Ekushe Boi Mela (Book Fair)

by Barrister Harun ur Rashid | March 2, 2015 3:31 am

28th February was the last day of the Book Mela (Book Fair) and every year it is held during the month of February to honour and remember the martyrs of 21st February. The day is observed as the Language Martyr’s Day and it is a day of national mourning, pride, reflection and action.

Since 1979, the Ekushey February Book Fair was held at the Bangladesh Academy premises. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the Book Mela fair on 1st February this year as she has been doing since 2009. For the few years, the Mela has spread over the Suhrawardy Uddyan, across the street from the Bangla Academy.

According to Bangla Academy, this year 3,700 new books from different publishers hit the fair . It is reported that .number of visitors to the Fair was comparatively less than those of other years because of the restive political situation It is reported that publishers claimed that the book sale was reduced to 60% because people from districts could not come to Book Mela because of lack of safety in the transportation sector.

For readers, the price of Bangla books has become very expensive because the printing paper and other materials are costly. Publishers say that the government may consider in exempting tax and custom duties on printing paper and other materials so as to make books easily available to readers at an affordable price.

It is good to note that during the last few years, free text books are provided by the government to all students and drop out from primary schools of poor students before secondary school stage has been reduced due to effective incentives for retention of students.

International Mother Language Day:

It was 63 years ago in 1952 that on this day among others, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar, Shafiur and Salam sacrificed their young precious lives for honour and preservation of mother language, Bangla.

Scottish historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) called the language “the body of thought”. This implies that if a mother tongue is crushed, thoughts and ideas will inevitably die.

Only in 1954, the United Front government of Abu Hussain Sarker of East Bengal declared public holiday for this day.

It has been a day of pride for all people of Bangladesh that the supreme sacrifice made on this day in 1952 has eventually led to the recognition of preservation of mother languages worldwide.

At the initiative of Bangladesh government, it was 17th November 1999, the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) adopted 21st February as the International Mother Language Day. For the first time, UNESCO observed 21st February, 2000 as the International Mother Language Day.

About 6, 912 mother languages are thought to exist today. But social, demographic and political factors are all contributing to possible disappearance of about 2,500 languages. Of the 2500 languages, 196 in India, 192 in the US, and 147 in Indonesia, are likely to disappear, according to a report of UNESCO.

Furthermore 199 languages are spoken by a few. For example, the language, Middle Chulym, now spoken by a handful Siberian townsfolk (45 in number), has integrated into Russian language and once the last fluent speaker dies, the language will be extinct.

What is lost when a language is lost is another world, according to many language experts Valuable ethnographic and cultural information disappears when a language dies, leaving a gap in understanding of the variable cognitive structures of which human brain is capable.

It is reported that 3 million people of 75 indigenous communities in Bangladesh speak their mother languages, other than Bangla.. Of the 38 languages they use, five have their own alphabets other than Bangla, disclosed by the Research and Development Collective, a NGO. Their languages need to be preserved.

Richness of Bangla language:

Of all the languages in South Asia, Bangla is the first to develop a literature of a very high order and still holds the model for other languages. Bangla writers in the past and present have enriched the language by transfusing Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic and English languages in it. Bangla was raised to its highest fame by Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore) when he was awarded in 1913 the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Bangla language is unique in the sense that it has many varieties of way to describe an object. For example, in English an “eye” has only one expression to describe but in Bengali an “eye” can be described more than one way (akhi, nayan, chok, padmalochon etc).

Brief history of Language Movement:

On February 23, 1948 in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly in Karachi, Dhirendranath Dutta, a member of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, made a speech calling for Bengali to be made one of the official languages of Pakistan. He stated as follows:

“I know, Sir, that Bengali is a provincial language, but, so far our state is concerned, it is the language of the majority of the people of the state. So although it is a provincial language, as a language of the majority of the people of the state it stands on a different footing. Out of six crores and ninety lakhs [69 million] of people of people inhabiting this State, 4 crores and 40 lakhs 44 million of people speak the Bengali language. So, Sir, what should be the State language of the State of Pakistan? The State language of the State should be the language which is used by the majority of the people of the State, and for that, Sir, I consider that Bengali language is a lingua franca of our State.”

However, .in 1948 on 19th March , Pakistan’s Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah, popularly known as Quaid-e-Azam, told at a gathering of students of Dhaka University that Urdu should only be state language of Pakistan, ignoring the fact that Bangla is the mother tongue of 56% of people of Pakistan. Many students at the meeting shouted at Mr. Jinnah with “No, No and No”.

Meanwhile in 1950, students formed “ Bangla State Language Action Committee and worked tirelessly to make Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan.

The immediate starting point of the tragedy of 21st February is that on 27th January, 1952, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Khwaja Nazimuddin announced at a public meeting that Urdu alone should be the state language of Pakistan. Nazimuddin’s mother tongue was Urdu because he belonged to Dhaka Nawab family. He did not realize the importance of Bangla language for the Bengali people.

The students were infuriated on the announcement because Nazimuddin as chief minister of East Bengal in 1948 signed an agreement with the leaders of ‘Rashtrabhasa Sangram Parishad ( State Language Action Committee) with a commitment to adopt a resolution of having Bangla as the other state language of Pakistan by the provincial Assembly. The members of the Committee were non-students, such as, Professor Abul Kashem, Kamruddin Ahmed,(later Ambassador), Mohammad Toaha, Naimuddin Ahmed (later Advocate) and Abdur Rahman Chowdhury (later a Judge of the High Court).

It may be mentioned that subsequently students of the Dhaka University and Dhaka Medical College took a robust role in the cause of Language Movement and took a crucial decision and defied the wishes of politicians to violate Section 144 (prohibiting an assembly more than five persons) on 21st February, 1952. . The then political leaders did not want to destabilize the political situation by lending support to students to violate Section 144 to delay general election in East Bengal, (later East Pakistan, now Bangladesh)..

To protest against the announcement, on 21st February, 1952, agitated unarmed students of Dhaka University, both male and female, violated Section 144 in order to proceed to the elected members of the East Bengal Legislative Assembly ( near SM Hall) to present their demand and Nurul Amin was the Chief Minister.

It may be recalled that the authority which controlled magistracy and police in East Bengal were all West Pakistanis and the Chief Secretary Aziz Ahmed was from the Punjab province. Naturally they were against Bangla language for its adoption as one of the state languages of Pakistan.

On their way at the site of the Medical College students’ hostel number 12, at 3-30 PM, the police opened fire on the peaceful procession of students by an order of a Magistrate (a West Pakistani).

Jabbar and Rafiq died on the spot, while three others died later in hospital ( an impromptu monument had been set up by Medical College students on the site of the current Shaheed Minar ) It is believed that many more were killed including a boy of ten year old but their bodies were taken away by the police and were secretly buried. The rest is history.

During the United Front Government of Abu Hossain Sarkar in 1955, , the house which was the residence of Nurul Amin (known as Burdwan House after the Zamindar of Burdwan in West Bengal ) became the Bangla Academy. Earlier the Chief Minister Shere-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq of the United Front led by Bhashani, Suhrawardy and Fazlul Huq after winning the election in 1954 took some steps to turn the Burdwan House to Bangladesh Academy but he could not do it because of his dismissal by the Pakistan government.

Bangla Academy’s task:

Many suggest language is a living thing and must be relevant for all people. Bangla Academy may consider the following: First, the grammar of Bangla language needs to be simplified. Second, some alphabets of Bangla need to be revisited as to whether all alphabets are necessary or not. Third, the spelling of Bangla is to be made easy and practical for writing. Fourth, monitoring in schools how Bangla literature is taught and training for correct pronunciation of Bangla words for teachers in schools may be undertaken.


Another fact we must not forget that learning of Bangla does not mean that we do not learn other languages, especially English. Multi-lingual skill is an asset for every one and English has turned into a language of trade, commerce and further higher education overseas.

Finally, 21st February is more than a language movement for people of Bangladesh. Many historians think 21st February laid the seed of the foundation of a separate state of Bangladesh on the basis of Bengali nationalism. The ethnicity of Bangalee remains wherever he/she lives and cannot be changed, while an individual may change his/her religion.

The spirit of nationalism aptly summed up by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib when he said: “I am Bengali, my nationalism is Bengali.” The Constitution as amended last year in its Article 6 (2) describes “the people of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangalees as a nation and the citizens of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangladeshis.”

by Barrister Harun ur Rashid; Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

Source URL: https://priyoaustralia.com.au/articles/2015/ekushe-boi-mela-book-fair/