International language day celebrated in northeast

February 21st, 2009 - 6:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Agartala, Feb 21 (IANS) Song and dance performances, seminars and discussions marked the International Mother Tongue Day celebrated in northeast Indian states along the India-Bangladesh border Saturday.
A large number of functions were held in Tripura, Assam and West Bengal to mark the Language Martyrs Day, which the Unesco declared as the International Mother Tongue Day in November 1999.

“As globalisation increases, languages die and, of course, English is the great ‘killer language’ because the media and the corporate sector use it. The 21st of February reminds us that despite this inequality of power between mother tongues and the languages of power, we must not give up hope,” said Tripura Information and Cultural Affairs Minister Anil Sarkar.

While speaking at a function at Akhaurah check post along Tripura’s India-Bangladesh border, Sarkar, a renowned poet, said: “We must be conscious of the significance of our mother tongues, which give us identity, which are repositories of culture and which, in the final analysis, make us what we are.”

Language Martyrs Day is marked in Bangladesh to commemorate those who died during protests Feb 21, 1952 against the then Pakistani government’s decision to name Urdu as the national language, despite East Pakistan’s (now Bangladesh’s) Bengali speaking majority.

Similar functions were also held in Karimganj and Silchar in southern Assam.

Silchar saw one of the uprisings in favour of the Bengali language in early 1960s. When the Assam government headed by Chief Minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha, passed a circular to make Assamese language mandatory, Bengalis of the Barak Valley (southern Assam) protested.

On May 19, 1961, the Assam police opened fire on unarmed protesters at the Silchar Railway Station in which 11 agitators died. After that, the popular revolt further strengthened, forcing the Assam government to withdraw the circular and Bengali was ultimately given official status in the three districts of southern Assam.

“The lesson to be learned from Ekushe (as Feb 21 is popularly known) is that there should be no suppression of the culture and language of any region. Moreover, and this is even more important, power and resources should be distributed by the centre in such a just, fair and equitable manner that languages do not become symbols of resistance,” said Mohammad Tariq Rahman, a leader of the Matribhasha Smaran Samity (mother tongue memorial organisation).

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