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Archive for February, 2015

My Language – my pride

On 21 February 1952, students from several universities in Bangladesh came together near the High Court of Bangladesh in its capital, Dhaka, to demonstrate for recognition of their language, Bengali, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan. They were shot and killed by police. The deaths sparked civil unrest resulting in years of conflict which resulted in the central government relenting and granting official status to the Bengali language in 1956.

A movement that came about due to the passion of a people to express themselves in a way they feel comfortable has culminated in a day celebrating that very right. In 1999, UNESCO declared 21 February as International Mother Language Day (IMLD) in tribute to the Language Movement and the ethno-linguistic rights of people around the world. Its observance was also formally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution establishing 2008 as the International Year of Languages.

IMLD promotes awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Not just as its historical root, the Shaheed Minar, or the Martyr’s monument, located at Dhaka Medical College Campus, Bangladesh, where people gather to commemorate the sacrifice and celebrate through artistic expression, poetry and drama, but globally.

UNESCO sets the theme for each International Mother Language Day and holds related events at its headquarters in Paris. The theme for IMLD 2015 is “Inclusion in and through education: Language counts”. Its focus is on one of the main challenges that cut across many of the goals, i.e. Inclusion (equity/quality). The opening ceremony held in France included a speech by UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, the Ambassador of Bangladesh to France, the Permanent Delegate of Bangladesh to UNESCO and the representative of Secretary General of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.

This day also marks the annual presentation of the Linguapax Award by the Linguapax (Linguapax Institute) “which recognises and awards the actions carried out in different areas in favour of the preservation of linguistic diversity, revitalization and reactivation of linguistic communities and the promotion of multilingualism”. Candidates are individuals of the academic community and civil society as well as entities or collectives. The award honours actions carried out in different fields in favour of the preservation of linguistic diversity, revitalization and reactivation of linguistic communities and the promotion of multilingualism.

This year the award goes to Xavier Albo, an expert in linguistics and anthropology settled in Bolivia. Xavier Albo is one of the longest-serving, most active and most committed Indian and Indigenous Rights scholar-activist working in Latin America. He has studied and speaks Aymara, Quechua and Guarani, has spoken in countless meetings of Indian leaders, and has advised governments on everything from landrights to census policy including language issues. Xavier Albo has authored and co-authored many articles and books devoted to anthropology, history, social sciences, linguistics and sociolinguistics, with a special emphasis on indigenous communities in Bolivia.

Closer to home, in Canberra, the “the International Mother Language Movement” community organised their second annual walk to bring together people from many countries in a celebration of their ethnicity, culture and expression. The event was organised and carried out with the help of many organisers volunteering their time and effort to encompass a wide range of ethnicities. The sunny day in Canberra saw a colourful representation from the Bangladeshi, Portugese, Tamilian, Tongan and Vietnamese population who sang and danced by the lakeside. The event is a recurring one with the next event scheduled for Sunday 21st February 2016 in Canberra. Like the International Mother Language Movement, Canberra, Australia community page on Facebook to stay informed on developments.  Click HERE for the video of the ABC news coverage of the event and HERE for the article in the Canberra times.

In celebration of IMLD we celebrate all those who lived and died for the liberation of our people in all the countries of the world. I and my friends especially remember the forgotten female liberation fighters erased from history books. In particular, Ferdousi Priyovashini a valiant freedom fighter during the Liberation war of Bangladesh. She was taken into a torture cell by the Pakistani occupation forces and tortured brutally for almost 8 months. After the liberation war, the women who were repressed during the War of Independence honoured her as a ‘Birangana’ (heroic woman). She was the second Bangladeshi to be chosen as a ‘Hero’ by the Reader’s Digest magazine in its December, 2004, issue for the valour she displayed in acknowledging herself as a war-victim.

As espoused by the UN, Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

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Masters of our fate

As far as I can see the ultimate aim of human endeavour is to control our fate. An endeavour that has led to amazing and mind boggling advances in society and technology. But every now and then something happens that proves that no matter how far we advance it can all be washed away in a moment. That our fate is not ever truly ours.

Recently I was at Jervis bay with the husband and a few friends. We were having an amazing time driving from beach to beach and enjoying the sun surf and sea (and snacks!). At the last beach of the day, caves beach, a few of us napped on towels far from the shore where we put down our bags and the rest of us went for a walk or swim.

We noticed that the waves were coming in quite erratically on this beach and hit the shore in a criss-cross pattern rather than straight. We also noticed the strength of the waves and even a small rip forming. The hubby and I decided not to go into the water and instead walked to one of the caves along the side of the beach. We had just walked out and stood outside marvelling at a wave coming towards us. We stood at our spot having no idea this seemingly small looking wave would ignore the ‘shoreline’ and speed towards us. In a matter of seconds I was in water up to my thighs with my sandals floating away from me. The entrance to the cave was completely full of water and our belongings high up on the beach were completely wet with our friends scrambling to keep dry.

The water receded as quickly as it had come and we were left with muddy sandy soaking wet clothes, towels, bags and hats which took us hours to clean. In the aftermath we all wondered at the ferocity and suddenness of this wave. One that seemed so small and harmless and caused so much panic. We gave thanks that the littlest one amongst us, my friends 4 year old boy was not running along the beach as he had been just minutes earlier, but safe in his pram. We shuddered to think of how easily he would have been swept away by a seemingly innocuous wave.

As the initial chatter receded and we reverted back to our enjoyment of the day, the incident receded to the recess of my mind but sat there waiting to be dissected. On our trip home I brought it up with M and marvelled at how quickly the episode had occurred. I also wondered at how calm I was for someone who couldn’t swim. A few years ago, this would not have been the case. I am by nature a very controlling person. I like my toast a certain way, I arrange my containers in the kitchen cabinet a certain way, all my shoes face one direction and all the switches in my house must be turned off when not in use. For someone like me to concede control to anyone else is a huge mental exertion. One that I have been coming to grips with in my year of adjusting with M. It’s not easy and he can tell you all about how irritated I get with the ‘little things’ he does.

And yet with the bigger picture events and direction of my life I am completely happy to concede control. This is not something that happened overnight. For over a decade I have tried to control my life. And for over a decade every single amazing awesome life changing thing that has happened to me has been a ‘mistake’ or an ‘accident’. It really made me pause and think. Every important decision I have ‘made’ can actually be attributed as a ‘happy accident’. Every single work, study, travel and volunteering opportunity and the moment I gave up control of my ‘love life’, that as well. It made even more sense when I read this, “Every affliction that falls on the earth or yourselves, already exists in a Book before it is brought into being by us. No doubt that is easy for Allah to accomplish”. (Surah al-Hadid, 57:22) When I first came across this concept, I was baffled. What is the point of my life is it’s already pre-determined? Why should I even bother getting out of bed?

But Allah swt says, “For each one are successive [angels] before and behind him who protect him by the decree of Allah . Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them besides Him any patron. (Sura Ar-Ra’d 13:11)” God controls our Fate but we still need to enjoin the good and forbid the evil for that change to come our way. I was asked once by a friend of mine, You are a smart accomplished woman living in a time of such technological and scientific advancement. How can you believe in such a backward concept as religion. And to that I had said, Religion is not mutually exclusive to technological and scientific advancement. If anything it is the foundation of morals, values and codes which help us implement the advancements in society and allow me to be the person I am.

In a world where independence is so highly valued, autonomy is God and being dependent or subservient is seen as a weakness, it is very hard to remember that surely He who created me has the best in mind for me, so surely I can cede control to him. For He knows what I do not about my own future. With Him are the keys of the invisible. None but He knows them. And He knows what is in the land and the sea. Not a leaf falls, but he knows it, not a grain amid the darkness of the earth, nor anything green or withered but is recorded in a clear Book”. (Surah al-An’am, 6:59)”

Sometimes it takes a wave crashing around you to remind you to be grateful for all you have been given and all that can be taken away in a moment.

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