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21st February – Bangla Language Day

Written By: Ajmal-Masroor
21/02/2014 23:30
Arts and Literature

Many are celebrating Bangla language day today but more significantly most people are commemorating the merciless murder of many innocent people on this day. I would like to tell you the story, a sad and tragic story of two people from the same family, united by their ethnicity and faith but divided by artificially created borders and nation states. The story began a long time ago but it has manifested into brazen hatred over many years and more acutely now. These nations have never recovered from the terrible incidents in history and there are no indications of them healing from their traumas either. 

On February 21, 1952, a tragedy struck a nation and this was the beginning of the opening of a seismic rift between East and West Pakistan that would eventually lead to a permanent separation and creation of two independent countries. These two people were brought together by their unity in religion, they were Muslims of India, but an external occupier imposed this artificial partition. They wished to weaken the Indian nation and leave the locals on the brink of sectarian infighting. The British Colonisers divided India crudely as they were finally making their exodus. Their philosophy was simple - if they couldn’t rule the Indians, they would leave them deeply divided! 

A few hundred years back British traders landed at the shores of India but it didn’t take them that long to betray the generosity of their host. They gleefully bit the hands that welcomed them. At the full support of the British government of that time, the trader swiftly became traitors. They launched a brutal and bloody onslaught on the locals until the entire subcontinent were under their control. Like this, the story of over 200 years of slavery of Indian people began. 

The East Indian Company, the trading front of the British Empire, unashamedly looted and plundered the country’s resources and wealth to make Britain richer. At the time of their departure they divided up the nation and created two countries, one for the Muslims and one for the Hindus. Thus, permanently sowing the seed of instability and animosity in region. In my view this was the most despicable legacy of the colonisers. 

Uniting people from East and West Pakistan was a terrible mismatch. The two entities were physically separate and had India right in the middle. The unfairness in the unity was visible from the outset. The ruling elite lived in West Pakistan with just over 25 million people and in East Pakistan 44 million people lived. West Pakistan was more than three times the size of East Pakistan. Urdu was declared as the official language of united Pakistan, and Bangla was given a lowly position in the country. This was a project doomed for failure from the word go. 

The attitude of West Pakistan towards their fellow Muslim brothers in the East Pakistan was unfriendly and ruling elite showed contempt for Bangla speaking fellow citizens. Even though both of them were from the same Indian heritage, West Pakistani elite decided that they were superior as a nation and race compared to their fellow brothers and sisters from East Pakistan; their language was more noteworthy than Bangla; they felt their culture was more refined and sophisticated. Their attitude demonstrated that they had the divine right to rule. There were institutional racism and Bangla speaking community was at the receiving end of this rotten cultural and political discrimination. Thus the seed of acrimony was planted and the resentment between East and West deepened. 

Bangla speaking citizens of East and West Pakistan felt aggrieved by this obvious discrimination and started organizing political campaigns demanding equal rights, recognition of Bangla as equally important official language, nondiscriminatory treatment, fair economic benefits and devolution of power. The Urdu speaking ruling class of West Pakistan including the top military and political leadership did not entertain any demands from their East Pakistani fellow citizens. On the fateful day of 21st February 1952 when the students from Dhaka University (now the capital city of Bangladesh) demanded an end to this racism and discrimination and defied the ban on protest, however, the security services opened fired using live ammunitions, killing several people. The news spread throughout East Pakistan like wild fire and causing several days of unrest with further death and bloodshed. I believe the dream of becoming an independent state by the Bangla speaking people of East Pakistan took deep root from this fateful day onwards. 

The journey took many years and many painful chapters, but in 1971, East Pakistan declared independence when it was denied the right to form a government even though Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his party won a landslide victory in the parliamentary election in both East and West Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the outgoing Prime Minister and his military general Yahya Khan conspired and prevented democratic transition from taking place. Instead they opted for brutal repression of East Pakistani politicians and jailing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his allies. West Pakistan deployed army in towns, cities and villages of East Pakistan and they killed hundreds of thousands of people, raped of countless women, looted and burned down properties and systematically destroyed East Pakistani infrastructure. The nine month long brutal war gave birth to Bangladesh and attitude towards Pakistan was forever altered.

I feel very upset every time I read or write about this awful event. Why did the West Pakistani ruling elite treat their fellow co-religionist brothers and sisters so dreadfully? Why did they kill so many innocent men, women and even children? Why did they rape women? What hurts me most is that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, for the honour and protection of the Muslims. Its army was set and trained to uphold the principles of Islam. Yet this very Muslim army perpetrated the most heinous crimes against its own people! 

In the Quran there is a very thought-provoking and insightful verse that has always inspired me to treat other human beings equality, with respect, dignity and honour, regardless of the faith, colour, ethnicity, nationality, gender and social or economic status. I have used this verse in many talks, sermons and discussions. It has stirred in my mind thousands of words and emboldened my heart with great feelings of brotherhood and sisterhood for all human beings. I have roused Muslims and non-Muslims to come together to foment deeper tolerance and respect. How comes the Pakistani Army did not find the same verse in the same Quran equally compelling Divine instruction? Did the West Pakistani political elite not take any heed of the words of the same God? Why did Bangla speaking citizens of united Pakistan suffer so much? 

Here is the verse:

O humanity! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). 49:13

Ultimately, the above verse makes it abundantly clear that the purpose behind diversity in creation, languages and ethnicity is to encourage the adherents of Islam to form deeper understanding with their fellow human beings and build meaningful relationships. It is never to despise, cause discord and bloodshed and certainly not to pass judgments on other people. 

The leaders of united Pakistan must have abysmally failed to see this universal and cardinal value of Islam. If they were true to their claim of Islam surely, Bangla language would have been given equal status along with Urdu and Bangla speaking people would have never suffered. All Pakistani people are not responsible for the crimes against Bangladeshis but those who were involved committed some of the most atrocious crimes against humanity. Forty years have passes since the most recent massacres against Bangladeshis and it is not too late to do something about it. 

Pakistan has a moral and Islamic duty to make mends for the crimes committed against Bangladeshi people. I would recommend three steps to heal this long standing wound:

1. Pakistan parliament must offer an official and unreserved apology for all the pains and sufferings they have caused to the Bangladeshi people 
2. They should hold a national enquiry to establish the truth behind what happened between 1947-1971
3. They should compensate the victims of the unlawful killings in Bangladesh by Pakistani security personnel from 1947-1971

Today and everyday, I remember the dead of all conflicts; I pray that their death would never go on vain. For, from their sacrifices the green shoots of hope will spring forth and humanity will learn from these horrendous crimes. I pray that we will learn to respect everyone regardless of people’s background.

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About Ajmal-Masroor

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  • Name: Ajmal Masroor
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    Ajmal Masroor is an Author, Broadcaster, Relationship Counsellor , Politician and Imam based in London, UK. His facebook profile can be followed

    This Blog is made by his Fan and all writings are collected from his Facebook page which is Public.


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