….lets dwell on its legacy for a moment. I am not keen on rituals and I am wondering whether 21st February has become some kind of moribund ritual. And I am thinking that the resounding recognition given to this day by the international community ( International Mother Language Day) is not being lived up to.

Let me start with a little anecdote. I am the researcher and co-producer of a documentary on the urdu-speakers of Bangladesh (Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land). Its been well received so far and is shortly to hit the international festival circuit. I am currently working with the Bihari community to have this documentary shown in all the camps in bangladesh where they presently live in segregation. They had chalked in February as the start date for these shows but then community leaders felt that February was too sensitive a month to hold such a showing. The mainstream Bengali community had no problem showing the docmentary at a Film Festival yesterday but the biharis thought it would be asking for trouble and decided to postpone the showings until next month. I was disappointed by their decision - a decision born out of fear and 2nd class status -  but I did not push it. I don’t live in one of those god-forsaken camps. I accepted it with regret and a feeling of the distance still left to go….

There is a moment in our documentary where a Bengali poets laments the fact that there are so many talented urdu poets in Bangladesh yet Bengalis don’t know anything about them. And that their language is derided.

Is this the legacy then of 21 February? Is this the measure of our inclusiveness? Of course urdu holds a particular problem for Bengalis given that the tyrants of Pakistan wanted to shove this nawabi language down our throats. But the legacy of 21 February falters elsewhere as well.

Its alliance and celebration of a particular nationalist narrative has had particular implications for those who are Bangladeshi but are not Bengali. You can sum it up in one word - exclusion. The Chittagong Hill Tracts is a festering example of what exclusion from a nation amounts to. The monoculturalism in the CHT goes far beyond just language.

Why can’t the martydom Bengalis witnessed on 21 February 1952 not infuse them with sufficient indignation to deal with these areas of shameful silence? Yes its a rhetorical question. And yes we all know the real answer. However, lets demistify it just in case you regularly get off on this banal ritual and feel great about it. Language policy is always a calculated issue in the hands of a political elite or a state. We know from our contexts - whether you are in Europe, Asia, America or Africa - that a language policy can be spun as something which promotes national integration and social cohestion. We also know that it can be a tool to suppress and marginalise. What is Bangladesh doing 56 years after the lessons of that fateful day?

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