“To me, there’s no difference between French and Bengali!’’ a 13-year-old Bengali girl uttered these words in a most stylish way! She took great pride in the fact that she can’t read or write her own mother tongue!
Bengalis otherwise branded as an ‘educated and intellectual class’ has these exclusive characteristics of taking pride in not knowing their own language. ‘Banglata na thik ashena (I don’t know Bengali properly) is the most common feature of the urban youth, who don’t even know their favourite English in its actual form! There’s no denying that knowing the correct English is too important for communication, career etc. as it is considered the connecting language for both India & abroad!
But the irony is, ‘International Mother Tongue Day’ is the outcome of ‘Bhasha Andolan’ (Bengali Language Movement) which was fought by the students of the Dhaka University in order to recognise Bangla as the official language of Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan) against West Pakistani government’s imposition of Urdu as the official language of East Pakistan! Today is the 61st year of ‘Bhasha Andolan’ and Bengali has become the most neglected language and an ‘embarrassment’ for a large number of people in Kolkata itself! I am excluding the Diaspora chapters for some other connotations.
India too has experienced its own sort of language movement. Potti Sriramumulu’s ‘fast-unto-death’ and consequently his death sparked off the major re-shaping of Indian state boundaries. Sriramumulu demanded Telugu-speaking-state. Through the act of Reorganisation of the states, 1956, the old states were dissolved & new states were created on the lines of shared linguistic and ethnic demographics. Thus, Telugu speaking Andhra Pradesh, Malayalam-speaking Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Marathi-speaking Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab were created. Bengal never has to fight for its language, it was automatic but it is the state which has least respect for its native language.
In almost all the Indian states, learning the state-language is mandatory. Be it Maharashtra or Gujarat, Kerala or Andhra, you have to have learn the language of the state you are residing in. The exception is west Bengal, where Bengali is not even compulsory as third language! So it’s of no surprise that Marathis or Gujaratis, Punjabis or Tamilians or Malayalis have great pride for knowing their language! Bengalis are probably the only tribe who prefers English over Bengali while communicating in a social gathering! Showing-off has become a normal practice for most of the Bengalis! Parents feel satisfied if their kids get less marks in Bengali or if the school doesn’t teach Bengali at all!! Kids can’t be blamed for disrespecting Bengali, because this is the culture their parents are implanting in them! They are simply following the ‘global practice!’
Rabindranath Tagore believed, English should be skillfully and thoroughly taught as a second language, the chief medium of instruction in schools (and even in colleges up to the stage of the university degree) should be the mother tongue. He has four reasons for this belief: first, because it is through his mother tongue that every man learns the deepest lessons of life: second, because some of those pupils who have a just claim to higher education cannot master the English language; third, because many of those who do acquire English fail to achieve true proficiency in it and yet, in the attempt to learn a language so difficult to a Bengali, spend too large a part of the energy which is indispensable to the growth of the power of independent thought and observation; and, fourth, because a training conducted chiefly through the mother tongue would lighten the load of education for girls, whose deeper culture is of high importance to India. He holds that the essential things in the culture of the West should be conveyed to the whole Bengali people by means of a widely diffused education, but that this can only be done through a wider use of the vernacular in schools.
One must not misunderstand me, I am not telling that in name of saving own ‘cultural distinctiveness’, everyone should follow Siva Sena’s path, forcefully imposing alien languages to others, abusing other language speaking people. My point is simple; one must have respect for his own language! Caution is especially for the self-forgotten Bengalis, because ‘’Everyone loses if one language is lost because then a nation and culture lose their memory, and so does the complex tapestry form which the world is woven and which makes the world an exciting place…”. Even Gandhiji firmly stated, “Any nation that cherishes its individuality must love its own language and feel proud of it. The learning of English must come second to learning one's mother tongue.”
I am proud to be a Bengali. I am proud that I can read, write and speak in Bengali. I never feel ashamed of that. Some of the best literary creations of the world is in Bengali, great movies were made in Bengali by eminent film makers like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak. Noble Prize, for the very first time came to India for a Bengali, Oscar too followed the same path! One Bengali had unfurled his jersey at the Lord’s Balcony, innumerable examples are there! Still, most Bengalis don’t know their mother tongue, they feel ashamed in speaking in Bengali.
It’s a question for them… very recently Bengali bashing has been a regular practice in most places of India. Don’t they think that actually their disrespect for their own language has actually widened the path for this insult? Have they ever thought that each Indian has to sing two Bengali songs, namely Jana Gana Mana’ and ‘Vande Mataram’ at least once in their life?
Now,take a look at our neighour. The Morning Star of the Language Movement, this year have chosen to 'celebrate' the occasion on a different note. In a close affinity with the Arab Spring, Shahbag Square is burning bright with the candles. The war-cry being 'hang the 1971 terrorists'.
'Amar Ekushe' (21st February forever)is the driving force of Bangladesh. They know, they fight for a cause, unlike India where one Nirbhaya Case shook the conscience of the nation and within weeks die down! Bangladesh knows how to ensure justice, we must take a cue from them! I am sure 90% of the people would give a blank look if you ask the significance of the date!
Wake up Bengalis… we must not forget our very own Bangla! After all, ‘amar bhaiyer rokte rangano ekushe February/ ami ki bhulite pari?’ (My brother has shed blood on 21st, how could I forget that?). Let’s think of those young, brave boys and then look at ourselves. I can assure, if we have emotions, we will feel pity and ashamed for ourselves only!
The 'sweetest tongue' is allover my body and soul...('Amar Bhitor o Bahire, Anatare, Anatre Achho tumi Hriday Jure' the immortal lines by Rudra Muhammad Shahidullah, penned during the Bhasha Andolan), so let's embrace it.
No shame in knowing your own language!