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Language movement: Not five, but dozens were killed on February 21-22

by The Bangla Herald
Language movement: Not five, but dozens were killed on February 21-22

Bangalees started getting united to thwart possible attempts to undermine Bengali in July 1947, a month before the establishment of Pakistan and India based on religion, as they sensed the political leadership in West Pakistan would prioritize Urdu.

They were right. The initiatives, taken by the West Pakistani rulers and supported by some Bangalee Muslim politicians until January 27, 1952, proved that their efforts to establish Urdu as the state language of Pakistan would not stop. The Pakistani prime minister, Khawaja Nazimuddin, reiterated his resolve to establish Urdu as the state language and hailed the initiative to write Bengali by using Urdu alphabets.

His speeches ignited the resistance in the fifth year of the movement. On January 30, the Dhaka University wing of the State Language Revolutionary Council (Rashtro Bhasha Sangram Parishad) declared a general strike, rallies and processions for February 21, and students observed strikes and processions almost every day.

On February 20, the administration slapped Section 144 on processions and rallies for a month to thwart the movement. In the morning, police charged batons and detained some students who took to the streets in small groups from the main gathering at Aamtola on the Dhaka University campus.

The police also lobbed tear gas canisters to disperse the students. But when the protesters turned rebellious in the afternoon, they fired bullets at the protesters in the medical college hostel and Fuller Road areas. “The police fired bullets with an intent to kill,” said the report by the Ellis Commission, headed by Justice Justice Thomas Hobart Ellis.

Abul Barkat, Rafique Uddin and Abdul Jabbar sustained critical injuries inside the hostel and were later declared dead at the hospital. Abdus Salam was hospitalized with bullet wounds and died after one and a half months. Shafiur Rahman was killed by the police on February 22.

Only five martyrs recognized

They are the five well-known martyrs of the Language Movement, recognized by the government in 2000 from a list of eight deceased compiled by veteran journalist and writer M.R. Akhtar Mukul. The three others shot dead by the police were Abdul Awal, 10-year-old Ohidullah and an unidentified teenager.

The Pakistani government press note, however, admitted the deaths of Barkat, Rafique, Jabbar and Shafiur (identified as Shafiqur Rahman), and claimed that Awal and Ohidullah died in road accidents without giving details of the events.

The graves of Rafique, and the trio could not be identified.

The Daily Azad newspaper reported nine deaths and the disappearance of many bodies, while the Sainik said it was seven. Kolkata’s Anandabazar said nine people were dead during the protests.

The US consulate in Dhaka tallied the deaths at 14, exiled Pakistani writer Lal Khan at 26, and movement activist Kabir Uddin Ahmed at eight.

Tajuddin Ahmad wrote in his diary about the reported deaths of four people on February 21 but added that it would be 10-11 as per unofficial sources. The following day, police and the military killed five people in areas around the High Court, judge’s court and other parts of Old Dhaka, while the unofficial figure was 12.

The police snatched the bodies from the DMCH on February 21, and the following day, they snatched several dead bodies and injured protesters from the streets who were never seen again.

Several others remain unidentified

Language Movement veteran Ahmed Rafiq reported that a youth aged 20-22 was shot near the DU playground on February 21, according to madrasa student Lokman Ahmed, who was standing beside the injured at the time of occurrence. The Ellis Commission also acknowledged the death of a person hit by bullets at this place.

Another youth was hit by a bullet to the head and died on the spot in front of Chowdhury Petrol Pump, located on the other side of the medical hostel. The Ellis Commission learned about the incident from a witness named Kamal Hossain but did not accept his deposition.

The then general secretary of Dhaka Medical College Central Students Union, Sharfuddin Ahmed, said he had seen a youth dying at the place.

Kamal and Sharfuddin also reported the death of an unidentified teenager at Fuller Road the same day. The other deceased who could not be traced or identified include one Salahuddin.

On the other hand, Ahmed Rafiq said several people had been shot on the street in front of Khosh Mahal restaurant in Old Dhaka on February 22.

Details about the identities of teenagers Abdur Rahim and Ohidullah, and how they died have not yet been known.

Rahim’s body was never found, while the Pakistani government claimed that 10-year-old Wahidullah (presumably Ohidullah as mentioned by the movement organizers) was the son of a mason. He died in a road crash and was buried at Azimpur Graveyard after a namaz-e-janaza. Dresser at the graveyard Suruzzaman said he had buried a teenager and several others on the night of February 22.

Newspapers did not learn about the youth named Sirajuddin, who was shot near Nishat Cinema Hall at Bangshal. He hailed from Basabari Lane in Tantibazar area, according to Serajuddin alias Nanna Miah of Koltabazar area. Both of them joined the condolence march of the day, brought out in defiance of Section 144.

Nanna Miah and another witness named Abdur Rahim said they had seen police taking away a person with bullet injuries from the street in front of Studio H on Nawabpur Road. People who participated in the procession also reported that police vans had taken away dead bodies and injured persons from the streets.

The government press note at the time said Barkat, Rafique, Jabbar and Shafiqur had been buried at the Azimpur graveyard under the supervision of magistrates. But the grave of Rafique could not be traced though he had been buried by the military around 3am on February 22.

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