Nearly seventy years ago in 1952, a language movement was started by the people of Bangladesh. A group of students from the Dhaka University protested against the then-East Pakistan police in an effort to have Bengali recognized as an official language. These activists forced the Pakistan government to not impose Urdu as the national language for the region which later became Bangladesh.
Post-independence, Pakistani government declared Urdu as its national language. However, the idea was not approved by the people living in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, as their mother language was Bengali. They wanted Bangla to get an acceptance as one of the official languages to be spoken and used in their country.
On February 21, 1952, students from the University of Dhaka held a massive protest against the decision.
February 21 is celebrated worldwide as the International Mother Language Day (IMLD), observing a national holiday. The song, “Amaar bhayer rokte rangano Ekushe February, Aami kibhultepar (My brothers gave their blood for 21 February/Can I forget…)” remembers the sacrifice made for Bangla, the mother tongue for Bengalis.
International Mother Language Day is celebrated on February 21 every year since 2000. It was first recognized in November 1999 when UNESCO brought the subject in the UN General Conference. Later, the resolution was welcomed by the UN General Assembly in 2002.
IMLD this year assumes greater significance as 2019 is celebrated as the International Year of Indigenous Languages – a campaign to promote widespread use of indigenous languages by UNESCO and many of its partners worldwide.
Language is not just a means of communication but a device that provides identity to individual and the community. There comes stagnancy that lead to a slow death if a language is not used for native-language-based education and governance. Sanskrit is one of the oldest South Asian languages is now limited to only literary and religious studies because of the lack of the aforementioned usages.
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Only 22 out of 750 languages are recognised by the Union as part of the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. However, there is a dire need to increase the use of native language in all aspects.
Ganesh N. Devy, the founder of People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PSLI) warned that almost half of India’s languages might die within 50 years. Both languages and the writing systems are at great risk as the physical distance between people and places are coming down.
A study titled “Indian languages: Defining India’s Internet” by Google-KPMG in 2017, highlights that the Indian-language user will be 2.5 times that of the English users online. It simply means that the focus of the key internet stakeholders in the country will dramatically move from English to Indian languages. With about 478 million Indian mobile internet users – out of which 197 come from rural India that constitutes 59% of the total internet user population. India is slowly becoming the largest internet democracy.
In the wake of emerging technological advancement, now many companies have already started adopting the culture of multilingualism on their interface and there are many more in line to do so. This radical change is very exciting as enabling multilingualism on any online platform. It needs input and participation of native-language speakers to transform it to create more job opportunity.
Language plays a key role in engaging with different major stakeholders such as government and leaders, judiciary, law enforcement and common people. The process of uniting people in the name of a language has hardly ever changed despite the widespread use of major languages like English or French or Mandarin and the fast shift to a digital era.
“Indigenous peoples have always expressed their desire for education in their own languages, as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Since 2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day will be indigenous languages as a factor in development, peace and reconciliation. Indigenous peoples number some 370 million and their languages account for the majority of the approximately 7,000 living languages on Earth. Many indigenous peoples continue to suffer from marginalization, discrimination and extreme poverty, and are the victims of human-rights violations. On this International Mother Language Day, I thus invite all UNESCO Member States, our partners and education stakeholders to recognize and enforce the rights of indigenous peoples.”