On ‘International Mother Tongue Day’, bloggers and intellectuals in Bangladesh, where the language movement originated in 1952, feel the very idea of freedom of speech and expression is now under threat in the country.
International Mother Language Day is observed on Sunday to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.
The date February 21 corresponds to the day in 1952 when students from the University of Dhaka, Jagannath University and Dhaka Medical College demonstrating for the recognition of Bengali as one of the two national languages of then East Pakistan (present Bangladesh), were shot dead by police in Dhaka.
According to present day bloggers of Bangladesh, who are under the constant threat of fundamentalists, the very idea of the February 21, 1952 mother tongue movement was to establish freedom of speech, expression, which was now under threat in the country.
“The idea of February 21 language movement by our ancestors was to establish a Bangladesh where there will be freedom of speech, expression and free thought. But at present that very idea which later on snowballed into the liberation war in 1971, is under threat from fundamentalist forces like Jamat,” leading blogger Imran H Sarkar, who was one of the main architects behind the 2013 Shahbag protests, told PTI.
“Those attacks on bloggers and threats to liberal-minded people are a handiwork of Jamaat-e-Islami and other radical fundamentalist elements, who were opposed to both 1971 liberation war and also 1952 language movement,” he said. According to Sarkar, the attack on free thought and liberal minded intellectuals started just after the Shahbag movement in Bangladesh in February 2013 when protests had rocked with demands of capital punishment for war criminals of 1971.
“The first blogger was killed in February 2013, and in 2015 four other bloggers were hacked to death who were critical of the rise of fundamentalism and were demanding severe punishments for the 1971 war criminals,” Sarkar said.
Another blogger Arif Jebtiq, who has been under constant threat from fundamentalists for his blogs, feels fundamentalists “who are hand in glove with those forces who had opposed our liberation, want to curb the freedom of expression and free thought in order to defeat the idea of liberation war and language movement”.
The elimination of bloggers started in February 2013 with the killing of Ahmed Rajib Haider followed by American- Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy in February 2015 followed by Washiqur Rahman in March, Ananta Bijay Das in May and Niladri Chattopadhyay Niloy in 2015. Noted Bangladeshi writer Shahriar Kabir too agreed with the views of the bloggers and felt that there was a need to raise awareness about the sacrifices made by the people of Bangladesh during the language movement in order to defeat the fundamentalist forces. “There is a need to defeat the fundamentalist forces and in order to do that we have to raise awareness about the sacrifices made by the martyrs of language movement and the atrocities committed by the fundamentalists like Jamat during the language movement and liberation war. Bangladesh can’t and will never ever surrender before the fundamentalist and communal forces,” Kabir said. Another Blogger Israt Jahan Urmi, who too had received several threats for her views against fundamentalists, feels that attack on bloggers won’t be able to defeat the cause of establishing a liberal society which preaches freedom of speech and expression.
“Killing and attack on bloggers won’t be able to defeat the cause we are fighting for. If murders and threats by fundamentalists were powerful enough to terrorise us, then we would not have achieved our freedom in 1971,” she said.
The Bangladeshi government has taken a three-pronged approach to defeat the fundamentalists and uphold the ideals and principles of language movement and liberation war.