The Language Movement Day bears special significance among Bengalis. It is a day to commemorate the sacrifice that the language martyrs made on 21 February, 1952 for their mother tongue. Many Bangladeshis visit the Shaheed Minar and pay respect to the martyrs by offering flowers, and observe this national holiday as a day of mourning. But across the rest of the world, 21st February is also a day to celebrate multilingualism and linguistic diversity, as it is the International Mother Language Day, as declared by UNESCO in recognition of the Language Movement in Bangladesh.
At Princeton University, USA, the Bengali Students Association, called Princeton Bengal Tigers (PBT), led their own unique program to commemorate the language martyrs as well as celebrate language rights and linguistic diversity with a photo campaign to commemorate the 21st February. The PBT, led by Debopriyo Biswas, Azwad Iqbal, Arnab Banerji, Rishiprotim Nag, and Sebastian Holt, organized a photo campaign where University students got profile photos taken with handwritten messages about how they feel about their mother language and why they support language rights.
“One of the challenges of commemorating the Mother Language Day is that it means different things to us Bangladeshis than it does to the rest of the world. Back when I was in living in Bangladesh, I used to observe 21st February as a day of mourning, paying homage to the language martyrs, and visiting the Ekushey Boi Mela. Now, I have to present this significant day as something more than that, so that the international community at Princeton University can connect with and celebrate it,” commented Debopriyo Biswas, Co-President of PBT, a Bangladeshi student pursuing undergraduate studies at Princeton University.
Azwad Iqbal, Co-President of PBT, who is a Bangladeshi student at Princeton, said “we came up with the idea to organize a photo campaign for students to share why their mother language, or language in general, is important to them. This was a nice way to engage students in a fun, but meaningful way while sharing with them the significance of the Language Movement of 1952.”
At the event, the organizers had whiteboards and markers to share their thoughts, a photo-stand for people to take photos at, and pamphlets for visitors to learn about International Mother Language Day and the Language Movement of ’52.
Arnab Banerji, General Secretary of PBT, commented on the event’s success, saying, “The response to International Mother Language day was amazing. We talked to people who spoke so many languages, and shared diverse thoughts ranging from humorous jokes to personal reflections. It was great to see people who initially thought they had nothing to say end up completely engaged in a conversation about language, and I’m so glad I could help facilitate those conversations on our campus.”
The event was greatly successful and very popular, as there were almost a hundred students who took photos at the booth over the 2-day campaign. They shared the eclectic photo collection on Facebook with the hashtag #PBTcelebratesIMLD17.