Syed Fattahul Alim

February is traditionally the month of the Language Martyrs. It is also the month when, historically, the fire of protests and dissent sweeps through the country.

The February of 2013 has added a new dimension to the memory of the Language Martyrs. The youths at Shahabag have not only rekindled the spirit of Liberation War, they have also proved once again that they are not a lost generation. From now on, history will remember February also as the month when an unprecedented upheaval of the people was spearheaded by the youths. The killing of blogger Rajib, an organiser of the upheaval, has added another name to the list of February martyrs.

As in the case of the present movement at Shahbagh, every movement of the past that changed the course of history in this part of the world was launched by the youths. And in every case, the major political parties of the day, either took a reactionary position or chose to sit on the fence, while the youths pushed through their movements. The Language Movement of 1952, the 1969's mass uprising, the 1971's Liberation War and the popular upsurge to overthrow the military dictator HM Ershad in 1990 were no exceptions.

True, the youth force has been the movers of our history. But in spite of their inexhaustible fountainhead of energy, they lack the experience in politics, in the art of the statecraft.

To fill the gap between youth power and politics, the onus rests with the democratic and progressive political parties of the country to come forward and take charge to materialise the dream the youths fought and shed their blood for. Unfortunately, political parties have so far been failing, and miserably at that, either by their short-sightedness or for their capitulationism. Small wonder, the cause of none of the great movements of the past could fulfil the dream of the youths and the mass people in general in the long run. Examples of such failures, or retreats or betrayals at the last moment abound.

The successful movement of the youths against military dictatorship over the 1980s culminated in the overthrow of military dictatorship in 1990. After achieving their goal, the youths returned home. It was then the turn of the major political parties to restore and institutionalise democracy for which the youths and students fought and laid down their lives for. What have the political parties done over the following two decades to that end? Can we claim that democracy has been established in the country? On the contrary, in place of people's democracy what we have got is the right of those who have political power or have links to power.

The youths that once were ready to sacrifice everything for their lofty ideals, have been relegated to being lackeys of the political parties. They are embroiled in gangland-style wars at the universities and colleges and kill each other over power rivalries or for booty from tender or admission business. Which face of the youth then is true--the one that we see during the critical junctures of history, or one that we see always at beck and call of the political parties in power?

The great mass upsurge of 1969 against the Pakistani military dictatorship was at once for democracy, complete autonomy as well as political and socio-economic emancipation of the people of the then-eastern wing of Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Finally military dictator Ayub Khan of Pakistan had to step down handing over power to Yahya Khan, who promised to hold election to allow people to decide their lot through elections. It was again a classic example of political capitulation on a grand scale.

Political historians are yet to write the actual history of that struggle and its failure, the reflection of which we can discover in the Liberation War of 1971 and the latter-day fallouts after independence.

This year we will be observing the Language Martyrs' Day on 21st February for the 61st year. Have we ever asked ourselves what we are really observing every year with ritualistic monotony on this day? Publishers launching some new books, intellectuals giving lip-service to Bengali through their writings and lectures--all either eulogising the language martyrs or shedding crocodile tears for Bengali language. After that, the emotions and tears for the Day are put in mothballs until the next year. Meanwhile, anarchy in the usage of the language in the soap operas, language of the anchors of various programmes and talk shows and the electronic and print media continues. Bengali as a language of science, research and commercial transactions remain largely ignored. And the Language Martyrs turn in their grave all the time.

The writer is Editor Science & Life, The Daily Star. (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Published: The Daily Star, Monday, February 18, 2013