International Mother Language Day: 21st February

Last Updated on April 6, 2019 by Aminul Haque Shahin

Ekushey February also known as Ekushey, 21 February, Shaheed Dibas (Martyrs’ Day), Bhasha Andolon and international mother language day. 21st February is a national day of Bangladesh to commemorate protests and sacrifices to protect Bengali as a national language during Bengali Language Movement of 1952.

International Mother Language Day was announced by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999. International Mother Language Day celebrates cultural variety and recall and shows respect for the “language martyred” students of Dhaka university of Bangladesh in 1952. These students are honored by the inspiration of multiculturalism and the promotion of defensive measures for imperiled languages. It’s really relentless to imagine the challenges faced by students who have been instructed to learn a foreign language as, without linguistic inclusion, there is no equal access to education.

International Mother Language Day has been observed worldwide every year since February 2000 to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity. This event involves multicultural festivals which honor the listening of all voices and show social cohesion, cultural awareness, and tolerance. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.”

The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of the Bengali language as an official language of the then-Dominion of Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.


Language Movement began in 1948 and reached its climax in the killing of 21 February 1952, and ended in the adoption of Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan.

On 21 March 1948, Governor General Mohammed Ali Jinnah arrived in East Pakistan and proclaimed that Urdu alone would be the state language of Pakistan. On 27 January 1952, Khwaja Nizamuddin, Prime Minister of Pakistan, repeated Jinnah’s decision that Urdu would be the only state language of Pakistan.

This sparked the protest among the Bengali-speaking majority of in East Pakistan. The government called Section 144 on 20 February, banning public meetings, rallies, and processions. After a meeting on the morning of 21 February on the campus of the arts faculty of the university students unanimously agreed to stick to the decision to defy Section 144. The students at the University of Dhaka and other activists organized a protest. But the protest got out of control and the police opened fire on the protesters and killed four students. The students’ deaths during the fight for their mother language are now remembered as The International Mother Language Day.

UNESCO is highlighting the worth of mother and local languages as channels for defending and sharing internal cultures and knowledge because languages are the most potential instruments of maintaining and inspiring heritage. All steps to honor the dissemination of mother language will serve not only to inspire linguistic diversity and multilingual approach are essential components of quality education but also to create fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural heritage. We must recognize and nurture this power, in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for all.