"Thousands of people assembled at the protest rally in Chattrogram's Laldighi Maidan, one day after the killing of students on 21 February 1952. Chowdhury Harun recited my poem at the rally and it ignited the masses to the point they started chanting the slogan – Cholo Cholo, Dhaka Cholo. On the 23rd, protest rallies and processions were staged the whole day across the city. To commemorate the martyrs of the language movement, our activists built a Shaheed Minar overnight at the Victoria Garden, in front of Laldighi's Khurshid Mohol. It was later demolished by the police. That is how the first Shaheed Minar was built in Chattogram in honour of the language movement martyrs," Mahbub ul Alam Chowdhury, the editor of Shimanto magazine, narrated the story of Chattogram's first Shaheed Minar in an interview.
Language movement hero Late AKM Emdadul Islam, who was a student of Chattogram College at the time, wrote, "In the afternoon of 23 February, a huge rally led by Awami League President Sheikh Mozaffar Ahmed was held at the Laldighi Maidan. Speakers at the rally strongly condemned the killings and demanded the execution of Nurul Amin. Later, a monument was erected at the Victoria Park (now a petrol pump) near Laldighi to honour the memory of the martyrs of the language movement."
From 1948 to 1950, after Mohammad Ali Zinnah's announcement that Urdu will be the state language of Pakistan, the movement against the conspiracy to deprive Bangladeshi's of their language and culture was active on a limited scale in Chattogram. But when Khwaja Nazimuddin made the same announcement at the Paltan Maidan in January 1952, residents of Chattogram roared in protest like the rest of the country. A nationwide strike was announced from Dhaka on February 21 ahead of the start of the budget session of the provincial government. An all-party Rashtrabhasha Sangram Parishad was formed with Mahabub ul Alam Chowdhury, the editor of Shimanto, as its convenor. The goal was to continue the movement and make the strike a success in Chattogram. There was also a separate cultural committee. The office of Sangram Parishad was set up at the 120 Andarkilla Awami League office.
AKM Emdadul Islam writes, "Preparations were underway on 21 February for the strike. Not all news was allowed to be published in Dhaka newspapers. At that time Satyayuga and Statesman used to come from India. We could learn a lot from these two newspapers. Apart from the Chittagong College and the Commerce College in the city, there were three other colleges in other parts of Chattogram – Kanungopara Sir Ashutosh College, Nazirhat College and Satkania College. Sangram committees were formed centring these colleges and in different areas including Patia and Raozan.
The first Shaheed Minar in schools
Despite repeated attempts and demolishing one Shaheed Minar after another, Pakistan could not erase the memory of the great martyrs of the language movement from the minds of the Bengali people. They could not stop the relentless drive within the Bangladeshis to pay homage to the martyrs and build Shaheed Minars which was the symbol of the mother tongue of the Bengali nation.
The country's youth kept on building Shaheed Minars in areas that were politically and culturally progressive. Construction of Shaheed Minar was still difficult in educational institutions of remote areas due to the fear of backlash from the government and the threat of suspending grants. Even after that, the student society came forward with the support of progressive political leaders and erected Shaheed Minars in many areas.
One such school is Kadurkhil High School in the then Boalkhali police station of Chattogram district. A long 13 years after the language movement, it was on 20 February 1965, when a Shaheed Minar was built at the school. Due to the construction of this Shaheed Minar, the government's allocation for the school's science building was canceled. Two key individuals, who took the initiative to construct the Shaheed Minar, were expelled from the school due to cancellation of the allocation.
Some students of this school discussed among themselves and took the initiative to build a Shaheed Minar on school premises. All those who were in favour of building the Shaheed Minar were involved in the politics of the student union at that time. Syedul Alam, the then general secretary of the local student union, was given the responsibility to consult the district committee on the matter. After getting the permission from the district committee, they first informed the school authorities who strongly opposed the. The students consulted with the then local Communist Party leader Syed Jalal Uddin and it was decided that the Shaheed Minar would be built on school premises on the night of February 20. The left side inside the school's main gate was picked for the Shaheed Minar.
Local seniors of progressive political thought, including Syed Nesarul Haque, the then leader of the local NAP (Mozaffar), encouraged the students to get involved in this initiative. Among other supporters there were junior teacher of Kadurkhil High School Amal Kanti Nath, Preeti Majumder, Nurul Alam, Mir Abdur Rashid, Nurul Islam, Mahabub ul Alam, Farid Uddin Jalal, Piyush Chowdhury, Yogbrat Biswas, Taslim Uddin, Zakir Hossain and Mohammad Ali.
To build the Shaheed Minar, students secretly started collecting donations from their classmates. At one point the matter came to the notice of the school authorities. Syed Nurul Huda, a student who was expelled from the school for the initiative said, "All those who took initiative to build the Shaheed Minar in the school were involved with the student union. I was responsible for collecting donations from the students. I continued to collect donations from the students as per the plan. Somehow the school authorities found out. One day the headmaster Dhirendra Babu called me to his office. He asked, why are you taking money from students? I replied saying we will build a Shaheed Minar in school. He said angrily, is the school yours? Do you know that the administration came to know about this?"
The school authorities tried to dissuade the students from constructing the Shaheed Minar in a different way. The matter was also brought to the notice of the local influential individuals and two UP members. But it was simply impossible to keep the students down. In the words of Syedul Alam, one of the students who built the Shaheed Minar, "After evening on 20 February, the school authorities ordered Doptori Kalu to light two Hajak Bati (kerosene pressure lantern) on school premises and the Head Maulana Ismail Saheb kept the opposing students in his office. Meanwhile, headmaster Dhirendra Lal Majumdar was staying at the school. He occasionally came out of his office and looked across the street. We then rushed behind the edge of the field. When we brought a spade, they also came forward and we moved back, thus the cat and mouse game continued throughout the night.
It was almost dawn. As decided before, we had with us the bricks and cements, provided by Syed Jalal Saheb and the white stone name plaque for the Shaheed Minar, given by the then Students Union President Abdullah Al Noman (later BNP leader and minister). Mason Basir Ahmed was with us as well. As we could see a faint light of the Sun, ready to rise on the eastern horizon, something took over our psyche. Our peer, Shahjada Syed Rezaul Akbari was the first to wrap the lungi around his waist and stormed in to strike the spade on the soil. Everyone followed and with a zeal, stronger than ever, we were all in and began the construction. Taking a glance at the demeanour of the determined students authorities figured it was better they left the place. Finally, the Shaheed Minar was built at Boalkhali with all the joy in the world. The initial shape of the Shaheed Minar was very much like a pyramid. The Shaheed Minar was glistening in the sunshine of the 21 February morning. The spirit of the strong-willed students perhaps was shining brighter.
Syed Nurul Huda said, "After the construction of Shaheed Minar, we started announcing the news around the area with a mike. A discussion meeting in memory of the martyrs was scheduled at 3pm. The locals did not wait until 3 and it was an unprecedented sight. The Shaheed Minar premises started to be filled with flowers since the morning. People flocked in thousands. The Shaheed Minar was later demolished by the Pakistani forces during the liberation war in 1971."
Syed Nurul Hada said that they later learned the first Shaheed Minar of Boalkhali was in fact the first at any school at the time.
"We built this Shaheed Minar out of respect for the martyrs of the language movement, deep love for the mother tongue and hatred for the Pakistani rulers, not for history," he said.
Among the students who were directly involved in the construction of the Shaheed Minar were Syed Abul Hasan, Syed Nurul Huda (these two were expelled from the school), Syedul Alam, Shahjada Syed Rezaul Akbari, Milon Nath, Abdus Sattar, Abul Kalam Azad and Dulal Majumder.
A TBS-Nagad initiative