Published:  12:27 AM, 23 February 2019

21 February in Bangladesh's history

21 February in Bangladesh's history

For in Bangla-desh's light we dream, as evening takes our hands, silently we find our thoughts illumined by your beauty, Bangladesh in soft shimmers of dancing silhouettes and patterns allowing far away breaths to sigh. Eyes peer into velvet skies, visions set in motion eternally, find us stranded of the distance we share, north to south, longing for you, Bangladesh.

Desperate for but a breeze, a movement of shadow, a hope of wishes made upon the early arrival of this crested view. Lonely among the maples, towering peoples lined at fielded boundaries, claiming wisdom as they too reach for your smile and we yearn the knowledge of your distant view.

If we turn the page of 1952, the 20th century is a remarkable story of progressive accomplishments against overwhelming odds everywhere in the world including Bangladesh. The events of 21st February 1952 in Dhaka, and elsewhere in the country, provided a basis for an understanding of the direction our struggles against the Pakistani colonial rule.

The intense emotion and mobilisation that accompanied the brutal murders of revered Salam, Barkat, Jabbar and some other martyrs opened another significant chapter in resistance politics against the Pakistani tyrannous rule. For most of the students, joining the fermentation to fight against an unjust political system became the ultimate goal for our people then.

This signalled some other significant features of the post-1952 phase of intense struggle to generate defiance and stimulate the development of more mass movements in future. In early 1971, our people's central task was to deploy mass scale of people against the Pakistani military government in a credible revolutionary offensive. Each people reiterated and refined the demands for rights and freedom and built support for the cause of establishing Bangladesh.

The Language Movement of 1952 is the fledgling mass movement of people of all classes and religions that could herald a people's movement truly independent of nationalism and Bengali, being our state language. Each generation of us faces a different set of economic, political, and social conditions.

There are no easy formulas for challenging injustice and promoting democracy. But unless we know this history, we will have little understanding of how far we have come, how we got here, and what still needs to change to make Bangladesh more liveable, humane, and democratic.

The course of our movements explores the history, sociology, and politics of Bangladesh's struggles for freedom and social justice. The organising class puts more emphasis on how to aspects of fighting for social change. The bottom line for course is to encourage students to see themselves as potential history-makers, by learning from the past and learning the skills and analytic tools to help mobilise people for action now and in the future.

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress.

Those who profess to favour freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without ploughing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. But we can be prideful and joyful especially because of our triumph or success of our just cause.

21 February, 1952 is a milestone in our history of struggles to establish Bangladesh and Bengali language as our state language. This is a solitary event in the world history that a sovereign and independent country was born in 1971 based on a nation's mother tongue.

21 February has taught us that this struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

In everyday parlance, that sometimes the time was ripe for movements to emerge, to grow, and to bring about change. Ultimately, movements are about real people making choices about how to use their time, talents, and resources. Our great leaders and patriotic people did the right thing at the right time to throw away the yoke of the roughshod Pakistani rule which persecuted us for more than two decades. Howard Zinn competently said, "Freedom and democracy does not come from the government, from on high, it comes from people getting together and struggling for justice."

Politicians are elected and selected, but mass movements transform societies. Judges uphold, strike down, or invent brand new law, but mass movements drag the courts, laws and officeholders all in their wake. Progressive and even partially successful mass movements can alter the political calculus for decades to come, thus improving the lives of millions. All our struggles were hard-won outcomes of protracted struggle by progressive mass movements, every one of them are epoch-making.

A mass movement aims to persuade courts, politicians and other actors to tail behind it, not the other way around. Mass movements accomplish this through appeals to shared sets of deep and widely held convictions among the people they aim to mobilise, along with acts or credible threats of sustained and popular civil disobedience. All our mass movements are politically aggressive. And that's why, we achieved success every time.

Mass movements are kindled into existence by unique combinations of outraged public opinion in the movement's core values, political opportunity and aggressive leadership. The absence of any of these can prevent a mass movement from materialising, but in our movement of 21st February in 1952, the seeds of something may have been sown to eventually emerge Bangladesh as a new independent and sovereign state in 1971.

Mass movements are based on widely held beliefs, reinforced by dense communications between peoples. Mass movements are nurtured and sustained not just by vertical communication, between leaders and various places of a boundary line, but by lots of horizontal communication among the movement's wider acceptance by mass people.

This horizontal communication serves to reinforce the common people's support and the movement's core values. It emboldens both political people and ordinarily non-political people to engage in personally risky behaviour in support of the movement's core demands, and builds support for this kind of risk-taking on the part of those who may not be ready to do it themselves.

Those progressive mass movements were built in that era of sprawl and locked down media monopolies and the organisers developed and deployed alternative communications strategies to get and keep the movement's message into a sufficient number of ears to sustain its influence and momentum. No mass without masses and no movement without youth. Mass movements don't happen without masses.

A mass movement whose organisers cannot fill rooms and streets, and sometimes jails on short notice with ordinarily non-political people in support of political demands is no mass movement at all. Organisers and those who judge the work of organisers must learn to count.

A progressive mass movement is inconceivable without a prominent place for the energy and creativity of youth. The movements in 1952, 1962, 1966 and 1969 for the upright causes of our people were spearheaded, and often led by young people. Any mass movement aiming at social transformation must capture the enthusiasm and energy of youth, including the willingness of young people to engage in personally risky behaviour.

A mass movement consciously aims to lead politicians, not to be led by them. Mass movements are civilly disobedient, and continually maintain the credible threat of civil disobedience. Bangladesh's people remain in remarkable, consistent agreement on political issues, a shared commonality of views that holds strongly across lines of gender and age.

Do you think, do you feel, do you dream of Bangladesh from balconies high above hibiscus footpaths, candle lit in passing moments which flicker, enchant. Drinking from a porcelain cup caressed by our hand, a touch our body pleads, soft fingers on smooth surroundings, ripples following moonlight sonatas, days of spring blooms and whimsical showers, flooding affections to wash over us, carry us to you. This moon, suspended in charcoal heavens upon a beaded blanket of perfect pearls, beckons our dreams in simultaneous fashion.

Does your heart share this moon tonight, with me silent among the trees the wind whispers with practiced ease as leaves ruffle in the breeze?  Branches shake, and the wind quakes, as travelling through the gaps in the spider's web of green and brown are fluffy tailed squirrels shaking leaves. Silent among the jungle plains the wind whips and curls as if having a fit as strings of sand snake sky stringing golden knotty brands high.

Silent among the sea, currents rumble with whale's crying undulating under as undertow pulls all blue below as if shot from a sucking blue lightning bow. Silent among the muscle rock hills dew climbers stab the ice and carry their bodies winding up against the weight lever on and up  repeating up, winding, breathing hard, and unhinging yet recharging, powering through, raising to high. We have loved Bangladesh, dearly and deeply since that first morning, shining and pure. We will hold you wildly.

A mass movement is an assertion of popular leadership by the people themselves. It makes politicians into followers. It truly happened in our country. As a matter of fact, the majuscule 21 February Language Movement of 1952 acted as an overture to the groundwork of Bangladesh.

The writer is a political commentator

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