February 21 is observed as a national holiday in Bangladesh to commemorate the Language movement day. Language movement day pays homage to the Bengali language movement and the martyrs of the movement.

The Bengali language movement was a political movement in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) that advocated for the recognition of Bengali as an official language to be used in government affairs and official institutions. This movement started as a result of Urdu being declared as the official language in both East and West Pakistan in 1949. Majority of the people in East Pakistan spoke Bengali and were severely limited by the imposition of Urdu, because it meant that they did not have access to majority of the jobs in the country. Therefore, the grievances kept building up and led to extensive protests amongst the Bengali speaking population in the country. Due to these rising tensions, the government outlawed public meetings and rallies. As a result, on February 21 1952, students of University of Dhaka and other activists defied the law and organized a protest. The protestors were met with violence as the police killed students who were participating in the protest. This resulted in widespread civil unrest and became one of the major reasons why the then East Pakistanis called for Independence from West Pakistan.

The violence of the Bengali language movement remains a fresh memory in the minds of Bengali people, as it serves as a constant reminder of the violence and oppression they had to face before they were finally granted independence in 1971 after the war with West Pakistan.

“Bengali is a provincial language but so far as the state is concerned, it is the language of the majority of the people of the state…..out of the sixty-nine million people in Pakistan, forty-four million of the people speak the Bengali language…The state language of the state should be the language which is used by the majority of the people of the state, and for that, I consider that the Bengali language is the lingua franca of our state….I am voicing the sentiments of the vast million of our state, and therefore Bengali should not be treated as a provincial language. It should be treated as a language of the state.”

–Dhirendra Nath Dutta