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Struggle for rightful place of Bangla continues

THE public interest litigation writ petition filed Sunday with the High Court for a directive on the government for enforcement of the Bengali Language Introduction Act 1987, which decrees the use of Bangla in all offices and courts, bears a strong testimony to the state’s inability, if not unwillingness, to ensure pervasive use of a language, for the recognition of which as the state language, people took to the street and several of them sacrificed their lives more than 60 years ago. It is, as the petitioner, a Supreme Court lawyer, is quoted in a report published in New Age on Monday as lamenting, indeed ‘regrettable’ that the act, which stipulates the use of Bangla in all records and correspondences, laws, proceedings in court, except in the case of foreign relations, by government offices, courts, half-official and autonomous institutions everywhere in Bangladesh, ‘is not in force’ or ‘has not been publicised widely’ in the past 26 years since its enactment.
The language movement in 1952, premised on the core demand that the language of the majority of Pakistan, which this part of the world was then part of, should be the state language, essentially epitomised the democratic aspirations of the Bengali and subsequently exposed the authoritarian attitude and agenda of the West Pakistan-based ruling elite, both civilian and military, thereby sowing the seed of the 23-year-long struggle for the independence of Bangladesh. Regrettably, however, in the post-independence Bangladesh, the ruling elite, again both civilian and military, resorted, just as their West Pakistan-based predecessors, to the use of language to further their class agenda and thus sustain the class divide in society. In terms of language, at least, the fledgling state has consistently patronised differential treatment between not only English and Bangla but also the standard and colloquial Bangla. In practical terms, thus, the language of the majority remains effectively ignored, suffice to add, in an affront to the spirit of both the language movement and the war of liberation.
It is worth noting here that the language movement was not about supplanting Urdu with Bangla as state language; it was about recognition of Bangla as a state language along with Urdu. Similarly, the use of Bangla need not preclude the use of English; it is not a question of ‘either/or’ but ‘not only/but also’. In this regard, the High Court’s observation that English could also be used along with Bangla in the courts of law is instructive. English is, after all, the global language in diplomacy, trade and commerce, education and what have you. Regrettably, however, the ruling elite—political and otherwise—have used it as an excuse to merely further their class agenda.
The writ petition, if entertained by the High Court, could help break the status quo somewhat. However, people need to realise that they need to sustain the struggle before the rightful status of Bangla and its pervasive use in Bangladesh is ensured.

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