Kolkata: West Bengal Monday observed "Language Martyrs` Day" paying homage to those who laid down their lives for the cause of the Bengali language in Dhaka in 1952.
The day is now celebrated as International Mother Language Day the world over.
The day began with `prabhat pheri` (morning choir) as employees of the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission went round the Park circus area singing "Amar Bhaiyer Rakte Ranga Ekushe February, aami ki bhulite pari" (How can I forget February 21, it is soaked in the blood of my brethren), that was composed in memory of the martyrs of the language movement.
A replica of the Shaheed Minar in Bangladesh was also set up inside the Deputy High Commission, while leading painters from both India and Bangladesh took part in an art camp. Among the painters from Bangladesh were Sahabuddin, Hashem Khan and Kalidas Karmakar. Samir Aich and Bijon Chowdhury were among the local artistes.
Programmes were held in the rest of the city to commemorate the day. Local television channels and FM radio stations aired special programmes on the occasion.
At a gathering in College Square in central Kolkata, intellectuals called for efforts to protect the Bengali language.
"Language is the basis of the society. Literature and culture depend upon language. For a developed society we must strive to protect our mother tongue. Sadly enough Bengali as a language is on the decline. We must do something to protect our beloved mother tongue," said poet Tarun Sanyal.
In 1948, Pakistan declared that only Urdu would be the official language for both West and East Pakistan. The people of East Pakistan now Bangladesh whose main language is Bengali, protested against the declaration.
On Feb 21, 1952, students and political activists took out a procession protesting against Urdu being made the official language. The police opened fire killing several protesters. This lead to the protest spreading over all of East Pakistan which finally lead the Pakistan government relent and give equal status to Bengali.
Since then the day is celebrated as the "Language Martyrs` Day".
In 1999 the UNESCO declared Feb 21 as International Mother Language Day, a day intended to promote free language choice everywhere in the world.