Let's celebrate International Mother Language Day

Shaid minar and hello in different languages

Today is International Mother Language Day, one of my favourite days to celebrate. Though now it’s an international day, the origin of celebrating the day is our country – Bangladesh.

As a Bangladeshi, I have grown up reading the bloody history of the 21st February, 1952. At a young age those historical events didn’t touch my heart. History is something I don’t really like, and as I say to myself, everything becomes a bad thing when it gets into academic textbooks. So, the history didn’t really reach my heart.

One day I was given a book to read. It was a historical novel. At first I didn’t like the book as it contained history, but after finishing the book on the true story of 1952 and the previous years finally unfolded before my eyes.

So, today I will share the story with my foreign friends in my own way.

In 1947, the Indian subcontinent was divided into two parts – India and Pakistan. Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan, and the former name of Bangladesh was East Pakistan. West Pakistan had a dominating and exploiting nature, they tried to exploit and deprive East Pakistan in every way possible. And it reached the breaking point when one day it was announced that Urdu, the language of West Pakistan, would be the only state language of Pakistan, where the larger number of people spoke Bengali language.

Now close your eyes and imagine; if you’re told that you won’t be able to speak your mother tongue language, you have to learn a completely new foreign language and gradually you can’t see your mother tongue anywhere in the country, how would you feel?

The ones who were first to protest against this vicious decision were students, the young generation of that time. They planned to get out with a procession on 21st February, 1952 and on that day, the Pakistani government banned processions and meetings. Again, the young people decided to go out with their procession despite the ban.

So they did, and people from all walks of life joined them. At one point, police started shooting them down, and so many lives were killed on that day. For the first time in the world’s history, people laid down their lives for the sake of protecting their mother tongue and for the sake of giving the people and next generation the opportunity of speaking their mother tongue freely. Their dream had been fulfilled.

Now, let’s talk about the present. In our country every year people celebrate 21st February, pay tribute to the martyrs of 21st February, participate in barefoot processions, give flower wreaths in Shahid Minar (Martyr Monument) and so on.

But, to me those aren't the right ways to celebrate.

To be honest, a large number of today’s young generations in our country don’t really value and respect their mother tongue language. Sometimes, they openly make offensive comments about this language without any shame, but the most common forms are – while talking they use more English words and they do it intentionally, thinking that it will make them ‘smarter’.  They don’t know that the real smartness lies in using least English words. If they keep continuing that ‘culture’, so many beautiful words will eventually get lost in the darkness of time. And the second one is – writing Bengali words and sentences using English letters – in short, romanization.

Keeping these young people who use romanization in everyday life in mind, a group of young people created an amazing Bengali keyboard named Avro keyboard, which makes Bengali typing a hundred times easier and it is available for both mobile and computer. Every time I type in Bengali language I give them thanks. But still, young people use romanization instead of using Bengali letters. Why?

Learning a second language, writing in a second language, reading books or listening to music in foreign languages doesn’t demean the value of your mother tongue language. What demeans the value of your mother language is neglecting it.

Let’s take some baby steps to celebrate International Mother Language Day this year. Two simple steps. I took these steps in 2019 after participating in a reality TV show on Bengali language. The second one is still in process, and it’s actually a lifelong one.

Step one: Stop using romanization unless absolutely necessary.

Step two: Try talking using less English words

We must value our mother tongue, because some people had to sacrifice their lives so that we can speak in our mother tongue. Let’s love our own mother language and learn to see how beautiful it is.