February 21 turned into Struggle for Independence - By : Ehtesham Arshad Nezami Chicago, USA

image I have the honor of accompanying Sheikh Kamal Hussain, perhaps in the 21st February procession of 1969 when I was an Intermediate student at Dhaka College. In the same procession a student named Assad was killed by the police. Later the name of the ďAyub GateĒ in Muhammadpur was changed to ďAssad Gate.Ē

February 21 is a significant date for the Bangladeshis and the Bengalis around the world, no matter where they live. In fact, the language movement itself laid the foundation for the independence of Bangladesh. Within six months of the creation of Pakistan, the people of East Pakistan realized the highhandedness of West Pakistan. On December 6, 1947, in a rally in Dhaka University, it was demanded that Bengali language be proclaimed Pakistanís second official language. Then in 1948, when the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was addressing a studentsí gathering in Dhaka University, he was asked about the national language of Pakistan. He replied that, ĎPakistanís national language will be Urdu and only Urdu.Ē That reply resulted in a protest on the spot by the students, including the founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, demanding that Bengali also be recognized as Pakistanís national language.
Later in 1952, when the students of Dhaka University took out a procession to demand that Bengali, too, be made the national language of Pakistan, the police opened fire and killed several students. No doubt these were extra judicial killings. Many intellectuals in Pakistan still criticize Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnahís decision to make Urdu the only official language of Pakistan. As a matter of fact, Urdu was not the language of any province of Pakistan. Mr. Jinnah himself could not speak Urdu well. He thought that Urdu could serve as the lingua-franca among different provinces of Pakistan, but neither he nor his successor Liaquat Ali Khan realized that the Bengalis were too sentimental about their language. After the death of these two leaders, the next governments, too, handled this problem erroneously.
In the same way, the Baluchistan problem is being mishandled right from the first governor generalís time until this day. As a result, a large number of Baluchis are not happy with Pakistan and voices are being raised for secession from Pakistan. Unfortunately Pakistanís leaders have always committed political blunders and could not even keep only five provinces united. Today they are doing with the urban population of Sindh what they did to the people of East Pakistan after independence and to the people of Baluchistan in the coming years. If, right from the beginning, Bengali language had been recognized as the national language together with Urdu, the situation would not have taken this drastic turn. Since an atmosphere of mistrust was created since 1947, a time came that the Bengalis refused to be a part of Pakistan.
On February 23, 1948, the constitutional assembly of Pakistan was meeting in Karachi. Someone from West Pakistan proposed that the members should address the assembly either in English or in Urdu. Dharendra Nath Dutta, a member of the constituent assembly from East Pakistan demanded that Bengali should also be included as one of the official languages of the constituent assembly. The member pleaded that out of 69 million people of Pakistan, 44 million peoplesí mother tongue was Bengali. Choosing the national language on the basis of mother tongue was a controversial issue at that time, but the concept of such language being the national language of the country had weight.
Ironically, the main leaders at that time, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan rejected the idea. Khwaja Nazimuddin and Noorul Ameen, who hailed from East Pakistan, also did not support this demand. Not only this, but Khwaja Nazimuddin announced at the Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, that Urdu will be the national language of Pakistan, which enraged the students. Later in 1956 Bengali was recognized as the national language of Pakistan, together with Urdu; but it was too late. The chasm of mistrust had widened and the follies of the West Pakistani leaders had distraught the Bengalis. They thought that living with West Pakistan would be fruitless.
The West Pakistani politicians and rulers were so oblivious and occupied with themselves that they did not read the writing on the wall. When the first elections were held in 1954, the Muslim League was wiped out from East Pakistan. Bengali stalwarts like A. K. Fazlul Haque, Maulana Abdul Hameed Bhashani, and Ataur Rahman Khan had left Muslim League. Only Hussain Shaheed Suharwardi, together with his disciple Sheikh Mujibur Rahman remained. It is said that Mr. Jinnah did not treat Suharwardi well. In my opinion, the foundation of Bangladesh was laid at the time when, due to the improvidence of the West Pakistani leaders, Muslim League was routed out from East Pakistan.
It is so unfortunate that a government kills its own students for protesting on the language issue. The position of the non-Bengalis in East Pakistan became questionable due to the irresponsibility of the West Pakistanis. They spoke Urdu and because of that their position became controversial in the eyes of the Bengalis. It is unfortunate for Pakistanis that after the creation of Bangladesh the Baluchis, too, are not happy and the urban population of Sindh considers itself unsafe in Pakistan. On top of that the Pakistanis betrayed those loyal people who had migrated to East Pakistan and sacrificed everything not only to create Pakistan but to save it from disintegration. They opted to go to Pakistan after the secession of East Pakistan, but the Pakistanis cruelly rebuffed them. If Pakistan can accommodate 3 million Afghans and 2 million Bengalis, then why not 250,000 loyal Pakistanis? Even though Pakistan has signed International treaties with India, Bangladesh and the Muslim World League to repatriate the stranded Pakistanis from Bangladesh to Pakistan, it has backed out.
I admire the people and the government of Bangladesh that even after 45 years they have not expelled those stranded people. In many camps electricity is provided free of charge. Whenever I visit Bangladesh, I meet with Awami League Joint Secretary and Member of Parliament Mr. Jahangeer Kabeer Nanak, Co-Chairman of Jatio Party and former Minister of Commerce Ghulam Quader and other Bengali leaders at their homes. They not only welcome me with love and respect, they show great concern and empathy for the camp dwellers.
The Bengali Language Movement is the only movement of its kind in the world that led to the independence of a country. The Bengali studentsí struggle, under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, started with the language movement and culminated in the independence of the country in only 25 years.
If Pakistan did not learn lesson from its past, it is hard to predict a better and prosperous future of Pakistan.

(The author of this article is a Pakistani American freelance journalist, writer and political analyst, earned his SSC and HSC certificate from Dhaka and later did his masters in Political Science in Karachi University. He contributes his analysis to several ethnic newspapers of North America and Pakistani media as well as to Voice of America Radio service).

Posted on Feb 19, 17 | 11:33 pm