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Language Martyrs' Day – February 21, 2023

We are observing Language Martyrs’ Day on February 21. It is a day dedicated to honoring the sacrifices of those who fought for their language. The day is a national holiday in Bangladesh. It is also called Language Movement Day or State Language Day. The celebration commemorates the Bengali language movements and their martyrs. The day is observed globally to celebrate linguistic and cultural diversity. Also, West Bengal, an Indian state sharing borders with Bangladesh, celebrates the day. Shahid Dibash, or Bhasha Dibas, as it is known, has the same level of reverence and dedication in West Bengal too.

History of Language Martyrs' Day

Language is a powerful tool that enables us to communicate easily with others. The bulk of our communication is done through verbal means. Thought to be as old as 1.8 million years, the early forms of language were primitive and action-based. Back then, communication was mainly intended to coordinate hunting, sharing food, finding mates, and collecting herbs. But as humans evolved, our intelligence improved dramatically. The language developed along with human civilizations. Spoken language began to flourish around 50,000 years ago. Although we can never be sure, as words do not leave any fossil records.

By around 3000 B.C., the first written languages were developed. Sumerian is generally considered the oldest written language in the world. Other ancient civilizations also witnessed the development of written languages like Egyptian, Sanskrit, Tamil, and Hebrew. These languages further developed into new regional dialects as human politics spread across the Asian and European continents. The Bengali language was derived from Magadhi Prakrit, a spoken language in 1000 A.D.

With over 300 million native speakers, Bengali is one of the most spoken languages in the world. After the end of the colonial era, the British were forced to leave the Indian subcontinent. Britain partitioned India into three dominions: India, East Pakistan, and West Pakistan. East and West Pakistan were once a single entity, with political power concentrated in West Pakistan. They had few ties with the Bengali language, whereas it was the major language of East Pakistan. Tensions between the two units erupted over the matter of official language. The Bengali Language movement started to resist the idea of Urdu as the only national language. Subsequent riots and conflicts resulted in police killing student protesters. The movements succeeded and paved the way for a nationalistic feeling that ultimately led to the formation of Bangladesh.

Language Martyrs' Day timeline

1947
The Creation of East Pakistan

Britain partitions India into India and Pakistan based on religion.

1948
Enforcing Urdu as National Language

The Government of the Dominion of Pakistan ordains Urdu as the sole national language.

1952
Protests in Dhaka

The students of the University of Dhaka and other political activists organize protests against the law.

1956
Official Status to the Bengali Language

After years of conflict, the Pakistan government grants official status to the Bengali language.

Language Martyrs' Day FAQs

Who was the first language martyr?

Rafiquddin Ahmed was killed in 1952 during the Bengali Language Movement that took place in East Pakistan, which is currently the nation of Bangladesh.

Who are called language martyrs?

Abul Barkat, Abdul Jabbar, Rafiquddin Ahmed, Abdus Salam, and Shafiur Rahman are considered the five most important language martyrs in Bangladesh.

What is Bhasha Dibas?

Bhasha Dibas is the equivalent festival to Shahid Dibas or Language Martyrs’ Day. It is celebrated in West Bengal with the same level of reverence and enthusiasm.

How to Observe Language Martyrs' Day

  1. List all the languages

    There are thousands of languages in the world with thousands of dialects. Try to create an extensive list of all the languages, their location, and birth years.

  2. Share about language discrimination

    Discrimination against language is still a big issue in many parts of the world. But the news is not getting the popularity that it needs. Try to spread such news and help raise awareness about language discrimination.

  3. Try to learn another language

    We all know at least one language. Learning another can be a task. Use this day to start learning another language.

5 Interesting Facts About Languages That You Should Know

  1. Number of languages

    There are 2,700 languages spoken all over the world with over 7,000 individual dialects.

  2. Least spoken language

    Busuu language is the least spoken language with only a handful of people left who know this language.

  3. Bilingual population

    Around half of the world's population can speak two languages.

  4. Country with the most number of languages

    There are more than 840 languages in Papua New Guinea making it the country with the most number of languages in the world.

  5. Oldest language

    Sumerian is the oldest written language in the world followed by the Egyptian language.

Why Language Martyrs' Day is Important

  1. We love diversity

    We love diversity and we love it even better when we can uphold unity in diversity. This is a perfect day to illuminate the importance of accepting language diversity and appreciating the beauty and importance of other languages.

  2. It is a day to stop discrimination

    Discrimination based on language is real and we need to act against it. This is the perfect day to bring such actions under one single movement.

  3. It is a day to popularize the sacrifice of language martyrs

    Thousands of people have died in the name of the language. This is a day to show our respect to those brave souls.

Language Martyrs' Day dates

YearDateDay
2023February 21Tuesday
2024February 21Wednesday
2025February 21Friday
2026February 21Saturday
2027February 21Sunday

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