International Mother Language Day is celebrated globally on February 21 every year. This day is observed to encourage the appreciation of the presence of multiple languages and to promote ethnic variety.
UNESCO declared International Mother Language Day with the aim of promoting multilingual approach in education to enhance the quality of education. The proclamation of February 21 came to commemorate the martyrs who died on this day in 1952. According to UNESCO, the promotion of mother language does not only encourage cultural diversity and multilingual education but also create more mindfulness on ethnic traditions and linguistics. In addition, the recognition stirs unity based on understanding, dialogue and tolerance.
Pakistan and India gained liberation in 1947 and two new states on the world map were born. Pakistan consisted of two parts; East Pakistan which is presently Bangladesh and West Pakistan which retained its name as Pakistan. Bengali was the language of the people of East Pakistan. Despite this, the leaders of Pakistan wanted to force Urdu as the state language. On December 6, 1947, East Pakistani scholars joined and held a convention demanding that Bengali was acknowledged among the state languages.
On February 23, 1948, at Karachi, a proposal was put before the members of parliament requiring the members in the assembly to speak in either English or Urdu. A member of the parliament from the East Pakistan Congress party also suggested that Bangla was supposed to be allowed in the constituent assembly. Other members of the legislature opposed this proposition. The rejection of the proposal created tension among the people of East Pakistan. On March 11, 1948, the people of East Pakistan went on strike.
On January 31, 1952, representatives of various organizations formed a team and called a strike on the February 21, 1952. They organized procession and demonstration during the strike. The government countered the organized strike by banning all protests in East Pakistan. The formed committee later violated the ban on February 21 when they went to the street for demonstration. During the encounter with the police, several people died while others were arrested. A memorial was created at the spot where those people were killed. On February 16, 1956, the revolutionists were successful when they forcefully used Bengali and Urdu in the Pakistan Assembly.
Observances On International Mother Language Day
Bangladeshis made International Mother Language Day a public holiday since 1953. They honor the martyrs’ by placing flowers at the martyrs’ monument. They also organize social gatherings, listen to songs, eat festive meals, and hold literary competitions.
On November 17, 1999, UNESCO acknowledged February 21 as International Mother Language Day in respect of the martyrs who defended the language. Each year, UNESCO declares the theme of the year's international language day celebration.
In Canada, Matthew Kellway introduced the celebration to the Canadian parliament on February 5, 2014. Manitoba and British Columbia also joined in the celebration in 2015.
In India, an initiative by Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, called the Digital India Initiative delivered digitized content in 22 official languages and stretched to other 234 acknowledged languages in India.