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Bangladeshi martyrs honored in Korea for linguistic diversity efforts

Bangladeshi Ambassador to Korea Abida Islam, second from left, hoists her country's flag at half-mast in front of the embassy in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, on Language Martyrs' Day and International Mother Language Day, Feb. 21. Courtesy of Embassy of Bangladesh in Korea
Bangladeshi Ambassador to Korea Abida Islam, second from left, hoists her country's flag at half-mast in front of the embassy in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, on Language Martyrs' Day and International Mother Language Day, Feb. 21. Courtesy of Embassy of Bangladesh in Korea

By Yi Whan-woo

The Bangladeshi martyrs who sacrificed their lives while fighting to protect their Bangla language were honored in Korea on International Mother Language Day and their country's Language Martyrs' Day, both which fall on Feb. 21.

The movement for linguistic and cultural rights began in 1952 when then-East Bengal under the Dominion of Pakistan rose against the West Pakistani-dominated government that pushed to designate Urdu as the official language, which was predominantly spoken in West Pakistan.

The 1952 movement led to the independence of Bangladesh, meaning "land of Bangla-speaking people," in 1971.

Led by the country's founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the movement was later recognized by UNESCO, which, as part of its efforts to safeguard linguistic diversity, proclaimed Feb. 21 as International Mother Language Day.

The Embassy of Bangladesh in Korea organized multiple remembrance programs this year.

Among them were laying a floral wreath at the Shaheed Minar (Martyrs' Monument) in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province; hoisting of the national flag at half-mast at the diplomatic mission; a moment of silence; reading of messages from Bangladeshi leaders ― President Md. Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md. Shahriar Alam ― plus UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay; and a screening of a documentary on Feb. 21.

Bangladeshi Ambassador to Korea Abida Islam led the events that strictly observed social distancing rules.

"The ambassador paid rich tribute to the language martyrs who laid down their lives on Feb. 21, 1952, in Dhaka to protect the dignity of our mother language Bangla and established it as the state language of the country," the embassy said in a press release. "She also recalled with deep reverence the greatest Bengali of all times, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman under whose charismatic leadership we attained our independence in 1971 through a systematic struggle of self-autonomy from 1952 to 1971."

The ambassador also highlighted the different initiatives of the government in the promotion of multilingualism in line with the 2021 theme of International Mother Language Day ― "Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society."

Bangladeshi Ambassador to Korea Abida Islam speaks during a webinar organized by the embassy in collaboration with the Korean National Commission for UNESCO, Feb. 19, to mark Language Martyrs' Day and International Mother Language Day that fell Feb. 21. Courtesy of Embassy of Bangladesh in Korea
Bangladeshi Ambassador to Korea Abida Islam speaks during a webinar organized by the embassy in collaboration with the Korean National Commission for UNESCO, Feb. 19, to mark Language Martyrs' Day and International Mother Language Day that fell Feb. 21. Courtesy of Embassy of Bangladesh in Korea

On Feb. 19, the embassy held a webinar in collaboration with the Korean National Commission for UNESCO (KNCU).

It was attended by KNCU officials, Korean diplomats and ambassadors in Korea and other members of the diplomatic corps.

In her welcoming address, Ambassador Islam paid homage to all the language martyrs and underlined the spirit of Language Martyrs' Day.

"It now resonates in the hearts of the people of all around the world after its recognition as the International Mother Language Day by UNESCO," she said, calling for the concerted efforts of the global community in promoting multilingualism.

KNCU Secretary-General Han Kyung-koo spoke about joint efforts between the two Koreas to preserve the Korean language and create a compilation of a unified dictionary with the support of experts from the two sides.

Referring to the shared history and experience of colonialism, Director-General Kim Jung-han of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Asia and Pacific Affairs Bureau emphasized the preservation and promotion of the mother languages.

"The language liberates and empowers people and represents identity which is duly reflected in the history of both countries," he said, calling for a need for multilateralism, co-existence, and solidarity ― all core values of International Mother Language Day.

Indian Ambassador to Korea Sripriya Ranganathan highly appreciated the initiatives of Bangladesh for linguistic diversity.

Ranganathan noted India has 21 official languages and that her country through its own mechanism has made it possible for its people to "remain in touch with the respective mother tongues and traditional cultures" while at the same time communicating with each other through the link languages ― Hindi and English.

Ambassador of Timor-Leste to Korea Adalgisa Maria Soares Ximenes underlined her country's commitment to preserving and promoting its diverse culture and languages.

She explained her country is predominantly a multilingual country with a population of 1.4 million with 16 different mother tongues other than the official languages ― Portuguese and Tetum.

South African Ambassador to Korea Zenani Mandela-Dlamini shared her personal experience of struggle against apartheid as well as in establishing different mother tongues as official languages of South Africa.

She also mentioned that the country used to only recognize English and Afrikaans as the official languages but now recognizes a total of five after the establishment of democracy led by her father Nelson Mandela.

During the webinar, a short documentary was screened on the similarities between Language Martyrs' Day and Korea's Hangeul Day on Oct. 9.

The embassy introduced two Bangladeshi language expats who contributed to promoting Bangla language among Korean students and Bangladeshi children residing here.


Yi Whan-woo yistory@koreatimes.co.kr


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