What February 21st Means for Bangladeshis

Today Bangladeshis stop to remember one of the most emotional and important dates in our country’s history. On this day in 1952, after the “Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan” announced that Urdu would be the only state language of East and West Pakistan, a huge wave of protests erupted in Bangladesh, where the majority spoke Bengali.

Politicians joined students in their demonstrations, and the Pakistani Government responded by violently cracking down on the protesters. Over the course of one week, between February 21st-27th, 1952, they killed student demonstrators, some right in front of Dhaka Medical College.

Shaheed Minar is the monument which is dedicated to Bangladesh’s language martyrs, and it has become “an icon of the Bengalis’ pride in their culture and history, and of their resistance against imposition of all things foreign.”

On February 29th, 1956, Pakistan added Bengali as the second official state language after Urdu. Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan in 1971.

As protests continue to rage across the Middle East and North Africa, we should think about all the people who have given their lives in the past, and who are willing to die today for what they believe in. It is a testament to the universal desire to be free that we all share.