Sixty-five years ago, in 1952, hundreds of students in Dhaka demonstrating for the recognition of Bangla as their language were shot dead. The protest was in former East Pakistan, against West Pakistan’s 1948 declaration of Urdu as the official language.
This fight to speak in one’s mother tongue on February 21 – which eventually led to the formation of Bangladesh (Land of Bangla) in 1971 after a freedom war – also kindled an iconic song: Amar bhaiyer rakte rangano ekushe February, aami ki bhulite pari (How can I forget February 21, it is soaked in the blood of my brothers).
A poem by Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, it was originally set to tune by Abdul Latif, and later given its current form by Altaf Mahmud, a celebrated musician.
In 1999, February 21 was designated International Mother Language Day to commemorate the language martyrs.
In the video above, the first line is sung in 11 languages besides the original Bangla – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Malay, Nepali, Russian, and Spanish. Nabid Salehin Niloy, a young composer from Bangladesh, did the job of connecting singers from 12 different countries and orchestrating the different versions.