Language Movement of Bangladesh – A Geospatial Timeline

In his book ReORIENT, Andre Gunder Frank argues that history of no place can be adequately understood without taking into account how that place is connected to other places.

In a similar note, J. B. Owens, professor of History at Idaho State University mentions that it often becomes difficult to convey through the written word the connections between places, or where one location is relatively located to another. Despite the apparent importance of geographical connectivity in studying history, the universal use of only written texts or at most 2- dimensional media (videos, photos, maps, etc) in studying history means that students often always miss to intuitively realize the relative connections between different historical places.

Figure : Shaheed Minar

For this reason, to commemorate the Mother Language Movement of Bangladesh, we made a small attempt to put into focus how easily one can miss spatial data when it comes to studying history and thereby overlook any contribution it might have played in shaping historical forces.

A map has been created to illustrate the places where the major incidence of language movement in Bangladesh happened in 1952. People died to protect the language they learned from mother, listened from childhood, to uphold the pride of language of all Bengalis. The chronological stories have been laid upon here, to take the readers back to 1952, to know what happened, where they happened, and to silently ponder on the significance of 21st February.

“People died to protect the
language they learned from
mother, listened from
childhood, to uphold the
pride of language of all
Bengalis”

Map: Places where the major incidence of 1952 language movement in Bangladesh occurred

Khwaja Nazimuddin‘s speech on 27 January served as the main catalyst behind the language movement of 1952. Khwaja Nazimuddin, the then Prime Minister, arrived in Dhaka on the 25th and on the 27th of January gave a long speech in Paltan Maidan [Map1(A)], that was directly transmitted all over the nation through radio. Overall, he echoed Jinnah’s assertion that Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan. Moreover he asserted that no other state has ever adopted two different state languages and continued on a path to prosperity.

To protest against his declaration, the ‘Rastrobhasha Sangram Parishad’ held a protest meeting on January 29 and a strike in Dhaka on January 30. On that day, the leaders, including the students, gathered at the Dhaka University office [Map-1 (B)] and decided to hold a strike and protest meeting on February 4 and a statewide strike on February 21. Later, they marched to Burdwan House (now Bangla Academy)[Map-1]. (C)].

The next day, on 31 January 1952, at a meeting held at the Bar Library Hall of Dhaka University [Map-1 (D)], a 40-member All-Party Central Rashtrabhasha Karmi Parishad was formed under the leadership of Maulana Bhasani. The meeting strongly opposed the government’s proposal to write Bangla in Arabic script and supported the decision taken at the January 30 meeting to observe the strike. The council adopted a detailed action plan for strikes, rallies and processions on 21 February.

On 20 February, the government, through the local administration, banned meetings, rallies and processions in Dhaka for one month from 21 February and issued section 144. Students of Dhaka University decided to break section 144 by holding meetings in different halls.

On the night of 20 February, a meeting of the All-Party Rashtrabhasha Karmi Parishad was held at the central office of the Awami Muslim League at 94 Nawabpur Road [Map-1 (E)] under the chairmanship of Abul Hashim.

Although some members of the council were in favor of disobeying the ban, in the end it was decided not to violate section 144 by a vote of 11-3. [21] In the evening, under the chairmanship of Fakir Shahabuddin, it was decided to break section 144 at Salimullah Hall. Abdul Momin led the meeting held at Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall [Map-1 (G)]. Abdul Momin and Shamsul Alam took the responsibility of informing the Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad of this decision as per the proposal of Shahabuddin Ahmed.

According to the pre-arranged program, students from different educational institutions gathered at the Dhaka University campus [Map1 (B)] from 9 am on this day. They chanted slogans against the imposition of Section 144 and called on the members of the East Bengal Legislative Assembly to consider the views of
the general public on language.

Police cordoned off the venue with weapons. Deans of various faculties and vice chancellors of universities were present at the time. Police fired tear gas and warned the
students as they gathered at the gate around 11:15 pm and prepared to break the barrier. Some students ran towards Dhaka Medical College at that time but the rest were blocked by the Dhaka University campus Demonstrations against the aggression continued. The vice-chancellor then requested the police to stop throwing tear gas and ordered the students to leave the university area. But violence erupted when police began arresting some of the students for violating Section 144 as they left campus. Many students were arrested and taken to Tejgaon and released. The students became more angry and started protesting again.

When the members of the legislature came to join the legislature at around 2 pm, the students blocked them. But the situation changed dramatically when some students
decided they would go to the legislature and raise their demands. Police rushed to the spot at around 3pm when the students were heading for the assembly. Abdul Jabbar and Rafiq Uddin Ahmed were killed on the spot. Abdus Salam, Abul Barkat and many others were also killed. The life of Ahiullah, a teenager aged 8/9, was brutally and abruptly cut short as well.

We hope our small attempt to spatially contextualize an essential historical movement that shaped Bangladesh as we know it will inspire others to integrate the use of GIS and other spatial tools in studying history and encourage multidisciplinary collaboration that inspires out-of-the-box approaches to classic topics.

Article Written By:

Sazid Ibna Zaman
Co-founder, GroupMappers

Raisa Binte Huda
Student, University of Dhaka

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Graduate Student, Department of Geography & Environment, University of Dhaka.
Core Expert Member, GroupMappers.

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