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OP-ED: February, our Bangla-time

  • Published at 07:24 pm January 29th, 2021
Bangla Language
Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

You can’t be a Bangali without knowing your history and culture

We are probably the only nation in the entire world who had a love affair with their mother tongue and fought to uphold it, and then lost the love for the language when national independence was achieved. 

I read in history books that the Muslims in British-occupied Indian sub didn’t want to learn English when the colonizers found a way to infiltrate into a nation through their language -- English. 

The Hindus, especially in unified Bengal, learned English and they got the better jobs when the occupiers’ rule was completely installed. The Muslims lagged behind because they negated English.

Well, that was many years ago.

After that, there was a transfer of power; the sub became two nations; and then, Pak broke into two parts and one became Bangladesh and there were three nation-states. Pak didn’t want to lose the land on the eastern side, but they were too oppressive and the East had to go. Eastern Pak became an occupation of Western Pak.

The commoners of eastern Pak fought against the ruthless military of western Pak to be independent, to be free. The post-1947 India gleefully helped eastern Pak to be free because they had interest. 

And we became free. At the cost of a gory war, a war that we will never forget. 

Now, we had our opportunity to uphold our sovereignty as well as our Bangla. Have we truly done that? What have we been doing to implement our language in higher level education? Yes, we can all speak Bangla and some of us can write in the language. 

Slowly and slowly, after our independence, we developed a stronger love for English. We always had English as a second language and we have learned it for 12 long years in schools and colleges. However, we couldn’t learn English. There are only a few people in Bangladesh who can speak and write correct English. 

It’s quite evident that our language is Bangla and we have horrendously failed to learn English -- the global language of the present-day world. Despite that failure, deep inside our hearts, we have a strong desire to learn English. Why? Because we need that language in order to communicate with the international world.

We have established English medium schools with a foreign curriculum as well as a national curriculum. We thought our Bangla medium schools were not good enough to teach English to the nation. It was great to see that we considered English as a skill. A skill that would help us professionally as well as in business.

That’s OK and fantastic. But I have a problem when I see an anti-Bangla cultural trend. English-fluent people have an elitist aura around them; they are considered socially superior. And someone who doesn’t know English or is weak in that language is unsmart. What a fallacy! Does it happen to the Japanese? The Russians? The Germans? The Scandinavians?

No, I absolutely don’t have a problem in learning English or Arabic or any other language. But I do have a problem when our desire to learn other languages leads us to forget Bangla. Why does a four-year-old kindergarten child have to learn a foreign language so diligently and not his/her mother language? I feel we must examine this social phenomenon.

Now, let us look at another aspect of Bangla. Have we been able to introduce educational textbooks at the university level? In science? In medical studies? In engineering? In the humanities? If we could not, then we have not done justice to our own language and to our medium of teaching.

So, where do we go from here? Much has been said about our possible course of action, nothing much has been achieved. What is the job description of our Mother Language Institute? How is it playing a role in implementing Bangla in all walks of life? Why implement Bangla in all walks of life? Because that was our pledge when we became independent? Because we won’t be able to know our history if we don’t learn and love Bangla. 

And knowing our own history is vital. You can’t be a Bangali without knowing your history and culture.

Having said all this, I am also equally guilty of keeping quiet about Bangla for 11 months. I only talk and write about it every February. So do all of us. We all feel the urge to uphold Bangla, but something prevents us from talking about it throughout the year. We forget to fix our follies. But it’s a solace that we discuss our language and its history in February. 

Ekram Kabir is a yogi, a story-teller, and a communications professional. His works can be found on ekramkabir.com.

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