TODAY is the great Language Martyrs and International Mother Language Day. On this day in 1952, the Bangla speaking people of the then East Pakistan had set a unique example in the history of the world. They had made supreme sacrifices for the cause of their mother tongue. People from all walks of life will be paying homage to the language martyrs both at home and abroad with the central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka being the focal point on the occasion. The government, reportedly, in cooperation with the Dhaka University authorities, has taken all preparations, including adequate security measures, so that people can visit the central Shaheed Minar in a disciplined manner. There is no denying that observance of the Ekshey February, particularly the programmes that start at the zero hour at the central Shaheed Minar, has been rather disciplined and orderly. Ugly incidents that used to take place immediately after the liberation and in the mid-eighties at the central Shaheed Minar are not taking place anymore. The student organisations in general and the Dhaka university authorities in particular deserve appreciation for that.
Actually, the language movement was not a mere struggle to establish Bengali as one of the state languages of the then Pakistan. There was something more than that. The Bengali-speaking people here could smell that the Pakistani rulers coming from the then West Pakistan would gradually subject them to far greater political and economic exploitation. So, the movement launched to establish the lawful right of Bangla language culminated into the War of Liberation in 1971. Immediately after the independence of the country, quite naturally, Bengali was chosen as the only medium of education at all levels, including higher education. Not many people opposed the idea, at least, publicly. But there were a few who did not like the move. But with the passage of time things have changed. English as a medium of education has made a comeback though for a privileged few. But while keeping in tact the profound love for our mother tongue, it is high time to look at the language issue dispassionately. The strategy has to be formulated keeping in view the globalised world and the outflow of the country's skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manpower.
These days, affluent and middle-class families send their children to English medium schools and private universities. But the medium of instruction of a vast majority of students attending schools, colleges and public universities remains to be Bangla. What if equal emphasis is given on both English and Bangla in normal schools and colleges? Will it anyway hurt the interest of Bangla as a language? Possibly not. Many great Bengali poets and litterateurs attended English schools and were equally good at both in Bangla and English. Emphasis on English in normal education system would help students to compete in a globalised world and the workforce would then be greatly relieved of the embarrassment they face at the airport or at their workplaces for not being able to communicate in English. Elsewhere in the world, emphasis is given on learning a second language. According to a story published in a recent issue of the Financial Times, the UK, the home of English language, emphasis is being given on learning a second language, including Spanish or Mandarin in the UK these days. Then why should the Bangladeshi as a nation keep themselves away from learning a second language, preferably, English? That will not anyway reduce their inherent love for the mother tongue -- Bangla.