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The Language Movement and the Bangla Academy
Kabir Chowdhury

The Bangla Academy came into being as a direct result of the Bengali Language movement of 1952, the movement that in more ways than one provided the motive power for Bangladesh's liberation struggle in 1971. The language movement which has come to be known universally as 21st February or in Bengali simply, 'Ekushey', has an eventful and glorious history. However, one relevant point that I want to emphasize is that the establishment of a learned institute meant for research in and cultivation of Bengali language, culture and society was one of the primary demands that came out of the language movement quite legitimately. Fortunately, a short lived but popular United Front government came into power in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) in 1954 and Bangla Academy- that long awaited National Research Institute- was born on December 3, 1955. It is important to remember that in June 1953 the Dhaka University Court (now called the Senate) had strongly recommended the establishment of a Beng Ii Academy for the development and culture of Bengali language. The demands for recognition of Bengali as a state language and for establishing a Bengali Academy were integral parts of the national movement of the Bengalees who wanted a political atmosphere and structure that would enable them to grow and develop economically, culturally and socially with their own resources in consonance with their own traditions, which were basically secular and liberal in nature.

It is now over thirty eight years that the Bangla Academy, a direct progeny of the Language Movement has been functioning. As the National Academy of letters it is engaged in research, trans anon, publication, folklore collection and studies, compilation of dictionaries, preparation of glossary and technical terminology, seminars, learned lectures, cultural functions and other related activities. The Academy has grown and expanded over the years. Besides the historic Burdwan House, the erstwhile residence of the Chief Minister of East Pakistan, it has now got two new buildings, which house a small but well equipped auditorium, a rich research and reference library, a rare books and periodicals _section bearing the name Shahidullah Research Cell, a Folk Museum, the Audio-Video wing of the Folklore Department, Folklore Archive and Library, and a modem printing press. It is not, however, the aspect of physical expansion, or restoration or renovation that is of any paramount importance by itself. It is in the quality and expansion of its literary and cultural project that one must seek the material for assessing the role and function of the Academy. During the mass upsurge of 1969-71, the Academy in many ways became the focal, point of Bengali nationalism. It assumed a symbolic stature and its literary and cultural functions provided a rallying ground for the progressive forces who yearned for a free and independent Bangladesh. Not for nothing did the ruthless military, junta literally hit the Academy with mortar shells on the night f 25 March 1971 when they started their genocide of the Bengalees.

But by the end of the year, the Pakistani occupation army was humbled. It surrendered unconditionally. After the liberation, Bangla Academy again started functioning with renewed zeal and ardour, undertaking, with the passage of time, newer and ever more challenging tasks, but always drawing sustenance and inspiration from the long enduring cultural heritage of the people of this part of the world in general and the Bengali language movement in particular.

C In May 1972, the Bangla Unnayan Board, a fraternal organisation dedicated to the study and development of higher text books in Bengali language was merged with the Academy.

The history of the Bangla Academy and a detailed study of its activities present before us the glorious struggle of the Bengalee nation for preserving its cultural and national identity during the Pakistani rule. It was the organisation to which people looked with expectant eyes and the Academy tried to play a significant role in those hard days to rise unto their expectation. It took positive steps to foster Bengalee nationalism, to inspire people to find our their roots in a cultural synthesis of different communities and religions, to consolidate the unity of the progressive intellectuals and democratic forces through the cultural and emotive power of the language. The Bangla Academy never failed to project the treasures that the nation possessed and through this the spirit of nationalism blossomed into a positive force. The Pakistanis always wanted to make use of religion for deriving their political ends and hence they wanted to nurture and sell an improbable Pakistani culture that had queer affiliation with both fundamentalism and capitalism and was anathema to the people of this region. The Bengalees were not a people to be easily trapped, they could read the ulterior motives of the neocolonialist Pakistanis and they naturally resisted such a move. The Bangla Academy effectively highlighted in those days the importance of a secular, nationalistic and democratic society which would eventually guarantee the establishment of a popular humanistic culture based on rationality and scientific outlook. In this regard, the Bangla Academy holds the position of a unique institution in the country. As the Bangladesh liberation movement developed through various stages of excitement, determination and sacrifice the Academy, in tune with the movement, tried to feel the pulse of the nation and went through long arduous paths to reach its goals. The Bangla Academy has by now gained a symbolic importance by upholding the nation's time-tested traditions and promises. And the people expect the Academy to tenaciously sustain this image in the years to come.

The Academy has been playing a very prominent role in shaping and strengthening the cultural basis of our Republic in conformity with the hopes and aspirations of our people. Its cultural activities are dedicated to the exposition of our cultural heritage, which has developed over the centuries, and its preservation, growth and refinement. The language movement paved the way for the logical development of a progressive Bengalee nationalism which is characterised by a secular, and democratic content. It also helped the Bengalecs to effect a cultural synthesis which strikes the basic attitude of Bengalce life. We had our mystic composers and singers, and a rich folklore tradition grew up here. We have our rural crafts and art works. And in all these one would find the nature and the soul of the nation exhibited in a purely humanistic character. The Bangla Academy is the national platform to display the glories of this culture of ours.

The Bangla Academy has come to be regarded as the largest publishing house of the country with more than two thousand titles to its credit. It tries to publish significant titles in Bengali and also to bring out in translation the masterpieces of world literature._ Among its

numerous publications special mention may be made of Anchalik Bhasar, Abhidhan - a dictionary of the regional dialects of Bangladesh. It is a massive work, a fruit of the devoted labour of many. The Academy accomplished this mounmental task under the able editorship of Late Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah - one of the outstanding scholars and linguists of the sub-continent. The Academy has published a number of very useful dictionaries which include Byabaharik B, angla Abhidhan (a Bengali language dictionary for practical purposes), Chhotoder Abhidhan -- a neatly produced four colour Bengali dictionary for youngesters, a Charitavidhan- a useful national biographital dictionary and an English to Bengali dictionary. The Academy has also undertaken a project to modernize Bengali type writing system. Bangla Academy is presently publishing a comprehensive history of Bengali literature to be completed iri four volumes. This is a work in which several experts are contributing jointly: a mufti-faceted approach gives it an unparalleled distinction. The Academy also distinguished itself by bringing out a popular series in 101 volumes in Bengali on diverse topics embracing various branches of knowledge and culture, beautifully produced, of uniform size and design with only colour variation on the cover. This was in 1985. A similar performance has been repeated - this concerns a biography series - 100 concise biographies of Bengali literati, intellectuals and artists. The Academy in its endeavour to project Bengali literature abroad has published English translations of important works of such distinguished Bengali writers as Kazi Nazrul Islam, Shamsur Rahman, Al Mahmud, Shaukat Osman, and Hasan Azizul Huq. On the other hand, it has published Bengali translations of many world classics, e.g. work of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Kalidasa, Ibne Khaldun, Omar Khayyam, Firdousi, Milton, Goethe, Thomas Mann, Tolstoy, Gorky, Sartre etc. Other important translations include Morgan's Ancient Society and Al-Beruni's title on Indology, Davidson's Medical Science and so on. Through its science publications, the Bangla Academy has in fact created a basis for cultivation of popular sciences in Bengali. It has also documented in print a very large bulk of our oral literature. The Academy diligently devotes its enterprises to the collection of folk culture . materiztls which are taken care of by its folklore department. The department has already taken a number of projects to modernize folklore research: and a number of new projects are going to be initiated in the near future.

The Academy performed a great task in reforming the age old complications of the traditional Bengali Calender. Dr. Muhammad Shahiidullah and others worked hard to give a uniform and predictable character to the calendar for every year. The government officially introduced this new calender from first of July, 1988.

One notable annual performance of the Academy is the holiding of a Book Fair on the occasion of Ekusey. This month long Book Fair has assumed a national character. The Fair tries to present an uptodate picture of the cultural state of the country. Every year bigger crowds gather and sales of books register a steady increase. Books related to our national liberation movement, research-works, poetry, fiction and popular sciences find a good market here. Another weeklong fair is organized on the occasion of the Bengali New Year, 'Pahela Baishakh' in April. The fair is remarkable for books as much as for rural handicrafts and traditional wares that are put on display and sale on the occasion.

The Bangla Academy arranges series of lectures on important scholarly subjects from time to time. Many of the distinguished men of letters from Bangladesh and abroad have participated in this lecture series. The Academy also publishes five journals relating to creative literature, research, science, juvenile literature and an English journal which comes out twice a year. It also publishes a quarterly Folklore Sankalan (Anthology of Folklore) in Bangla.

But the Academy cannot afford to feel complacent about its achievements. It has a long way to go in order to represent the national hopes and aspirations. The fact that the whole nation always attaches a kind of emotional and symbolic value to this organisation acts as a constant spur to its activities.

'Our identity is in Ekusey'-- is more than an inspired slogan. Ekusey has in fact, created us as a forward looking people, proud citizens of a new republic which has a glorious history and a rich cultural past. The Bangla Academy has a great responsibility in defending and enriching our Bangalee identity and cultural past in a progressive way so that we can get future direction and guidance from this premier organization of ours.

 
     
     
     
 
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