The History and Significance of the Bengali Language Movement in Assam

Listen to the Podcast:
The date of “Unnishe May (May 19)”, has been set in stone for the people of Assam’s Barak Valley. The Bengali Language Movement, also called “Bhasha Shahid Divas,” was a protest against the Assam government’s choice to make Assamese the only official language of the state. 
On that day in 1961, the State police shot and killed 11 people who were protesting against it. The horrible thing happened at the Silchar train stop in Tarapur. 
One of these 11 heroes is a woman who was shot so hard that the bullet went through her eye and into her head. When you look at the past of the Barak Valley, you can see that many people gave their lives to protect the Bengali language. Every year, to remember the 11 people who gave their lives to protect the Bengali language, different cultural events are held, parades are held, and flower garlands are put on the busts of the 11 people who died.

How did 11 People Give their Lives for Bangla Language Movement in Assam?

11 People Give their Lives for Bangla in Assamese Language Movement
Graphics Credit:
On February 25, 1948, the Pakistan Constituent Assembly put forth a proposal to designate Urdu as the official language of Pakistan. Amidst much indignation, Babu Dhirendra Nath Dutta strongly advocated for the cause of Bangla. In 1971, a new nation was created as a result of a struggle that had its roots in his proposal. 
Karimganj (North) legislator, Ranendra Mohan Das, has taken a defiant stance against the Assam Legislative Assembly’s decision to make Assamese the official language of the state. On October 10, 1960, the following event took place. The act of lingual sadism was reportedly introduced during the tenure of Bimala Prasad Chaliha, who was the Chief Minister of the Northeast Indian state at that time.

Background of the Bengali Language Movement in Assam

The Bengali Language Movement in Assam was a political protest against the Assam Government’s move to make Assamese the only official language in the state.  The movement was particularly strong in Barak Valley, where the majority of the population spoke Bengali. The call for Assamese as the official language started a conflict between the Assamese and Bengali-speaking communities, leading to violence and the loss of lives.
The movement reached its peak on May 19, 1961, when 11 people were killed in police firing at Silchar railway station. Finally, Bengali was granted official status in Barak Valley, allowing the Bengali-speaking community to be recognized in Assam.

The Bhasa Satya Gragha: Movement for Protection of the Language

The Kachar Gana Sangram Parishad was started on February 5, 1961, to protest the fact that Bengalis in the Barak Valley were being forced to speak Assamese. On April 14, people in Silchar, Karimganj, and Hailakandi held a day called “Sankalp Day” to protest the unfairness of the Assam government.
On April 24, the council went on a long, one-way march to make the people of Barak more aware.  Long marches went to different parts of the Valley, and a lot of people learned about the cause and felt like they were a part of it. Volunteers for the cause also helped raise a lot of knowledge among the general public.
Participants in the march, which finished on May 2, went through about 200 miles of villages in the valley. At the end of the march, the head of the council, Rathindranath Sen, said that if Bengali isn’t made an official language by April 13, 1961, there will be a big strike on May 19.
The Assam Rifles, the Madras Regiment, and the Central Reserve Police Force all marched with flags in Silchar on May 12. The movement’s leaders, Nalinikanta Das, Rathindranath Sen, and Bidhubhushan Chowdhury, the editor of the weekly Yugshakti, were arrested on May 5.

History of May 19: Bengali Language Movement in Assam

Strikes and picketing began on 19 May in Silchar, Karimganj, and Hailakandi. In Karimganj, protesters put up signs in front of government buildings, train stops, courts, and other places. At the train stop in Silchar, they began Satyagraha. The strike was supposed to end when the 4 p.m. train went by. No tickets were sold for the 5:40 a.m. train. The strike in the morning was quiet.
But things changed around 2:30 pm when a police truck stopped nine Satyagrahis from Katigora who were on their way to Tarapur station, which is now called Silchar train station. When they saw people being arrested and taken away, all of the protesters yelled and screamed. The cops, including the truck driver, took the prisoners with them when they got scared. Then, a man who didn’t say who he was set the truck on fire, but firemen got there quickly and put out the fire.
Around 2:35 p.m., paramilitary troops guarding the station started hitting protesters with guns and sticks. They shot 18 rounds at the protesters in the space of seven minutes.  Shots were fired at 12 people. On that day, nine of them were killed, and two more died later. I took the first few lines from a popular poem by Sri Atul Prasad Sen and put them in the form of 11 souls.
Miss Kamala Bhattacharya, Kanai Lal Neogi, Hitesh Biswas, Chandicharan Sutradhar, Sachindra Pal, Kumud Das, Satyendra Deb, Birendra Sutradhar, Sukomal Purkaystha, Sunil Sarkar, and Tarani Debnath were the 11 Satyagrahis who became Hutatmas because they loved their mother tongue. East Pakistan is where most of them came from.
Modern sources say that the Bengali-speaking Muslims in the area were not part of this movement and, in some cases, actively worked to stop this movement for the Bengali language from getting off the ground and being used all over the state.
On May 20, the people of Silchar took the bodies of those who had died in a funeral parade.
After this happened, the government of Assam had no choice but to make Bengali the official language of the Barak Valley.
People from West Bengal may not even know how much people in Assam gave up for their country. Even the so-called “Intellectual Bongs” who sing their hearts out on February 21 know nothing about the history of May 19. Is it a mistake or was it planned in a bad way?
People in India and Bengal have to think things through. The Bengalis of India are being tricked by Islamists as part of a plan to make a bigger Bangladesh based on a false identity based on language similarities.
George Santayana once said, “Those who don’t learn from history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” We are about to make the same mistakes, which is why the history of 19th May is so important and should be taught to all Bengalis who agree with Atul Prasad, who are proud of their language and love it, like Tapas Barman and Rajesh Sarkar, who again took bullets from a so-called Bengali Government on September 20, 2018, at Daribhit.
In fact, all of our general ideas and laws, fixed and external things, principles, people, and gods, as well as our general ideas and laws, are just a bunch of symbolic algebraic expressions. They represent the experience, which is something we can’t hold on to and look back on in its many immediate parts. We would sink like animals if we didn’t have these intellectual tools to keep us alive and guide us. This is why Bengalis should remember May 19 and be proud of it.

Arrests of Movement Leaders

On May 18, 1961, the Assam police arrested Nalinikanta Das, Rathindranath Sen, and Bidhubhushan Chowdhury, the editor of the weekly Yugashakti. These three men were leaders of the Bengali Language Movement in Assam.

This act further fuelled the movement, as it showed the government’s lack of interest in addressing the demands of the protestors. By May 19, the dawn to dusk hartal had begun, and picketing started in various sub-divisional towns. In the afternoon of the same day, the paramilitary forces guarding the railway station resorted to lathicharge on Satyagraha at the Tarapur railway station. The movement faced significant repression, but it paved the way for the recognition of Bengali as an official language in Assam.

One of the Key Factors behind Assam’s Partition

Key Factors behind Assam’s Partition
Graphics Credit:
At the time, it also had parts of Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh, and people spoke many different languages. In 1996, the former speaker of the Lok Sabha, P.A. Sangma, made it clear: “We all spoke Assamese, and we still can. But we aren’t Assamese, so we couldn’t accept being forced to speak Assamese.
We all now know about the Bangla language movement in Assam. On May 19, 1961, paramilitary troops opened fire on protesters in Silchar, killing 11 people. But we don’t know much about how this is a repeat of the past in the Assam area. 
Troubled Periphery, written by Subir Bhaumik, talks about how the British sent farmers from East Bengal to the barren lands of Assam to help them grow crops. In 1836, Bangla was made the official language of the area. This made the native Assamese very angry, and a well-known thinker named Anandaram Dhekial Phukan led the protests. These attempts paid off, and in July 1873, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal said that the Assamese language could be used in legal and tax matters. The language could also be used in Darrang, Nowgong, Lakhimpur, Kamrup, and Sivsagar, which are all valley areas.
But in 1874, Bangla-speaking areas like Sylhet, Cachar, and Goalpara were added to Assam. Bangla speakers then started to push for Bangla schools, which led to the first divisions in how schools taught. A divide began to show up between the two groups. 
This was shown in a 1927 speech by Tarun Ram Phukan, who was head of the Assam Sahitya Sabha. He said, “We Assamese are a different kind of Indian. Even though our language comes from Sanskrit, it is still its own language. A country that is on the rise shows signs of life by taking over more territory. Unfortunately, it’s not that way. Not only are we dependent, but our neighbour Bengal is trying to eat us up by taking advantage of the fact that we can’t help ourselves.” 
In 1938, a farmer leader from West Goalpara named Matiur Rahman Miah told the Assam Assembly, “We are Bengalis. Bangla is our native language.” He also said that if Assamese was forced on them, their children would not be able to learn their own language or get an education. 

Violence by Assam Rifles and Police

On May 19, 1961, violence erupted when Assam Rifles and police arrived at the Silchar railway station, where Bengali Language Movement protesters had gathered. A truck carrying arrested Satyagrahis was passing by when fellow activists assembled at the railway tracks and broke out in loud protests, and an unidentified person set fire to the truck.

The paramilitary forces guarding the railway station then beat protesters with rifle butts and batons before firing into the crowd, resulting in the deaths of nine people. The killings prompted protests and a procession in Silchar, leading to Bengali ultimately being given official status in the Barak Valley. 

Barak Valley Pays Ode to 1952 Bangla Language Martyrs

People of all languages in the Bengali-dominated Barak Valley areas of Assam celebrated International Mother Language Day every year. They did this to remember Omor Ekushe, which happened on February 21, 1952, when Rafiq, Salam, Jabbar, Barkat, and others in Bangladesh gave their lives so that the Bangla language could have its rightful place in their country.
For the Bengali-speaking people of Barak Valley, the day has a unique meaning because, on May 19, 1961, 11 language martyrs died when police shot at them at the Silchar railway station. They were protesting against the Assamese language being forced on the Bengali-speaking people of this valley.
Sammilita Sanskritik Manch, which is a group of different cultural groups, put on a program to celebrate International Mother Language Day in Silchar. The event took place at the Silchar train station and Gandhi Bag, a park in the middle of town. In the morning, hundreds of people, including political leaders, crowded into the train station and left flowers at the Martyrs’ Column for the people who died for their language. 

Know More: Bangladesh’s 50th Independence Day

Cultural Programs on Bhasa Shahis DIvas

Bhasa Shahid Station In his speech, the leader of the Shahid Smaran Samiti, which is part of the Manch, Babul Hore, said that the Martyrs’ Column at the train station would be raised to 19 feet. He said that the Samiti will keep trying to get the Silchar train station, which is over 100 years old, named after the 11 people who died for their language.
At noon, Matri Bhasha Suraksha Samiti, Barak Upatyaka Banga Sahitya O Sanskriti Samiti, and other social and cultural groups joined the program at Gandhi Bag. There were cultural events all day long and into the evening.
“Unesco made February 21 International Mother Language Day, which is celebrated all over the world to honour the people who died in 1952 fighting for the Bangla language’s proper place. We think that the fight led to the language movement in Assam’s Barak Valley in 1961,” said Mihir Lal Roy, president of Matri Bhasha Suraksha Samiti.
Assam University in Silchar also marked the day. In the morning, vice-chancellor Tapodhir Bhattacharjee, university officials, teachers, and students laid flowers at Shahid Minar on the campus. At a meeting at Bipin Paul Auditorium, the vice-chancellor said that in the new millennium, February 21 will be celebrated in 188 countries as International Mother Language Day. The Silchar branch of the Asom Sahitya Sabha set up a book fair at the Sahitya Sabha Bhawan grounds. The day was also celebrated in Karimganj and Hailakandi, among other places in the area.

Silchar Railway Station is Described as Bhasa Shahid Station

This massacre is like the one in Jalianwalabagh or Bangladesh on February 21, 1952, when police in Dhaka shot and killed students who were protesting for their language, Bengali, to be recognized as one of the two national languages of Pakistan.
Every year on May 19, a day called BhashaShahid Divas is held to honour the 11 people who gave their lives to protect the Bengali language. These people are remembered through cultural events.
May 19 (Unnishe May) is set in stone for the people of Barak Valley to remember the 11 people who died in 1961 during the Bengali Language Movement. Every year, cultural events, parades, and flower garlands are held to remember them. Babu Dhirendra Nath Dutta advocated for Bangla, leading to the creation of a new nation in 1971. Ranendra Mohan Das took a defiant stance against the Assam Legislative Assembly’s decision to make Assamese the official language. The Bhasha Shahid Divas is held annually to honour the 11 people who gave their lives to protect the Bengali language.


USC Shaken by Sexual Assault Lawsuit Against C.W. Park [Detail Story]

USC is embattled with C.W. Park’s billion-dollar lawsuit over...

George Santos Faces Mounting Pressure to Resign from Congress

Congressman George Santos, a Republican from embattled New York,...

List of Top 20 Highest-Paid Authors in 2023 [Including Net Worth and Earnings]

The publishing industry has always been an exciting field,...

The Chameleon Eyes of Taylor Swift: How Her Eye Color Changes?

Do you find yourself wondering what Taylor Swift's eye...

Top 20 Richest Football Club Owners in the World

Football clubs around the world are often centers of...