Kolkata, Feb 21 (IANS) Processions, lighting of torches, cultural programmes marked Language Martyrs' Day (now celebrated as International Mother Language Day), as West Bengal paid homage to those who laid down their lives for the cause of the Bengali language in Dhaka (of then East Pakistan) in 1952.
Taking the lead in remembering the martyrs, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said one must respect and love all languages.
"Today is Bhasha Dibas, when people were martyred in Dhaka for demanding that Bengali be made the official language. My highest respect to the 'language martyrs' of Ekushe February (Febru ary 21). We must respect and love all languages," she tweeted.
The programmes began from midnight, with various parts of Kolkata lit brightly, and a torchlight procession started from near the Academy of Fine Arts.
Bengali plays, kirtans and Sufi songs continued through the night, as students from Bangladesh also joined in.
Students from West Bengal and Bangladesh decorated the B.T. Road in the vicinity of the Rabindrabharati University with multicolor geometric floor patterns, called alpana.
Employees of the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission here organised 'Probhat Feri' (morning procession), offering floral tributes to the pictures of the martyrs.
Schools across the state took out rallies and several showcased marching band parades that trooped though alleys playing out loud "Ekusher Gaan". Local television channels and FM radio stations aired special programmes on the occasion recollecting the history associated with the momentous struggle.
In 1948, Pakistan declared that only Urdu would be the official language for both West and East Pakistan. The people of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh whose main language is Bengali, protested against the declaration.
On Feb 21, 1952, students and political activists took out a procession protesting against Urdu being made the official language. The police opened fire killing several protesters. This lead to the protest spreading over all of East Pakistan which finally lead the Pakistan government relent and give equal status to Bengali.
Since then the day is celebrated as the 'Language Martyrs' Day'.
In 1999 the UNESCO declared Feb 21 as International Mother Language Day, a day intended to promote free language choice everywhere in the world.