 30th December

First “Rashtro vasha Sangram Parishad” was formed by Tamuddun Majlish

1948, 23rd February

Dhirendranath Dutta a Bengali opposition member moves resolution in the frist session of Pakistan constituent Assembly for recognize Bengali as a state language along with Urdu & English.

 1948, 11th march

A general strike was observed in the towns of EAST Pakistan in protest against the omission of Bangla from the language of the constituent assembly absence of Bangla letters in Pakistan coins and stamps and use of Urdu in recruitment tests for the navy.

In 1948

In particular situation Khwaja Nazimuddin signed an eight-point agreement with the student leader where it  was mentioned that Bengali will also be honored as one of the official language

1948, 21th march

Mohammad Ali Jinnah the founder of Pakistan in Dhaka university convocation “The state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu”

Dhirendranath Datta noted that out of 69 million population of Pakistan, 44 million were from East Pakistan and Bangla as their mother tongue.

1952,26th january

In a public meeting at paltan maidan Dhaka, prime minister Nazimuddin declares that Urdu alone will be state language of Pakistan

1952, 31th January

A broad-based all party committee of action(ACPA) is constituted with Kazi Golam Mahboob as convener and Maulana Bhashani as chairman and with two representatives.

1952, 3rd  February

In protest meeting  the committee of action decided hold general strike on 21st February.

1952, 20th February

An order was promulgated under section 144 of the criminal procedure code prohibiting processions and meeting in Dhaka.

1952, 21st February

The student of Dhaka university decided to defy the official  ban in meeting and decided to protest in peaceful procession. The police opened fired on student in front of medical college hostel. Mohammad Salauddin ,Abdul Jabbar,Abdul Barkat,Rafiquddin Ahmed,Abdus Salam were among those who became martyrs

1954, 9th may

The Pakistan government recognizes Bengali as a state language.

Consequences and Significance

Decided to commemorate 21st February as Shohid Dibosh  by the Sorbodolio Kendrio Rashtrovasha Kormi Porishod.

Feburuary 21,1956:

Recognition made on the constitution that “the state language of Pakistan shall be URDU & BENGALI

This movement laid on major foundation.


Shaheed Minar

          The first Shaheed Minar was built immediately after the events of 21–22 February 1952

          Shahid minar was first made by the students of Dhaka Medical College

          Shahid minar  was built to tribute the martyrs who given up their life for language.

          The Minar was inaugurated by the father of Sofiur Rahman

          It was demolished on 26 February by the police and Pakistani Army

It is also known as –

          Moder gorob

          Omor ekushe

          Highest Shahid Minar

          Shriti minar

          Shahid minar


          Akhil paul

          Jahanara Parvin

          Robiul Hossain

          Hamidur Rahman

          Murtaja Baseer


          Bangla academy Chattar

          Jahangirnagar University

          Jahangirnagar University

          National University

          Rajshahi University

Achievement of Language Movement

          Declaration of international mother language day

          UNESCO  declare in 17th november1999,21st February as the International Mother Language Day.

How many were martyred in 1952 Language Movement?

We often hear the names of five martyrs: Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar and Shafiur. To find the names of other victims we have to turn to books written on the Language Movement. But, even after so many years, there is no complete list of martyrs. According to available information from Feb 21 and Feb 22, 1952, many people were killed in indiscriminate firing by government forces, but not all of them have been recognized.

On Saturday, Feb 23, 1952, the ‘Sainik’ publication of the Language Movement was published. In the news section it was stated that police fired on students gathering at the medical college hostel on Thursday, killing seven people and injuring 300. But, according to the report published in the Daily Azad, nine people were killed in firing on Feb 21 and Feb 22.

Many bodies were removed.

Calcutta-based newspaper Daily Anandabazar published an article on Feb 23 titled “The Total Death Toll from Thursday and Friday is 9”.

Pakistan’s exiled writer Lal Khan wrote in his book “Pakistan’s Other Story: The Revolution in 1968-69” that 26 people were killed and 400 injured in police firing. The book was published in Lahore in 2008.

According to information provided by Oli Ahad, organiser of  Language Movement, no one knows the exact number of people killed on Feb 22 in Victoria Park (now Bahadur Shah Park), Nawabpur Road and Bangshal Road. Ahmad Rafiq mentioned the names of Abdul Awal, Kishore Ahilyaullah and Sirajuddin among the dead in his book “Ekush Theke Ekattor”.

Hassan Hafizur Rahman edited the “Ekushey February” compilation. In this compilation, Kabir Uddin Ahmed wrote an article on “Ekushey History”.

“The death of eight is undoubtedly confirmed,” he wrote.

Accordingly, MR Akhtar Mukul has made a list of eight language martyrs. Those killed on Feb 21 were identified as Rafiquddin Ahmad, Abul Barkat, Abdul Jabbar, Abdus Salam, Shafiqur Rahman, Abdul Awal, Ahualullah and an unidentified boy. But only five people were officially recognised as Language Martyrs – Abul Barkat, Abdul Jabbar, Rafiquddin Ahmad, Abdus Salam and Shafiur Rahman. They received the Ekushey Padak in 2000.

Barkat and Jabbar were students of Dhaka University. Rafiq was the son of the owner of  Badamtali Commercial Press. They were killed on Feb 21, 1952. The next day, on Feb 22, rickshaw puller Salam and High Court employee Shafiur died in police firing. Two more names are found on the list of deaths on Feb 22, 1952 – Ahualullah and Abdul Awal. On the website of the International Mother Language Institute, these two are mentioned as Language Martyrs. Salahuddin’s name has also been recognised as a Feb 21 martyr in many other places. But they are not officially recognised.

The actual number of Language Martyrs will be unknown to our next generation if the government does not publish the proper information. The current generation is eager to know the truth of a pivotal moment in the history of our country and our culture.


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