Ms. Abida Islam, Bangladesh Ambassador to Korea
The Embassy of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to Korea and the Korean National Commission for UNESCO co-hosted a forum in commemoration of the 2018 International Mother Language Day and Bangladesh Language Martyrs’ Day (Bangladesh Language Movement Day) in UNESCO House on 21st February 2018.
Q: Bangladesh and Korea share a similar history of occupation and liberation. Koreans have our own ways of celebrating our independence, and we are curious about what meaning this monumental day has for the Bangladeshi.
A: The Republic of Korea is a great friend of Bangladesh. I have noticed some remarkable similarities with regard to the historical background of our two nations. First of all, we both observe our Independence Day in March. For example, The 1st of March is your Independence Movement Day and for Bangladesh, 26th March is the National and Independent Day.
Secondly, to achieve independence, Korea had to fight against the occupational forces. Similarly, on the 26th of March in 1971, our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Majibur Rahman proclaimed the independence of Bangladesh following the genocide of innocent and unarmed sleeping Bangalee population of the then-East Pakistan, now Bangladesh during the dark hours of 25th March 1971. In the name of angabandhu Sheikh Majibur Rahman, our valiant freedom fighters started fighting on that day against the Pakistani occupation forces and after the nine-month long bloody War of Liberation earned independence in December 1971. On this day, we commemorate the country’s declaration of independence by the Father of the Nation and pay homage to three million innocent people who sacrificed their lives, all the valiant freedom fighters and also, more than 200,000 women who were violated during our War of Liberation.
Q: Your country celebrates Bangladesh Language Martyrs’ Day, or Language Movement Day, on February 21st, which is International Mother Language Day as designated by the UNESCO. What special meaning does that celebration have to Bangladeshi people and how do you elebrate it?
A: The 21st February‒“amor ekushey or shaheed dish”, in Bangla is a significant day in the lives of 242 million Bengali speaking community all over the world. Bangladeshis have been observing this day as Language Martyr’s Day for the last 66 years, wherever they are living, even before its glorious recognition as the International Mother Language Day by the UNESCO. On this Day, we honor and pay tribute to those fallen heroes who laid down their lives during the language movement of February 1952 to establish Bangla as the national language of the then Pakistan.
The UNESCO recognized this importance of linguistic diversity and proclaimed the 21st of February as the International Mother Language Day through a unanimous resolution adopted by its General Conference in November 1999. Since 2000, International Mother Language Day has been observed annually throughout the world with the objective of promoting linguistic diversity and pluralistic cultural traditions based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.
By observing this day, we show our respect to every language. We have tried to treasure the Bangladeshi language, and we know other mother tongues are just as important as ours. Language is not only letters and sounds. It contains a people’s history and culture, and also shows the path they should take. It is unfortunate to note that amongst the estimated 7,000 languages which we speak today, almost half of them are severely endangered and some have already disappeared.
In Bangladesh, the 21st of February is a public holiday when national flags fly at half-mast atop all government and private buildings including Bangladesh Missions abroad. Dressing in black and white, people from all walks of life go to “Shaheed Minar” (Language Martyrs Memorial) to offer floral tributes to the martyrs in the early morning in a slow procession which is known as “Prabhat Pheri”(Morning Procession). Special and colorful motifs known in Bangla as ‘alpana’ are drawn on the roads.
At one minute past midnight on the 21st of February, the President of Bangladesh pays floral homage to the language martyrs followed by the Prime Minister, members of the cabinet, members of the diplomatic community in Dhaka, political leaders, representatives of various institutions and organizations, etc. Throughout the day, people visit the memorial to offer their tributes.
A: As a former British colony we have a natural inclination to learn English. Bangladeshi students learn English from the very beginning of their school life. But we are facing lack of quality English teachers in Bangladesh especially in rural areas of the country. So, our struggle is a little different from that of Korea. We also believe learning English creates better opportunities for our students in terms of pursuing higher studies abroad, employment and communication with other nations as English is widely spoken all over the world.
Q: I’d like to ask you about your life here in Korea if you don’t mind. How do you find Korea so far?
They are also sincere, honest and systematic in their work. Lastly, I like the fact that Korea is a family-oriented society just like Bangladesh. Although these days the younger generations, not just here but all over the globe, have different notions about marriage and family life, still, the family tree hasn’t disappeared completely.
Q: Do you have any words for Korean teenagers, especially on the importance of the mother tongue?
A: For the Korean students my suggestion would be to learn the mother tongue accurately. Foreign languages are important tools for communication in the global society but mother tongue of any nation has its own importance as it contains the history, culture, and tradition of a nation. Preservation of tradition is crucial because it defines our roots. We should try our best to uphold our cultural traits. People of Bangladesh sacrificed their lives to defend the dignity and honor of their mother language and as their successor, it is our responsibility to preserve that heritage with due respect and honor.
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