Language has many phases. People have distinct perception about different things and it is language that shapes the way people perceive their understanding of issues. It either raises or resolves demands. It has the power to negotiate; language is the beat of heart, it helps to share feelings, emotions and anger. It teaches us to love. Language helps us share our thoughts and views in a communicating manner. Just think for a second about literature, where does it come from? What is the mainstream of literature? Without language is it possible to utter a single thought? Perhaps not! Language forms the thoughts of our mind and helps us put them into words.
Literature would have never been introduced to us if there were no language. Language facilitates to recognise one’s individuality. ‘For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love’ is an enchanting creation by John Donne which could be found in his poem ‘The Canonization’. We might not get a chance to read this type of metaphysical poetry if there was no language to express someone’s passionate feelings for love! In this way, language helps us connect within and beyond the boundary.
Language has a special place in the hearts of Bangladeshis. International Mother Language Day is a strong part of the Bengali culture and history. It is also a pride for all of us that UNESCO declared the day to be observed globally in recognition of the martyrs who fought to establish the rightful place of Bangla language in 1952.
It is a very reasonable expectation that Bangladesh ensures and sustains the development we have made in the last couple of decades. We fought for our mother tongue and we should take the lead to make sure that others are equally having similar kind of opportunities to love and practice their own mother tongues. Though Bangladesh is a very small country, we have a very rich history of culture and heritage. There are many ethnic groups in Bangladesh who live in different corners of the country. Most of these groups live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. They have their own language, lifestyle and economic activities. Their languages are very ancient and have historical significance to preserve and put into practice.
Though Bangladesh is the country which was supposed to uphold the languages of others, policy makers of our country were reluctant even to speak for the rights of the ethnic groups in protecting their languages. Children of the ethnic groups are bound to learn and study only Bangla in the primary schools. Though the government is not prohibiting them from learning their own languages, they are not also taking enough initiatives to promote these indigenous languages like Chakma, Khasi, Marma, Assamese, A’tong, Garo, Hajong, Mizo etc. Children have been seen to struggle to learn Bangla while they are even too young for their mother tongue! This is reasonable that in this age Bangla and English should be learnt properly by all. However, young kids of these indigenous groups first need to know their mother language before starting learning national language Bangla and international language English. Otherwise they may develop disliking for Bangla which may create a situation that would not be very pleasant for any of us.
Bangladesh should be leading the movement of rights for language to ensure that none of the ancient languages in any part of the world is lost. Establishing the rights of the ethnic groups by upholding their pride and position should be done immediately. If we successfully do that, we shall be proud as a nation and will be able to celebrate the International Mother Language Day as an inherent part of our culture.
Writers: Shamim Ahmed is a development economist and a columnist for daily sun. Zerin Khan is a language researcher.