Local Bengali Community Celebrates Day Honoring Linguistic Freedom

Local Bengali Community Celebrates Day Honoring Linguistic Freedom
Mother Language Day
Memorial honoring International Mother Language Day near the corner of Beverley Road and McDonald Avenue. (Photo: Nicole Levit)

A reader contacted us today mentioning that every year, in late February, a flower-adorned memorial appears on Beverley Road very close to McDonald Avenue. We wanted to learn what this memorial was all about.

The memorial marks International Mother Language Day — February 21st — which is a United Nations holiday observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

Marking this holiday in Kensington seems especially appropriate, given the incredible array of nationalities and languages to be found here.

[Nearly half of all Brooklynites speak a language other than English at home, reports the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL). In November, BPL became the first library system in New York City to offer free interpretation services via telephone. Now available in all 60 Brooklyn libraries, BPL staff use this phone service to communicate with library patrons in over 100 languages.]

As the U.N. states about International Mother Language Day, “languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage.”

February 21st was chosen by the U.N. as the global day to recognize the importance of linguistic diversity because of an event that is also very important to our Bengali community.

On February 21st, 1952, a group of Bengali students were reportedly killed in what was formerly East Pakistan while protesting the state of Pakistan’s establishment of Urdu as its one official language.

The students were demanding that the Bengali language, Bangla, be recognized as one of Pakistan’s two official languages.

The death of the students occurred in the wake of the 1947 partition of India and the creation of Pakistan.

In the years immediately following the 1947 partition, around half of the residents of Pakistan were actually ethnic Bengalis, living in the east of the country. Ethnic Bengalis then went on to fight for and establish their own state — Bangladesh — in 1971.

The monument on Beverley Road is a replica of ones found in Bangladesh.

Shaheed_minar_Roehl
Shaheed Minar Monument at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital in Bangladesh, which commemorates those killed in the February 21st 1952 Bengali Language Movement demonstration.

Do you celebrate International Mother Language Day? What can you tell us about this holiday? Do you speak a language other than English at home?

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