George Bernard Shaw once said, “We understand the; beauty of our Mother tongue when we are abroad.” The greatest propaganda in the world is our mother tongue that is what we learn as children and which we learn unconsciously, that shapes our perception of life, which is propaganda in its extreme form.

Once again all these debates come to our mind when the world is set to celebrate International Mother Language Day on Feb21, 2022.  Pandemic changed our lives. The technical support for the fundamental development of the mother language of the diverse people of the world is now a sine qua non for all projects related to language teaching. Very relevantly the Theme for 2022 is “Using technology for multilingual learning: Challenges and opportunities”, which is expected to focus on the potential role of technology to advance multilingual education and support the development of quality teaching and learning for all.

Multilingualism and diversity were encouraged during the International Year of Languages in the earlier years with the goal of promoting unity in diversity and global understanding. Although it has been a United Nations initiative since 2002, the original idea to mark the day came from Bangladeshi migrants living in Canada who successfully petitioned the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to take action to save languages from extinction. The efforts of the Bangladeshi people to protect their language are honoured by UNESCO which was established on February 21st as International Mother Language Day in 2000.

The intention of the day is to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. According to the United Nations, approximately 6,000 languages spoken across the world are at risk of extinction with a language disappearing every fortnight.

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow. English for the Indians cannot exude that magic which the mother tongue can in spite of all the lures that the foreign language carries. We think in our mother tongue which Tagore calls ‘mother’s milk.’ Mother tongue is like mother’s milk.  On the UN resolution A/RES/56/262 of 2003, the General Assembly of the UN-supported the declaration of International Mother Language Day. 

In Resolution A/RES/61/266 May 16, 2007, the motive was made clear. It was to “Publicize the protection and management fo all languages in use by nations and people”. In fact, the Idea of celebration of this day was the outcome of the great turmoil in the Indian sub-continent – the cultural clash between the newly created Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan)   and the existing stage of Pakistan.

Due to the declaration of Urdu as the national language in 1948, the tension among the people of Pakistan increased. The Bengali-speaking majority in East Pakistan organized many violent demonstrations as a result of the government’s decision. In early February of 1852, several students from Dhaka University held a protest together with various activist organizations. The celebration of February 21 marks the beginning of many UNESCO –run events one of which focuses on helping people learn to use their mother tongue and also on expanding their language knowledge.

To help encourage the study of languages, many governments and non-governmental organizations issue a number of policies as well. It is important to increase advancement in vernacular language teaching in order to understand the importance of the mother tongue-based education system. Many language movements occur for the preservation of the identity of a nation or people of a community. In Pandemic changed our lifestyle and there is pressure all around for digitalization. Hence technological advancement is a need for making the Mother languages grow in a better way in the days to come.

Nelson Mandela’s words are so relevant in this regard. He says, “If you talk to a man in a language that he understands, that goes to his head, if you talk to him in his language, it goes into his heart.” This is the best focus on the importance of the mother language and it explains why it is extremely needed for the growth and development of the nation. There may be diversity but the diverse growth of mother languages will strengthen the nation. Thus when in Bengal the Santhals wanted the recognition for their mother language and the government recognized it officially, it developed their growth in education and other spheres of life.

Sometimes people go over-protective about their mother language and feel an aversion to the language of other people. This happens when the South as a whole opposed Hindi when it was imposed on them. Here the problem occurred from both ends. The Hindi-speaking people wanted linguistic hegemony all over India when the majority support was for the government that is in favour of Hindi.

This is still more sensitive for the Assamese people. Assamese is needed for them for their identity in the state as the states were divided basically on the language parameters such as Assam for Assamese speaking people, Bengali for  Bengali speaking people, Tamil Nadu for Tamil speaking people and so on. But when Assamese was imposed on the Bengali speaking Cachar then all the opposition and protest movements started. AASU movement created awareness among the people of Assam about the importance of the Assamese language in Assam.

Many may see the Bangal Kheda movement from a narrow-angle. But if one considers impartially, he will feel that it was chiefly anger against those Bengali people who cherished aversion to the Assamese language when it was most needed for the cultural identity as well as the political and social identity of the people of that region. Many Bengali people are still under the misconception that Assamese is derived from Bengali which Professor Suniti Chattopadhaya long ago in his lecture in the Guwahati University made clear that Assamese is a separate language and in spite of some similarities with the Bengali language of erstwhile East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) it is totally an original language of a particular region which we now know as Assam.

Again there is intolerance found among some Assam about the Bengali language and this kind of intolerance created the language movement in Cachar. On February 5, 1961, the Cachar Gana Sangram Parishad was formed to agitate against the imposition of Assamese in the Bengali-speaking Barak Valley. That was also a movement for the mother tongue.

On 14 April, the people of Silchar, Karimganj and Hailakandi observed a Sankalpa Divas in protest against the injustice of the Assamese government. The Bengali Language Movement of Barak ValleyAssam was a protest against the decision of the Government of Assam to make Assamese the only sole official language of the state, even though knowing that a major proportion of the Barak Valley population speaks Bangla language.

In May 1961 at Silchar railway station  11 ethnic Bengalis were killed by Assam police. After the incident, the Assam government had to withdraw the circular and Bengali was ultimately given official status in the three districts of Barak Valley. Section 5 of Assam Act XVIII, 1961, safeguards the use of Bengali in the Cachar district. Thus language movements occur everywhere for the preservation of the identity of a nation or people of a community.

Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee is a poet and columnist and can be reached at profratanbhattacharjee@gmail.com

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