International Mother Language Day

International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. It was first announced by UNESCO on 17 November 1999. Its observance was also formally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution establishing 2008 as the International Year of Languages.

International Mother Language Day originated as the international recognition of Language Movement Day, which has been commemorated in Bangladesh since 1952, when a number of students including the students of the University of Dhaka and Dhaka Medical College were killed by the Pakistani police in Dhaka during the Bengali Language Movement protests.

On 21 March 1948, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the Governor General of Pakistan, declared that Urdu would be the only official language for both the western part of Pakistan, popularly and later officially called West Pakistan, and East Bengal (from 1956, East Pakistan, today Bangladesh). The population of the eastern and western regions of the Dominion of Pakistan were nearly equal, the population of East Bengal being somewhat greater. Urdu was spoken by only 7.05% people of the West Pakistan (cf. Languages of Pakistan) whereas Bengali was mother language of most of the people of East Bengal (cf. Bangladesh). The East Bengali population protested against this. On 21 February 1952, (8th Falgun 1358 in the Bengali calendar), students in the capital city of Dhaka called for a provincial strike. The government invoked a limited curfew to prevent this and the protests were tamed down so as to not break the curfew. The Pakistani police fired on the students despite these peaceful protests and a number of students and other people were killed. Four of the students were Abdus Salam, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abul Barkat and Abdul Jabbar.