Bangladesh: Bengali Language Movement



Background preceding the Movement

The Bengali language movement Bhasha Andolon

Contributors to the movement

Personal experience

Celebrating Ekushe February
(21st February)

A brief account of post-language movement

Declaration ofInternational Mother Language Day

About the Bengali language and the Bangladesh National Anthem with translation


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~Background preceding the Bengali Language Movement~

Map of british India

Map of the British Indian Empire from Imperial Gazetteer of India, Oxford University Press, 1909



Dominion of Pakistan

East Pakistan

Early Signs of the Movement





The language Urdu had initially been born out of the socio-administrative requirement of Muslim Mughal conquerors who settled down in regions around Delhi. While the use of Urdu grew common with Muslims in northern India, the Muslims of Bengal (a province in the eastern part of British India) primarily used the Bengali language. However political and religious leaders such as Syed Ahmed Khan, Nawab Viqar-ul-Mulkand Maulvi Abdul Haq had worked to establish Urdu as the lingua franca of Indian Muslims, especially
since the British Government introduced Hindi with “Devanagari” script in Bihar in the year 1880 Urdu and Bengali, same textdespite protestsof Muslims.  South-east Asian analyst R.Upadhyay writes: 

Urdu has neither been the mother tongue of majorityof Muslims nor it is the language of this community exclusively. Contrary to the ground reality Urdu has been projected as language of all the Indian Muslims, which is factually incorrect. Despite the fact that Urdu is not spoken by more than five to six percent of Indian population and that too all of them are not Muslims, whose population is above twelve percent its projection as the language of entire Muslim community is untrue.” 

While the use of Urdu grew commonwith Muslims in northernIndia, the Muslims of Bengal primarily used theBengali language.

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Dominion of Pakistan

Following the Indian Independence Movement in roughly the first half 1900s, theTwo-Nation Theory[1] took shape around mid-1800s. The basis of this theory was that nationhood should be divided according to Islamic and Hindu faith as the followers were separate in every definition. Consequently, the Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan had been terminated on 3 June 1947 the latter under the leadership of Pakistani Jinnah Sworn in as Presidentpolitician Muhammad Ali Jinnah[2].

The Dominion of Pakistan included modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh and had been intended to be the homeland for Muslims in the Indian subcontinent.  The All-India Muslim League, founded in British India, formed the new country’s first government with Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a staunch supporter of the Two-Nation Theory, as Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly President and first Governor-General and Liaquat Ali Khan appointed asPrime Minister in 1947. He moved a resolution incorporating the objectives of the Pakistan Resolution of 1940 and adopted it in 1941 at the Madras session of the Muslim League.

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East Pakistan

Following the partition of British India in 1947, where the independent states of Pakistan and India had been created, the Bengal region in South-east Asia had been split between Pakistan and India. The West part came to be known as East Pakistan.  The people in this region were known as the Bengalis or Bangalis. Statistically, these Bengalis formed the majority, about 56% of the entire Pakistani population. While the All-India Muslim League had overall control over Pakistan, the Bengali provincial Muslim League had been in place in East Pakistan.

However government-level control was in the hands of the West Pakistanis: “Although the overwhelming number of Muslim population in Bengal had supported the Muslim League's demand for Pakistan, the central leadership of All-India Muslim League (AIML) was disproportionately skewed in favor of non-Bengali leaders of different provinces,” says Dr. M. Waheeduzzaman Manik, a Professor and the Chair of the Department of Public Management at Austin Peay State University, Jinnah had effectively used most of the popular leaders of Bengal for the purpose mobilizing support in favor of his "Two-Nation Theory" and the demand for separate homeland for the Muslims of India. Yet, Jinnah had preferred to promote and project the non-Bengali loyalists, rightists and collaborationists in the leadership roles at both AIML and Bengal Provincial Muslim League (BPML). “ 

In East Pakistan, A.K. Fazlul Hoque[3] was the most charismatic leader, with more popularity especially in the mid-30s throughout India, even more than Jinnah himself. Although his support for Pakistan Movement was genuine, he did not tolerate Jinnah's unfair interference in Bengal politics. While he was one of the key movers of the 1940 Lahore Resolution[4] for Muslim homeland, he was expelled from the All-India Muslim League in 1941. This came as a big blow to the Bengalis. Instead of taking dictates from Jinnah or Liaquat Ali Khan, Fazlul Huq had resigned from the Muslim League for which he had to be in political exile for more than 10 years.Doubtless, the rising tide of Muslim nationalism and demand for Pakistan had gained an impetus with Sher-e- Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq's joining the Muslim League,” says Dr. Manik, “Aimed at the collapse of Huq's Ministry in Bengal, Jinnah, with his ruthless brilliance, personally saw to it that Muslim League support is withdrawn from KPP-Muslim League coalition Government. The collapse of KPP-ML coalition Ministry had devastating effect on the Bengali Muslims.”

Eventually, Muslim League's  defamatory propaganda had worked: Fazlul Huq's Ministry had collapsed in 1943. The entire incident contributed to the tension building up amongst the Bengalis. The typical anti-Bangalee attitude of Jinnah and Liaquat Government was manifested in Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan's arrogant response to a Bengali leader's question on Provincial autonomy for East Bengal (at the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on March 2, 1948):  "Today in Pakistan there is no difference between the Central Government and Provincial Government.  The central Government is composed of the provinces. …. We must kill this provincialism for all times."  Even though eminent Bengali leaders such as Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and Abul Hashim emerged, the governmental framework became such that the main power rested in the hands of the West Pakistanis.

Both Jinnah and Liaquat adopted a discriminatory policy of the Central Government of Pakistan against East Bengal which started manifesting only after few months of independence. The Central Government had become the exclusive domain of West Pakistanis. The representation of Bengalis in various services including Military and Civil Service under the Central Government was negligible. Surely, this started building resentment.  The progressive Bengali leaders (in some instances even conservative Muslim Leaguers) had started protesting this kind of blatant and unfair policies and programs of the ruling elite of Pakistan Government. For example, one Bengali member of Pakistan's Constituent Assembly pointed out as early as February, 1948 that a "feeling is growing among the East Pakistanis that Eastern Pakistan is being neglected and treated nearly as a 'colony' of West Pakistan."  It was obvious that the Central Government was not willing to redress these genuine grievances.back to top

Early signs of the language movement

From the mid-19th century, the Urdu language had been promoted as the lingua franca of Indian Muslims of the undivided India by muslim political and religious leaders such as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Nawab Viqar-ul-Mulk and Maulvi Abdul Haq. Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language of the Indo-Iranian branch, belonging to the Indo-European family of languages. It developed under Persian, Arabic and Turkic influence on apabhramshas (last linguistic stage of the medieval Indian Aryan language Pali-Prakrit) in South Asia during the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire. With its Perso-Arabic script, the language was considered a vital element of the Islamic culture for Indian Muslims; Hindi and the  Devanagari script were seen as fundamentals of Hindu culture.

While the use of Urdu grew common with Muslims in northern India, the Muslims of Bengal  primarily used the Bengali language. Bengali is an Eastern Indo-Aryan language that arose from the eastern Middle Indic languages and developed considerably during the Bengal Renaissance. As early as the late 19th century, social activists such as the Muslim feminist Roquia Sakhawat Hussain were choosing to write in Bengali to reach out to the people and develop it as a modern literary language. Supporters of Bengali opposed Urdu even before the partition of India, when delegates from Bengal rejected the idea of making Urdu the lingua franca of Muslim India in the 1937 Lucknow session of the Muslim League. The Muslim League was a British Indian political party that became the driving force behind the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim state separate from British India .The language controversy actually started even before the independence of Pakistan.






also known as The Ideology of Pakistan.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah is still revered as Pakistan’s founding father. His birthday is a national holiday in Pakistan.

often referred to as Sher-e-Bangla. (Urdu for “Tiger of Bengal) had joined the Muslim League in 1937 after forming the Krishak Praja Party (KPP)- Muslim League coalition Government in Bengal. He was the key national leader behind the emergence of Bengali (especially Muslim) middle class in British India

commonly known as Pakistan Resolution, called for greater Muslim unity. Jinnah called forward the All-India Muslim League general session when the Viceroy of India Lord Linlithgow entered into World War II without consulting the provincial governments.

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