The International Mother Language Day: Promoting Soft Power of Bangladesh

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The United Nations in Bangladesh wished the people of Bangladesh a happy International Mother Language Day on February 21. The UN staff in Bangladesh greeted the people commemorating the day in a variety of foreign and indigenous languages, including French, Japanese, Sinhala, Swedish, Garo, Yoruba Nigeria, Norwegian, Chinese, Tajik, Spanish, Benin Tchabe, Bhutanese, Malayalam, Amharic, Italian, Russian Chakma, English, and Bangla. Today, February 21st is observed as a day to remember the Language Martyrs and to encourage linguistic and cultural diversity worldwide. It is seen as a soft power for Bangladesh since it demonstrates the country’s rich cultural legacy and dedication to linguistic minority rights. Joseph Nye, an eminent scholar defines soft power in terms of the ability to co-opt other states by the nation’s appeal based on its culture and values. At its most basic level, soft power is about winning people’s hearts and minds. As a result, a people-centered strategy is required. Our soft power is derived from precepts and ideas found in the 1952 language movement. Bangladesh has demonstrated the genuine power of language and culture to the rest of the globe.

The Bangladeshi economy increased by 8.1% in 2019, compared to less than 4% in Pakistan. Moreover, Bangladesh now outperforms Pakistan on the majority of development measures. Bangladesh now has four times the foreign exchange reserves of Pakistan, and its overall value of exports has surpassed Pakistan’s. Throughout this period, the country has progressed from Henry Kissinger’s basket case to the size of a granary. In fact, certain economic indicators indicate that Bangladesh is the true South Asian tiger, exceedingly even India in terms of economic development. All of this was only possible because the Bengali people stood up against Pakistani authorities’ cultural and linguistic discrimination. Against such a backdrop, February 21st has become a symbol of Bangladesh’s battle for liberation and cultural identity, which might assist the world community to develop a good view of the country.  Now, it is a part of our Bengali nationalism to promote and honor this Day for the protection of not just our language but all those battling all over the world.

21st February 1952: A Prelude to Bangladesh’s Liberation

The origins of the Day can be traced back to before February 21, 1952, when students at the University of Dhaka and other activists protested a government order declaring Urdu to be the sole national language. Bangladesh was a province of Pakistan at the time. The tragic demonstration sparked considerable turmoil, and Bengali was awarded the official status in 1956. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was instrumental in the language movement. From 1948 to 1952, Bangabandhu was a paramount figure in the language movement as a youthful activist.  He did not abandon his campaign for Bangla after the language movement, which resulted in the inclusion of Bangla in Bangladesh’s first constitution.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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