History of the Shaheed Minar National Monument in Bangladesh

Located near the Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the national monument known as Shaheed Minar, was established in memory of those who were killed during the 1952 Bengali Language Movement demonstrations. Set upon a fourteen foot high stage, the Shaheed Minar National Monument is constructed from columns of pure marble stone, with stairs and railings painted white and the fences on either side bearing lines of poetry penned by famous poets made out of iron letters. Two statues are placed at the entrance of the monument.

The Bengali Language Movement was formed as a political effort to advocate the recognition of the Bengali language as one of Pakistan’s official languages. At that time Bangladesh was East Pakistan and the Government of Pakistan had declared Urdu to be the sole national language, which the Bengali-speaking majority in the area objected to. In the face of rising sectarian tensions, the government put a ban on public meetings and rallies. Defying the ban, students of the University of Dhaka, along with other political activists, organized a protest to take place on 21 February 1952. Police opened fire on the protestors, resulting in dozens of deaths.

Two days later, students erected a makeshift monument at the site of the massacre in honor of those who had lost their lives. However, this was demolished soon after by the Pakistani police force. Rather than suppressing the Language Movement, the conflict seemed to spur it on, eventually leading to Bangla being given the same status as that of Urdu.

Bangladeshi sculptor, Hamidur Rahman, designed and built a replacement monument, which stood until the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The monument was destroyed during the infamous “Operation Searchlight”, in which the Pakistan Army attempted to curb the Bengali nationalist movement of East Pakistan, resulting in many deaths. However, following the granting of independence to Bangladesh the monument was rebuilt, and today serves as an important center of cultural activities in the city of Dhaka. The Language Movement martyrs are remembered at the Shaheed Minar every year.

Shaheed Minar is of such importance to the people of Bangladesh, that permanent replicas of the monument have been built in other countries where large Bangladeshi communities have settled. A replica monument is situated in the Altab Ali Park in the Tower Hamlets of East London and another is found in the Westwood neighborhood of Oldham. These replicas, and the original Shaheed Minar, serve as a reminder of those who made a stand to ensure that the Bangla language be given due recognition.

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