Numerous intrepid people were marching through the streets on the 21st of February 1952 for the noble cause of the demand for recognition of the Bangla language, their beloved mother tongue, whereupon Abul Barkat (1927-1952), a Dhaka University student, was shot dead by police on the campus. Instead of sparking panic, the blood-splattered body of the martyr ignited renewed ardent zeal among the masses throughout the length and breadth of what is now Bangladesh. On the following day Salam, Jabbar, Rafiq and some others dyed the streets red with their blood which eternally spelled the perpetuity of the Bangla Bhasha, recorded in our annals as the “Immortal Ekushey”. The Language Movement was in effect the prelude to the liberation of Bangladesh because from it germinated the Independence struggle which had its successful culmination when on 16 December, 1971, this nation won freedom.
At the beginning a democratic protest, the movement eventually took the shape of a well organised struggle. A highly explosive political issue, the struggle gradually gathered momentum like an irresistible tidal wave. Hence the unique importance of the Ekushey or Twenty-first February, and for that reason every year the nation pays rich tribute to the language martyrs. The love and reverence of the people for the martyrs are symbolised in the Shaheed Minar, the monument commemorating our brethren who made that supreme sacrifice.
Ekushey conjures up the images of our resplendent, glorious heritage built by our great scholars and statesmen. A year ahead of the Great Divide of the Indian subcontinent the great bibliophile and polyglot Dr Muhammad Shahidullah was the first to write a comprehensive article in 1946 arguing in favour of Bangla as the sate language of Pakistan. The linguist sage very cogently argued that the overwhelming majority of the people demanding Bangla spoke Bengali, while the people of Pakistan spoke Punjabi, Baluch, Sindhi and Poshtu —and not Urdu. The then East Bengal Muslim League (EBML) was a robust political party whose membership rolls exceeded half a million in 1944. With Kamruddin Ahmed as its convenor, the progressive leftist members of the EBML formed in June 1947 a party called Gono Azadi League which affirmed that the Bangla will be the State Language.
In 1948 the Tamaddun Majlish ™, led by Dewan Mohammad Azraf and Abul Quasem, a Physics professor at Dhaka University, spearheaded the cause of Bangla. The TM published its Bangla weekly paper “Sainik”and issued a booklet entitled “Pakistaner Rashtra Bhasha:
Bangla na Urdu” (Pakistan’s State Language: Bangla or Urdu). Lawmaker Sri Dhiendranath Datta from Comilla proposed in Parliament in Karachi that Bangla be a State language of Pakistan.
Thus the lamp continued to gleam its luminescence till the fateful day, 21 February 1952. Eminent writer and editor of the daily Azad, Abul Kalam Shamsuddin relinquished his position of Member of the Legislative Assembly. President of the Assam Muslim League since the early 1940s, Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, the founder President of the then Awami Muslim League, [subsequently Awami League (AL)] was then the undisputed leader of what is now Bangladesh. The memories of Moulana Bhashani’s offering of ‘munajat’ (supplication to Allah soliciting His blessing) at the simple function inaugurating the first Shaheed Minar [memorial monument] in 1955 are still fresh in the minds of those who were born in the mid-forties of the past century.
Having such a glorious legacy of democratic values behind, the edifice of which was built 65 years ago, Bangladesh after 46 years of its independence has degenerated into a land of contemptible political scenario where autocracy is being practised by the ruling Awami League (AL) who got the national polls conducted in a farcical manner in which 153 persons became MPs — without any contestants — and found themselves ‘elected’ though no voter under the sun voted for them.
Described as “electoral farce in Bangladesh” by the London based respected newspaper Economist in particular and the media in general in the West as dubious polls, the so-called democratic regime now in place after the outlandish election charade, the whole affair has been and will remain a highly contentious event.
With extrajudicial killings galore, enforced disappearances of mostly opposition BNP leaders and activists took place recurrently over the last seven years. During the last three years alone as many as 205 people were killed in the custody of police, RAB etc, nevertheless only three of such cases have been filed, said Ain Salish Kendra, Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust, Odhikar and National Woman Lawyers’ Association, which added that people are afraid of filing cases. [Vide Feb 02, 2017—-Prothom -alo.com/ / bangladesh/ news/ 137915/-/ 205-killed-in-custody -in-3-yrs.]
Governance has been very poor characterised by financial scams of gargantuan proportions in state-owned financial institutions and unbridled corruption has continued, as admitted by the finance minister himself.
As regards attempt to muzzle the media, private TV companies—-Channel One and Diganta—-were shut down by the government in 2010 and 2013 respectively. While the opposition Bangla daily “Amar Desh” and its printing press were closed in 2010, a contingent of 100 policemen was assigned to arrest its acting editor Mahmudur Rahman. A prisoner of conscience, Rahman was behind bars for three and half years.
Standard of education has fallen beyond imagination, and these days question paper leaks do not surprise people. While rowdyism of armed Chhatra League (CL) boys have become a common phenomenon. The CL, the student body of the ruling Awami League, has been hitting the media headlines over the last seven years and more for its horrid criminal activities—-armed assault on opposition BNP leaders and workers, internecine gunfights leading to deaths over securing government contracts, mugging, assaulting a group of Shahjalal University teachers, stripping college teacher naked at Gouripur in Mymensingh, and what have you. Besides, there are allegations of forcible violation and molestation of girl students on the campuses of the Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka University and Eden Girls’ College have been reported. [Vide jjdin. com/ print_ news. php?path =data files/ 296 & cat id=1&menu id= 14&news type_ id= 1&index =5; nirmanblog. com/ shubinoy mustofi/5853; somewhere inblog.net/blog/ahmedmuaz/ 29155183 dated 15 May 2010; and perspective bd.com/2014/02/ political-violence-of chhatra-league-a-chronology.]
Denounced at home and abroad, these depressing, criminalised and frightening states of affairs in Bangladesh must be shocking the language martyrs who are perhaps turning in their graves in extreme indignation.
Jalal Uddin Khan
The argument of this semi-academic and semi-cultural article is that instead of being critical, as many academic and intellectual commentators tend to be, I support and provide justifications for the latter, which is the same as in many other countries, especially former Western European colonies, including the Indian sub-continental ones, in which there are no firewalls around their local or native vernaculars.
Over the years, especially on the occasion of the 21st February in Bangladesh, there is much talk, much clamour and commotion, and much hubbub and hullabaloo concerning the corruption, distortion, and impurity of the national tongue Bangla and the lack of practice of standard Bangla, particularly while speaking. Paradoxically, there are many beautiful proper names in Bangladesh that are a mix of Islamic/Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Bangla, and English words as in the poetry of the national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and the poet of the Muslim Renaissance Farrukh Ahmad. Moreover, there are the names of innumerable organizations, institutions, occasions, advertisements, commercials, and political parties, all of which consist of words taken from different languages, especially English and Bangla together.
Having been colonized for many years by foreign imperialist powers, from the Mughal times to the British, and having been predominantly Arabic-influenced Muslim, and having been exposed to Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit, Persian, and other Sub-Continental languages, Bangladesh has seen its language evolve through an amalgamation of several languages and dialects. It is as mixed as the shankar Bengali/Bungalee race itself—dark, brown, fair, light, tall, short, high, low, fat, thin, lean, ugly, beautiful, skinny, obese, etcetera.
Britain being the last colonial power for more than two hundred years, until 1947, and English being the official language of the upper class in the past (like French and Latin in England during the Middle Ages) and the second most important language in Bangladesh since, there are thousands of English words that have entered the Bangla language and that have become as common as the words of the vernacular itself. There are thousands of names of modern young generation Bangladeshis and hundreds of national institutions which are either all English or a combination of words and terms from different languages. All are beautiful and fashionable names with no problem whatsoever, so that there are no eyebrows raised and no resentments expressed about them.
In addition, (1) when many English professors in the country, ironically and oxymoronically (like the beautiful Shokuni Lake in Madaripur), prefer and practice Bangla more than English, apparently due to their drawbacks and deficiencies in English; (2) when the foreigners, who are also local by virtue of their dual citizenships, could become the Head of the Government of Bangladesh or a Supreme Court Justice or a Government advisor/cabinet minister,and (3)when the family members/grandchildren of the founding father of Bangladesh (who is regarded as Bangabandhu, meaning “Friend of Bengal,” as well as Hazar Bochorer Sresthya Bungalee, the greatest native ever, of a thousand years?) took not only foreign citizenships but also foreign spouses of different faiths and could still potentially (and are actually being groomed to) be in line to become the next prime minister of Bangladesh, why should there be a problem of Bangla when it is mixed with English, especially when it sounds natural, spontaneous, and unlaboured?
However, there is a lament about the vernacular tongue that concerns the fact that the spoken Bangla is being adulterated by mixing it with English or other languages at the same time. If there can be a creative and fashionable mixing from different languages in naming the (proper) names, the mixing of the same in speech (not in writing though) should also be taken as easy and acceptable. This mix is perhaps even rhetorical and creative, as the fusions or remix in modern music and in Nazrul’s and Farrukh’s Islami songs and poems. If the blending of standard and nonstandard speaking styles is acceptable in modern Bangla TV serials and the speeches of the top leaders of the country such as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, one sees no reason to raise a hue and cry over the language of speech, pure or affected, from top to bottom.
To me, the problem lies not in blending in speech but elsewhere. There are a majority of Bangladeshis who are weak both in writing Bangla and speaking Bangla, regardless of how highly and formally educated they are and how well placed they are in their life and profession. Writing can at least be improved through free-or pre-writing, drafting, and revising, which is not possible in the case of speaking. The spelling ability, pronunciation, choice of words, and the sentence formation of many a Bangladeshi suggest that their Bangla, be it written or spoken, is still at the level of local dialect. Compared with the high and powerful positions, both in the government and private sectors, in Europe and America, who nicely speak their respective languages, the equivalent (counterpart) positions in Bangladesh, with exceptions, speak in poor and faulty Bangla and are expected to be more fluent, proficient, and articulate in their command of Bangla as well as English.
Pronunciation in important
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on these areas, modern criticism is directed towards the general mixing of Bangla with some common English words and expressions. I think this kind of amalgam is not as objectionable as the rape of a language by utter mispronunciation and misspelling, be it Bangla or English. That is why there are many Englishes or varieties of English—for example, Indian English, South African or Nigerian English, Malaysian English (Manglish?), Pakistani English (Paklish?), Bangladeshi English (Banglish?), Caribbean English, and Postcolonial or Commonwealth Countries English. It is mainly accent, pronunciation, tonal quality, syntax, and sentence structure, along with the native or local idioms and proverbs that distinguish them from each other. Some of the new varieties are ridiculously funny and egregious. Even then they survive because the business of life has to go on, just as the business of the world goes on between the democracies and the dictatorships, capitalism and socialism, East and West, no matter what. They remain separate in their own or independent ways, yet they meet and share in certain aspects.
Wrong pronunciation in speaking and too much simplified structure of a written sentence, sometimes full of flattering epithets out of crony and coterie political interest, are more detestable and reprehensible than the natural or fashionable fusion of words from two or more languages. If accent and pronunciation are clear and correct with due, diligent and adequate attention to the vowels and syllables and spelling, no mixing can ever sound bad, harsh, hard, or uncouth. In fact, mixing can become a creative and productive fusion if that is done carefully, blending words from different languages well and effectively, as there are many who, in fact, do so nicely and attractively, with considerable rhetorical refinement.
The problem lies not so much in the mixing or blending of words from different languages as in the pronunciation, which is the single most important factor in enhancing the beauty of a language and ridding it of its gross impurities. That is why, accented and mispronounced Bangla coming from all ages and all walks of life from the different regions of the country, including top government positions, sounds horrible, compared with the hybrid blending, in beautiful pronunciation, coming from the selected few of different social and professional groups and families, especially the upscale sections of the society.
Cultivation of pronunciation
Improper, imperfect, and accented pronunciation is like the initial stage of the flower girl Eliza in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, who grows up speaking “kerbstone,” “gutter,” “depressing and disgusting” English, in violation of Shakespearean and Miltonic English, only to achieve perfection later through the phonetics professor Henry Higgins’s laboratory-and-phonograph based scientific speech lessons. Along with scanty attention to spelling, bad/faulty pronunciation is detrimental to the beauty and quality of the language of speech. Except a rare few in the media or the field of arts and culture or even politics, how many Bangla-speaking people, no matter how highly educated they are and how high the positions they occupy are, let alone the ordinary masses, can actually spell and pronounce the letters of the Bengali alphabet itself correctly?
When the entire Bangladesh is suffused and saturated with Hindi/Urdu musicalities and musicologies due to the foreign neighbour’s cultural invasion and infiltration, why to cry about the so-called “Banglish,” which could actually be an indirect but effective catalyst to refine and improve both English and Bangla. If the literary works, songs, and TV serials in different local dialects are held widely acceptable and enjoyable, what is wrong with “Banglish,” especially when it is smart and spontaneous, not enforced? If the world has already emerged as a global village, what is wrong with the major world languages to be dominating the world scene?
Bangla is definitely one of the major world languages. Nobody can or is going to take it away from the Bangladeshis. However, without the fundamentals of accent, pronunciation and spelling, Bangla speech cannot be expected to improve. It is the responsibility of the speakers to naturally inculcate speaking standard (or promito) Bangla. It is also the responsibility of the instructors at all levels, beginning with the primary, to teach the basics of speech and pronunciation. When the teachers themselves are ignorant of the finesse and artifice of accent and pronunciation in their own vernacular, how can they be expected to teach the right kind of speech? Our expectation, then, cannot go beyond the limping and dwarfish stage in the cause of the language.
Priority for practice, cultivation
The practice and cultivation of the standard norms and forms in such matters need to be addressed first, before the so-called mixed style of idioms and expressions of different linguistic origins, which is not as harmful and painful as the other aspects just mentioned. Fusion, blending,—all these come naturally and comfortably, out of confidence and self-esteem, not selfishness or self-ignorance. Those who are weak can speak neither in fusion nor in unbroken standard Bangla. There are of course those who speak beautiful Bangla with fine accent and pronunciation and as such deserve applause.
We must not forget that English is the most widely used language in the world. Politically and financially, it is the most powerful. Naturally, speakers of the disadvantaged languages would like to reach out to English to gain and prove their dazzle and smartness by all available means, which is what the modern material world requires in its hybrid utilitarian job market. Unfortunately, compared with many other non-English speaking countries in Asia and Africa (let alone continental Europeans, who are way better, being almost near-native speakers of English), only a handful of Bangladeshi people can speak fluent English. Anyway, those who are able to speak in beautiful promito Bangla are fit and fine and should be acknowledged and appreciated; those who feel confident and comfortable in probhabito blending in, of course, attractive accent with a beauty of its own should also be considered worthy. There is no good reason to promote one at the expense of vilifying the other. So long as the both styles are fluent and proficient, confident and communicative, there is no rational ground to rebuke and take the latter to task.
Having said so, I do not, however, support or encourage such mixing, but I would not be very critical of it either. Like in academic, political, and literary contexts, shoto ful phut-te dao (let hundreds of different kinds of flowers bloom and blossom and/ let there be many different kinds of flowers). Let the language of speech take its own course. So long as it does not seem to be forced, fractured, artificial, or imposed but does, instead, seem to be coming easy and comfortable with a pert fluency, I see no problem with such English-probhabito (influenced) Bangla. While such fusion and blending, unnecessarily undermined and criticized as corrupt and distorted, should take its free and natural course with the speakers deciding for themselves to what extent they should practice linguistic purity and simplicity, the issue of accent and pronunciation needs to be taken much more seriously and given priority in terms of practice and cultivation from the very beginners’ level.
The writer holds a PhD from NYU New York and is a Professor of English at a University in the Middle East. His e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prime Minister (PM) Sheikh Hasina called upon leaders and workers of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), student wing of ruling Awami League (AL), to go to the people and project before them the development of the country of the last three years of the AL-led government. The PM congratulated them for their contributions to the achievements made by the country. BCL has a glorious role in all the achievements of the country. The PM said this while central leaders of BCL greeted te PM with a bouquet on the occasion of the 69th founding anniversary of the organization. The PM along with the BCL leaders cut a cake to mark the occasion. (the Daily Observer, dated January 5, 2017)
Back on 11 July 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday warned Bangladesh Chhatra League activists of stern action if anyone found involved in unlawful activities in the name of student politics and directed them to study hard and maintain ethics and principles to be future leaders.
“We will take stern action, as we did in the past, against the persons who will get involved in unlawful activities,” she added.
“If there is an examination, stop organisational activities and concentrate on your studies to obtain good marks. Mind it, you are the future leaders of the country and you will have to build yourselves accordingly,” she said while inaugurating the 27th national council of BCL, pro-Awami League (AL) student body.
Hasina, also president of ruling AL, inaugurated the two-day council by releasing balloons and pigeons at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the capital at around 11:30am. More than 10,000 leaders and workers from across the country, ministers, lawmakers, academicians and former BCL leaders joined the function amid huge enthusiasm.
Tarnishing the image of Sheikh Hasina
AL General Secretary (GS) Obaidul Quader, also the Road, Transport and Bridges Minister, stressed the need for students union election to build up new leadership in the greater interest of the country as well as democracy. The minister asked the BCL leaders to be more cautious about the intruders in Chhatra League as they create different problems aimed at tarnishing the image of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. AL and this student organization. The minister said this while inaugurating the rally of BCL on the occasion of its 69th founding anniversary in the capital and elsewhere across the country amid festivity. (ibid)
Newspaper reports said people of all walks of life had been held hostage on the clogged roads in the city as BCL celebrated its 69th founding anniversary amid an unprecedented wild zest. BCL held a rally to markyhe occasion but tens of thousands of BCL activists and cadres spilled through each and every road in the jammed city with heavy congestion of stranded vehicles. The BCL “bullies” not only ruled the streets but sent traffic police to watch helplessly. Vehicles virtually did not move. Ambulances heading to hospitals were forced to standstill with the patients inside gasping for fresh air. Along with them were women, children and the elderly on the streets.”
Anger and frustration swept the city
The city turned into a virtual hell” as muttered a frustrated commuter standing outside the BIRDEM (Bangladesh Institute of Research and Rehabilitation, Diabetes, Endocrine and Metabolic Disorder)
Outdoor Ward of BSMMU (Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University) hospital treated only indoor patients while some others desperately looked for transport to leave the place. Buses, trucks, CNG-run autos and rickshaws all were forced out of service y the unruly, aggressive BCL cadres. Anger, frustration and hopelessness swept the city of 15 million people throughout the day, with hours people wasted on their way to work
Although Dhaka Metropolitan police (DMP) had earlier assured people the founding anniversary would be observed in an orderly manner, hardly any order was visible on the streets. Massive traffic snarl was seen in all or most areas of the city.
The BCL held rallies on various city points blocking traffic, chanting, romping, singing and displaying outrageous feats. At Shahbagh corner BCL enthusiasts lent voice to popular singer James singing on audio his hit numbers, It was jubilation all around – sans people’s safety – featuring plenty of nuisance and annoying activities. (ibid)
A writer wrote, “I reached my workplace in the Motijheel Commercial Area after the two – and – a half hours struggle amid one of Dhaka’s worst jams ever, thanks o the ‘wild’ celebration of the 69th founding anniversary of BCL – the arrogantly powerful student unit of ruling AL.
They blocked and marched on the clogged streets, chanted slogans and carried placards, posters and banners and show pictures of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, founder of independent Bangladesh, his daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and of course incumbent BCL leaders, the ‘sonar chhelara’ (golden boys).
They refused to let any vehicle go on their ‘own’ way and broke several cars when they insisted for a passage. This happened near hospitals, around the Dhaka University campus and several sticky traffic turns seized by the BCL in what was a ‘naked’ show of their strength and defiance of law. Police stood like electric poles and watched helplessly as the BCL cadres ‘mismanaged’ traffic at peak hours of the day.
The post-independence BCL has a history of doing foul, abusing their authority and influence, selling the name and fame of Bangabandhu___and doing illegal business. At times the BCL turns out to be a terror gang. The whole city was taken hostage by the BCL during its jubilation. (ibid)
Earlier AL GS Obaidul Quader asked Prof. Dr. Iftekhar Uddin Chowdhury, Vice-Chancellor (VC) of Chittagong University, why clashes occur frequently on the campus. Quader urged the VC not to spare the BCL leaders and activists who violate law.
He asked the VC not to play any partisan role. “Mr VC, you please don’t take any side. You needn’t to be so much partisan VC. Did Chhatra League make you the VC? Can they keep you in the chair? Or will they be able to keep you in the post by waging a movement after the expiry of your tenure?” he said pointing at Iftekhar. (The Observer, 26 December, 2016)
Quader, Awami League general secretary, came up with the remarks while talking to the CU VC about internal conflict of CU unit BCL at Chittagong city unit AL President ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury’s residence in the port city. “Why do the BCL leaders clash over tender? Why don’t you go for e–tender? Why do you need to care about BCL leaders?” In reply, the VC said, “E–tender has already been initiated”.
The minister warned the VC and not the BCL leaders for the clash over tender, which will encourage them to continue their internal feuding over tender, there is no doubt about it.
It appears that AL leaders did not rebuke or warn the BCL leaders and activists for their ‘wild’ celebration of the 69th founding anniversary which kept the whole city hostage causing untold sufferings to the office-goers, commuters and patients. The AL leaders should realize that people can survive only in peace and not in sufferings. The BCL should be mindful to discipline and respectful to the needs of the society.