Pupils in Dhaka Catholic school remember 'mother tongue martyrs' (photos)

The students of the Saint Teresa School in Mirpur-2 marched, sang, danced, and read poems to reaffirm the right to express themselves in their own language. Celebrations highlighted the sacrifice of students who gave their lives and the need for “harmony among all religions".

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of children from a Catholic school in Dhaka’s Mirpur-2 District remembered the country’s language martyrs.

Ekushey (21) February is one of Bangladesh’s most heart-felt observances. It commemorates the Bengali students who were murdered by Pakistani police on 21 February 1952 whilst demonstrating for the right to express themselves in their mother language.

PIME missionary Fr Quirico Martinelli spoke to AsiaNews about the ceremony held at Saint Teresa School, which is located right across from Mary Queen of Apostles Catholic Church.

"The guys rehearsed for a week,” said enthusiastically the priest. “They rehearsed songs and dances. Once in the street, they began a parade drawing in parents and bystanders."

In Bangladesh, the month of February is ‘language month’, going back to 21 February 1948, when the government based in West Pakistan decided to make Urdu the official language of the state. But most of the people in East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh) spoke Bengali and protested against the move.

Four years later, some students belonging to the Bhasha Andolôn, the Language Movement, were killed by Pakistani forces near the University of Dhaka campus. Their Movement came to represent the struggle for emancipation from oppression.

For Fr Quirico, "that episode sowed the desire to be a nation in the heart of Bengalis, and was the prelude for the subsequent struggle for independence", which was achieved in 1971.

"All 495 children enrolled in school took part” in yesterday’s celebration, the clergyman said, “together with their parents and teachers. We started early in the morning, around 6:30 am, with a procession in the streets. The police blocked traffic in the Mirpur area, allowing children to safely carry out the parade."

This "is a national day of celebration” across the country. “Every school celebrates and we Catholics are no different,” Fr Quirico said.

“After the parade we came back to the school courtyard where a monument was erected in honour of the martyrs, similar to the Shaheed Minar national monument. Each child brought a flower and placed it in front of the memorial." The celebration continued with "songs, poems and speeches by teachers and parents".

"Local authorities also intervened praising the sacrifice of those who gave their lives so that we all have the freedom to speak the mother tongue. They ended by stressing the need for harmony among all religions."