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Border breached as India, Bangladesh remember 'language martyrs'

Agartala, Feb 21 (IANS) With thousands of people from either side of the border gathering at colourful functions to commemorate the "language martyrs", India and Bangladesh jointly organised the International Mother Language Day.

The day was first declared a special day for celebrating linguistic and cultural diversity by UNESCO in 1999. On Feb 21 each year, Bangladesh remembers the students who were killed when they demanded introduction of Bangla as state language while the country was still part of Pakistan, in 1952.

Despite the two-day countrywide strike in India and scarcity of vehicles, intellectuals and lawmakers, men, women and young students of both nations joined the celebrations Wednesday, breached borders and walked deep into the other country's territory as artists from the two sides performed dances and sang songs.

Plays were staged till the wee hours of Thursday.

Members of parliament, legislators, ministers and dignitaries participated in the International Mother Language Day programme held at the zero point of the Akhaurah checkpost, three km from the heart of Tripura's capital, Agartala. Celebrations occurred at checkposts along the state's border with Bangladesh too.

"For the past four years, the day has been jointly celebrated, and thousands gather from either side. Such joint celebrations would easily further ties between India and Bangladesh," Bangladesh MP Obaidul Muktadir Chowdhury said, while addressing the function.

The Sahitya Academy president of Brahmanbaria (in Bangladesh), Jaidul Hossain, said: "India-Bangladesh cultural diplomacy would definitely resolve many vague and unsettled issues, benefiting the people of the two neighbours."

"The language movement in the then east Pakistan (now Bangladesh) sowed the seeds of nine-month-long 1971 liberation war, which created a sovereign Bangladesh," Hossain said.

Bangladesh observes Feb 21 as "Martyrs' Day" to commemorate the killing of Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar and a few other brave men of that country killed in police firing on this day in 1952 when thousands of students moved in a procession from the Dhaka University campus, breaching police barriers, demanding recognition of Bangla as a state language of the then undivided Pakistan (which included East Pakistan that today is Bangladesh).

"Though we are separated by the boundaries, we have a common culture, language and life style in both the nations and now with the joint observance of the Mother Language Day, the Bengali-speaking people of the two nations would further come closer," renowned poet and Tripura Cultural Minister Anil Sarkar said.

In 1961, eleven youths had become martyrs in police firing in Silchar in southern Assam when they took part in the language movement demanding recognition of Bengali as their mother tongue. Subsequently, in 1972, 1986 and in 1996, four more people were shot dead in Silchar when police opened fire on the people of the movement.

The Tripura government's information and cultural affairs department is actively supporting Thursday's programme, that is also co-sponsored by many cultural organisations of Bangladesh and India.

The India-Bangladesh border points with Tripura were almost open Thursday in many areas to facilitate the people to join in the celebrations.

Border Security Force and troopers from Bangladesh Border Guard were silent onlookers as people from either side freely crossed the border barriers and mingled together.

Sujit Chakraborty

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