Professor Ghulam Azam

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Ghulam Azam in Prison over 17 months

arrest wheelchair

Prof Ghulam Azam was arrested on 11th Jan 2012. At the age of 91, on June 11th he completed 17 months (517 days) in that lonely prison cell for crimes he is innocent of. During these 17 months Prof Azam has been inflicted with health complications due to old age, including high blood pressure and losing consciousness several times. Nonetheless he has been denied bail and adequate medical care.
Prof Azam has been unjustly imprisoned as a political prisoner a number of times since his active involvement in politics. This is the 5th time in his life that he is in jail and it is the longest duration of imprisonment he has ever endured. 16 months was his previous highest when he was last arrested in March 1992 in which he came out victorious with his right of citizenship.
Prayers are sought for justice, dignity and health for Prof Azam.
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Ghulam Azam on Language Movement

Interview of Professor Ghulam Azam on Bangla Language Movement
Conducted by Dhaka Digest, January 1979 

(Original Bangla interview here

Biography until 1979

Professor Ghulam Azam was born on 7th November 1922 [5/8/1329 Bangla calendar] in Dhaka. His parental home is in Birgaon village, Nabinagar, of Brahmanbaria district [formerly part of Kumilla district]. 

Professor Ghulam Azam is a renowned personality and prominent leader of the Bangla Language Movement. He was one of the core student leaders who campaigned tirelessly for the demand of establishing Bangla as a state language from the very beginning of that movement. 

He was elected as the General Secretary (GS) of Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) during the period when the demand was first raised to declare Bangla as a state language of Pakistan. Naturally as the DACSU G.S. of the time and a student leader, he had to play a very important role in that movement.

Mr Ghulam Azam enrolled at Dhaka University (DU) after passing his Intermediate (I.A.) exams in 1944. After graduating from DU with B.A. Honors he enrolled as a M.A. student in 1946. He was elected as the GS of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall in 1946. He was then elected as the GS of DACSU for the 1947-48 session and was reelected in this position for the 1948-49 session. In 1948, the then Pakistani Prime Minister Liakat Ali Khan visited the East Pakistan and spoke at a huge student rally held in DU Gymnasium on 27th November. In that historical rally, the then DACSU GS Mr Ghulam Azam read a memorandum that included demands for establishing Bangla as a state language of Pakistan, with huge applause from the audience, and presented that memorandum to the PM Liakat Ali Khan. 

He was a meritorious student throughout his student life. He passed his junior exams with first division in 1937 and in his high madrasah exams in 1942 he ranked 13th. After that, he passed B.A. from Dhaka University in 1946 and M.A. in 1950. Same year he joined Rangpur Carmichael College as a lecturer and remained there until 1955. During this period he was arrested in 1952 as a leader of the Language Movement in Rangpur. 

He was not directly involved with the Tamuddun Majlis [a literary circle of practicing Muslim writers and intellectuals who first proposed Bangla as a state language] during his student life, but joined them after being released from jail in 1952. He joined Jamaat-e-Islami in April, 1954 and became a member of this party in 1955 while in Rangpur jail. 

Mr Ghulam Azam is an activist by nature. He was arrested in 1948 while picketing for the Language Movement. He was again arrested in 1952 as a leader of the Language Movement. Again in 1955 during the East Pakistan Governor’s rule and was released only after a habeas corpus petition. He was arrested again in 1964 when Jamaat-e-Islami was banned and spent two months in the Lahore jail, In March of that year he was expelled from the West Pakistan only to be re-arrested upon arrival in the East Pakistan and was jailed for 6 months. He was released after a habeas corpus petition again.

Mr Ghulam Azam was elected as a provincial joint secretary of Jamaate Islami in 1956 and as the General Secretary in 1957. He remained in that position until April 1969, when he was elected as the Ameer of then East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami. 

In 1971, He travelled to West Pakistan to attend central ExCo meeting of Jamaat-e-Islami. During his return flight to East Pakistan, Dhaka was being bombarded by the Indian Air Force. As a result, his plane could not land in Dhaka. The plane diverted to Colombo and then landed in Jeddah. Mr Ghulam Azam thus began a life in exile.

In April 1973 the then Bangladesh Government revoked his citizenship. He returned to Bangladesh in 1978 with a visa. During his six years in exile he demonstrated an incredible level of activism, hard work and busy lifestyle. He chaired the first delegate meeting of the International Islamic Youth Conference held in Riyadh in 1972. He was the main speaker in the following conferences: 

1. International Islamic Youth Conference held in Tripoli in July, 1973
2. FOSIS Annual Conference held in London, 1973
3. Islamic Mission Annual Conference, 1973
4. IIFSO Annual Conference held in Istanbul, 1977
5. MSA Annual Convention in Michigan, 1973

He was an invited guest in many international conferences during his exile, including: 

1. International Conference organized by Rabeta al Alam Islami in Makkah, 1974
2. International Islamic Conference organized by European Islamic Council, London, 1976
3. International Islamic Jurisprudence Conference, organized by Muhammad bin Saud University in Riyadh, 1976
4. International Islamic Conference on Education, organized by King Abdul Aziz University in Makkah, 1977

Mr Ghulam Azam is the author of more than 100 books including Economic Solution to Modern Economic Problems, A Guide to Islamic Movement, Ideological Clash in Pakistan, Islamic Education Theory, Islam and Secularism, Ideals from the life of the Prophet, Islamic Movement in Bangladesh, etc.

—–

[As we of Dhaka Digest visited him for the interview it was evident that he is a regular reader of our magazine, he talked to us with much interest and sincerity despite having a very busy schedule and workload. We hope this interview will provide much valuable information for writing a comprehensive history of the Language Movement in future.] 

The Interview: 
——————-
Question: When do you think was the beginning of the Language Movement? Were you involved with it from the very beginning? 

Prof Ghulam Azam (GA): Tamuddun Majlis initiated this campaign. But I do not remember the exact time period. As far as I remember, I got involved in March 1948 just before the visit of Quaid-e-Azam [Muhammad Ali Jinnah].

Q: who were the main initiators of this campaign?

GA: Tamuddun Majlis, which was established and led by the DU youth leader Prof Abul Quasem, was the main initiator of this language campaign. The demand for establishing Bangla as a state language turned into a public movement just before the visit of Quaid-e-Azam [Jinnah]. The movement became slightly diminished after the signing of a treaty between the government and the ‘Movement for State Language’ committee, and also due to the effect of the Jinnah’s influential personality. However, although it did not become a full mass movement by that time, the campaign was becoming stronger by day. It became a strong student movement after the speech of Prime Minister Nazimuddin at a Paltan rally in 1952 [rejecting the demand], and turned into a mass public movement after the firing on the student rally [on 21 February 1952].

Q: When did you enroll at Dhaka University? When did you get elected as the GS of DUCSU? What was the condition of student union activities at that time?

GA: I enrolled at DU right after passing my I.A. exams in 1944. I passed B.A. in 1946 and when I was a M.A. student I was elected as the GS of the Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall for the 1946-47 session. Then I was elected as the GS of the central students union DUCSU for the 1947-48 session. 

DU was a residential/boarding university from the beginning. Every hall had so much extra-academic activities that the role of the central students union was very limited. There were two Muslim halls and two Hindu halls. All of them had so many literary programs, drama/theatre, sports and religious activities to keep the students very busy and active.

As a result of the Pakistan Independence Movement, the students were divided into Muslim and Hindu halls, so the central university union was non-functional for few years. It became active again in 1946 and I was elected as its GS the next year. The student union did not have any political activities; those were limited within the halls.

Q: What was the reaction from the ordinary students towards the Language Movement at the beginning?

GA: Ordinary students were not very aware about this movement/campaign before the visit of Quid-e-Azam [Jinnah]. It first attracted their attention during the campaign of 11th March [related to Jinnah’s visit]. There was no sign of opposition to this demand from the students. Either they supported it or they kept silent. Mass reaction started in 1952.

Q: Were you involved with the Tamuddun Majlis?

GA: I was not directly involved with it during my student life. When I was a lecturer at Rangpur College, I was arrested for being involved with the Language Movement in 1952. After being released, I was invited by brother Sulaiman and joined the Majlis. I was the chief of the Majlis in Rangpur until April 1955. I used to attend their meetings and camps during that period. 

Q: When and how did you first participate directly in the Language Movement?

GA: I got involved directly with the Language Movement in March 1948. I remember that on 11th March 1948, a group of us students went to campaign/picket at T&T office. 10 or 12 of us were arrested from that spot. We were taken to the Tejgaon police station. We were kept in a room that has a leaky roof made of tin. When the rain started we all got wet. I remember that the residents of neighboring homes brought snacks/dry foods to us. We spent whole day eating those dry foods. We were released in the evening.

Q: Please shed some lights about the negative reaction that you received during the initial period of the Language Movement. You must have some knowledge about a particular incident that took place in Old Dhaka?

GA: Other people already have said enough about this. Since the period of the Pakistan [Independence] Movement, as Siddique Bazar, Bongshal and Chak Bazar were Muslim dominated areas, we had to visit those areas for support for any campaigns. One day I took a student rally to Chak Bazar. I was shouting slogans for the Language Movement from a chunga [tin-mike]. As we passed the jail gate, our jailed colleagues from inside the jail also joined us with slogans. We heard their slogans as far as the end of Chak Bazar. 

When I started my speech near Chak Bazar Masjid, a mixed group of pro-government thugs and those opposing the Language Movement attacked us. They snatched the mike from me and started hitting me with it on my head and body. We tried to explain to them and calmed them down. Those who behaved with us like this on that day on the question of our Language Movement, some of them are still alive. I met many of them a lot of times in my later life. 

I made speeches from the tin-mike [chunga] at many other places. I gave slogans like ‘Bangla – Urdu are two brothers, We want Bangla with Urdu’. The aborigines of Dhaka used to speak a colloquial Urdu, so we never got any support from them for Bangla. However, not everyone attacked Bangla supporters. In the pockets of old Dhaka where Mawlana Deen Muhammad, Mawlana Jafar Ahmad Usmani and Mawlana Shamsul Haq Faridpuri had a lot of influence, people were inclined more towards Urdu. 

Many people were suspicious about the Language Movement as there was propaganda that it was a Hindu movement instigated by India. I must admit that, not everyone got involved with this movement with the same [sincere] intention.

I remember another incident. I had some contact with Saiyed Ali Ahsan [a renowned writer and intellectual] as a member of the East Pakistan Literary Union. I had an argument with him regarding the state language. He was opposed to the Language Movement. There were many people like this. This proves that many intellectuals and civil society members were not supportive of the Language Movement at that time.

Q: What was the logic in support of the Language Movement? Please shed some light on the situation at that time.

GA: The majority population of [combined] Pakistan was Bangla speaking people. So it was a logical demand that Bangla should be one of the state and official languages of Pakistan. 

Many of the Bangla speaking people did not know that Urdu is not the mother-tongue language of most West Pakistanis. For this reason, when Quaide Azam Jinnah declared that ‘Urdu will be the only state language of Pakistan’, most Bengalis considered that to be an enforcement of language by the West Pakistanis upon the East Pakistanis. As non-Bengali Pakistanis in Bangladesh spoke in Urdu, Urdu was considered the language of the West Pakistanis. Naturally this created a huge resentment among the Bengali students towards West Pakistan/Urdu.

There were two groups among the Pakistan Independence Movement activists [in the then East Pakistan]. One group was led by Nazimuddin and Nurul Amin, the other group was led by Suhrawardi and Abul Hashim. Nazimuddin’s group was supporting Urdu, so Suhrawardi’s group supported Bangla. We, followers of Shamsul Haq, were in this group.

Q: Can you say few words about Shamsul Haq?

GA: He was a very skilled qualified activist of the Pakistan Independence Movement. Later he was elected as the Muslim Secretary of the Awami League. He had significant contribution in the Language Movement.

Q: Who opposed Bangla being a state language? What mentality led them oppose this?

GA: There were different types of people within them. Some were blind followers of Quaide Azam Jinnah. They could not imagine differing with Quaide Azam in anything that he said. 

The Ulama [religious scholars] of this country were pro Urdu. The reason may be that they were more familiar with Urdu than with Bangla. I remember an incident of Mawlana Deen Muhammad speaking at a Paltan rally. As he started his speech in Urdu, we students started shouting ‘Please speak in Bangla’. He responded saying, ‘You are not satisfied unless cinema films are in Urdu, but now you demand speech in Bangla’. We became silent after that. We did not have that many supporters, so he continued his speech in Urdu. 

Nazimuddin’s followers were pro Urdu. Because they thought it was necessary for the integrity and unity of Pakistan to have only one state/official language, so they labeled the campaigners of the Language Movement as agents of Hindus and Communists.

Another group opposed the Language Movement- they wanted to establish a strong language [Urdu] for all Muslims in the Indian region to counter the influence of Hindi. 

Q: What was the significance of the incident [general strike demanding Bangla as state language] on 11th March 1948? Did any public demonstration or strike take place for the Language Movement before then?

GA: I do not remember of any public demonstration or strike before 11th March. Before arrival of Quaide Azam Jinnah, there were campaigns for popularizing our demand as a mass public demand. 11th March deserves to be a historical day in this regard. It was mainly a student led demonstration in 1948. 

Q: In what situation did the 7-points treaty between PM Nazimuddin and student leaders take place? Was it as a result of the 11th March strike?

GA: Nazimuddin signed the treaty with the student leaders in order to calm the situation. The main target was to calm the situation before the visit of Jinnah. The treaty was signed on 15th March. Yes, it was a result of 11th March. 

Q: When did Quaide Azam visit Dhaka? Did anything unpleasant take place during his visit?

GA: He arrived in Dhaka on 19th March, 1948. He gave his speech at the Racecourse on 21st March. He gave his speech in English. I was seated in a corner at the backside of the stage. I was looking at Quaide Azam from behind. He was moving his arms and legs while giving the speech. I returned to my dormitory angry when he said that only Urdu will be the state language of Pakistan. I listened to the rest of his speech on a radio.

Nothing unpleasant took place except some ‘NO NO’ shouting in Curzon Hall. 

Q: Did any heckling take place at the racecource? 

GA: I did not witness anything like that. I could see only a part of the huge rally from my place. I did not see anything unpleasant happening. Not even when I was returning angry to my dormitory. No one spoke about anything unpleasant happening afterwards. 

Q: Were you present during meetings between Quaide Azam and student representatives? Did anyone discuss the demand for the Language Movement during those meetings? 

GA: Only Vice President and General Secretary of hall unions were present in those meetings. I was not present [as the GS of the central union]. Mr Toaha was the VP of our hall. We were members of the same group. 

Q: Was Jinnah given any memorandum with demands for the Language?

GA: Yes, he was given a memorandum. I heard that, when he was told that there are examples of a country having more than one official language, he responded saying that he was aware of that. He became slightly irritated and said, ‘Now leave it to me’.

Q: Were you present at the convocation in Curzon hall?

GA: That was a special convocation. I was a Masters student at that time, so I was not present. Later, I heard about it from friends.

Q: You said that Mr Toaha was the VP of your hall. How was your relation with him?

GA: As I said earlier, we were members of the same group. We had a very cordial relationship. We used to walk together, eat together. Mr Toaha was a very good Quran reciter. He used to offer prayers. [Later in life Mr Toaha left religion.]

Q: When did PM Liakat Ali Khan visit Dhaka? Did he speak at any student rally in Dhaka?

GA: He visited Dhaka in 1948. I think it was during the winter. Yes, he gave a speech at a huge rally held in DU Gymnasium. The meeting was chaired by VC Sultan Uddin Ahmad.

Q: Was he presented with any memorandum on behalf of the students?

GA: Yes, he was given a memorandum on behalf of the students. As the then DACSU GS, I presented that memorandum. The demand for the language was at the end of the memorandum. Before that, we included some condemnation of regionalism and provincialism. As I remember, I repeated the paragraph regarding the language twice. There was huge applause after the first reading. As the applause stopped, I heard Mrs Rana Liakat saying to Mr Liakat, ‘Language bare may saf saf bata dena’ [say it very clearly about the language issue]. After hearing her whisper, I said to the audience, ‘Let me repeat this’, then I read the whole paragraph again. The audience again supported with huge applause. 

Q: How is it you were given the responsibility to present this memorandum in that rally?

GA: For good reasons, student leaders from all 4 student hall unions agreed that the memorandum should be presented by someone from the DACSU. VP Mr Arbindu Gosh was a Hindu, so it was thought that the government would take it negatively if he presented it. So, as the GS of DACSU, I was given the responsibility.

Q: What did Liakat Ali Khan comment regarding the language issue?

GA: During his speech he made this comment, ‘if this is not provincialism, then what is provincialism?’ After hearing this we thought that he would say something very clear about the language issue, but he avoided it altogether.

Q: Who were the main initiators of the 11th March agitation/strike in 1948?

GA: It was a joint effort by the leaders of the hall unions and the Language Movement ExCo, They decided in agreement about the general strike and the public demonstration.

Q: What were the significant moments for the Language Movements after that?

GA: After 1948, the most significant moment was when Pakistani PM Khaza Nazimuddin declared in Paltan that only Urdu will be the official language. When he repeated what Quaide Azam said previously, the Language Movement turned into a public demand for the first time.

Q: When was the Dhaka University Language Committee established?
GA: I am not informed about this, I was a lecturer [in Rangpur] at that time.

Q: What was the role of the leftists in the Language Movement?

GA: As the leftists opposed the Pakistan Independence Movement, there were not many Muslims in leftist groups. The leftists did not have any visible activities. They became active after 1952. But even then they did not have any significant organization. Most of them used to work as part of the Awami Muslim League [father organization of the current Awami League]. So, there is no scope to view their role in the Language Movement in an isolated/special way.

Q: Did you have any contact or relation with Sheikh Mujib during your activist life at university?

GA: Sheikh Mujib was not a significant personality at that time. I first met him during the election campaign for JuktoFront in 1954. During the 1954 election campaign, Mr Suhrawardi [political mentor of Sheikh Mujib] went to speak at a camp of democratic activists in Rangpur. Sheikh Mujib was with him too. I was a lecturer at that time in Rangpur. Sheikh Mujib introduced me to Mr Suhrawardi saying, ‘This is the ex-GS of Dhaka University Central Students Union, DUCSU. He presented the memorandum with demand for the state language to PM Liakat Ali Khan in 1948’. Sheikh Mujib also mentioned about my then profession. 

Q: Where were you in 1952? What was the situation of Language Movement at that place?

GA: I was at Rangpur Carmichael College. Some lecturers and students of that college were involved with the Language Movement. A few students and activists including myself and Mr Zamir Uddin were arrested at that time. 

Q: Do you want to add anything more about the Language Movement?

GA: Even after Bangla was accepted as a state language of Pakistan, it was not possible to make it an official language of Pakistan. Now that Bangladesh is an independent country, we have the opportunity to establish Bangla as the official language of our country.

Interview of Professor Ghulam Azam on Bangla Language Movement
Conducted by Dhaka Digest, January 1979

Biography until 1979

Professor Ghulam Azam was born on 7th November 1922 [5/8/1329 Bangla calendar] in Dhaka. His parental home is in Birgaon village, Nabinagar, of Brahmanbaria district [formerly part of Kumilla district]. 

Professor Ghulam Azam is a renowned personality and prominent leader of the Bangla Language Movement. He was one of the core student leaders who campaigned tirelessly for the demand of establishing Bangla as a state language from the very beginning of that movement. 

He was elected as the General Secretary (GS) of Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) during the period when the demand was first raised to declare Bangla as a state language of Pakistan. Naturally as the DACSU G.S. of the time and a student leader, he had to play a very important role in that movement.

Mr Ghulam Azam enrolled at Dhaka University (DU) after passing his Intermediate (I.A.) exams in 1944. After graduating from DU with B.A. Honors he enrolled as a M.A. student in 1946. He was elected as the GS of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall in 1946. He was then elected as the GS of DACSU for the 1947-48 session and was reelected in this position for the 1948-49 session. In 1948, the then Pakistani Prime Minister Liakat Ali Khan visited the East Pakistan and spoke at a huge student rally held in DU Gymnasium on 27th November. In that historical rally, the then DACSU GS Mr Ghulam Azam read a memorandum that included demands for establishing Bangla as a state language of Pakistan, with huge applause from the audience, and presented that memorandum to the PM Liakat Ali Khan. 

He was a meritorious student throughout his student life. He passed his junior exams with first division in 1937 and in his high madrasah exams in 1942 he ranked 13th. After that, he passed B.A. from Dhaka University in 1946 and M.A. in 1950. Same year he joined Rangpur Carmichael College as a lecturer and remained there until 1955. During this period he was arrested in 1952 as a leader of the Language Movement in Rangpur. 

He was not directly involved with the Tamuddun Majlis [a literary circle of practicing Muslim writers and intellectuals who first proposed Bangla as a state language] during his student life, but joined them after being released from jail in 1952. He joined Jamaat-e-Islami in April, 1954 and became a member of this party in 1955 while in Rangpur jail. 

Mr Ghulam Azam is an activist by nature. He was arrested in 1948 while picketing for the Language Movement. He was again arrested in 1952 as a leader of the Language Movement. Again in 1955 during the East Pakistan Governor’s rule and was released only after a habeas corpus petition. He was arrested again in 1964 when Jamaat-e-Islami was banned and spent two months in the Lahore jail, In March of that year he was expelled from the West Pakistan only to be re-arrested upon arrival in the East Pakistan and was jailed for 6 months. He was released after a habeas corpus petition again.

Mr Ghulam Azam was elected as a provincial joint secretary of Jamaate Islami in 1956 and as the General Secretary in 1957. He remained in that position until April 1969, when he was elected as the Ameer of then East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami. 

In 1971, He travelled to West Pakistan to attend central ExCo meeting of Jamaat-e-Islami. During his return flight to East Pakistan, Dhaka was being bombarded by the Indian Air Force. As a result, his plane could not land in Dhaka. The plane diverted to Colombo and then landed in Jeddah. Mr Ghulam Azam thus began a life in exile.

In April 1973 the then Bangladesh Government revoked his citizenship. He returned to Bangladesh in 1978 with a visa. During his six years in exile he demonstrated an incredible level of activism, hard work and busy lifestyle. He chaired the first delegate meeting of the International Islamic Youth Conference held in Riyadh in 1972. He was the main speaker in the following conferences: 

1. International Islamic Youth Conference held in Tripoli in July, 1973
2. FOSIS Annual Conference held in London, 1973
3. Islamic Mission Annual Conference, 1973
4. IIFSO Annual Conference held in Istanbul, 1977
5. MSA Annual Convention in Michigan, 1973

He was an invited guest in many international conferences during his exile, including: 

1. International Conference organized by Rabeta al Alam Islami in Makkah, 1974
2. International Islamic Conference organized by European Islamic Council, London, 1976
3. International Islamic Jurisprudence Conference, organized by Muhammad bin Saud University in Riyadh, 1976
4. International Islamic Conference on Education, organized by King Abdul Aziz University in Makkah, 1977

Mr Ghulam Azam is the author of more than 100 books including Economic Solution to Modern Economic Problems, A Guide to Islamic Movement, Ideological Clash in Pakistan, Islamic Education Theory, Islam and Secularism, Ideals from the life of the Prophet, Islamic Movement in Bangladesh, etc.

—–

[As we of Dhaka Digest visited him for the interview it was evident that he is a regular reader of our magazine, he talked to us with much interest and sincerity despite having a very busy schedule and workload. We hope this interview will provide much valuable information for writing a comprehensive history of the Language Movement in future.] 

The Interview: 
——————-
Question: When do you think was the beginning of the Language Movement? Were you involved with it from the very beginning? 

Prof Ghulam Azam (GA): Tamuddun Majlis initiated this campaign. But I do not remember the exact time period. As far as I remember, I got involved in March 1948 just before the visit of Quaid-e-Azam [Muhammad Ali Jinnah].

Q: who were the main initiators of this campaign?

GA: Tamuddun Majlis, which was established and led by the DU youth leader Prof Abul Quasem, was the main initiator of this language campaign. The demand for establishing Bangla as a state language turned into a public movement just before the visit of Quaid-e-Azam [Jinnah]. The movement became slightly diminished after the signing of a treaty between the government and the ‘Movement for State Language’ committee, and also due to the effect of the Jinnah’s influential personality. However, although it did not become a full mass movement by that time, the campaign was becoming stronger by day. It became a strong student movement after the speech of Prime Minister Nazimuddin at a Paltan rally in 1952 [rejecting the demand], and turned into a mass public movement after the firing on the student rally [on 21 February 1952].

Q: When did you enroll at Dhaka University? When did you get elected as the GS of DUCSU? What was the condition of student union activities at that time?

GA: I enrolled at DU right after passing my I.A. exams in 1944. I passed B.A. in 1946 and when I was a M.A. student I was elected as the GS of the Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall for the 1946-47 session. Then I was elected as the GS of the central students union DUCSU for the 1947-48 session. 

DU was a residential/boarding university from the beginning. Every hall had so much extra-academic activities that the role of the central students union was very limited. There were two Muslim halls and two Hindu halls. All of them had so many literary programs, drama/theatre, sports and religious activities to keep the students very busy and active.

As a result of the Pakistan Independence Movement, the students were divided into Muslim and Hindu halls, so the central university union was non-functional for few years. It became active again in 1946 and I was elected as its GS the next year. The student union did not have any political activities; those were limited within the halls.

Q: What was the reaction from the ordinary students towards the Language Movement at the beginning?

GA: Ordinary students were not very aware about this movement/campaign before the visit of Quid-e-Azam [Jinnah]. It first attracted their attention during the campaign of 11th March [related to Jinnah’s visit]. There was no sign of opposition to this demand from the students. Either they supported it or they kept silent. Mass reaction started in 1952.

Q: Were you involved with the Tamuddun Majlis?

GA: I was not directly involved with it during my student life. When I was a lecturer at Rangpur College, I was arrested for being involved with the Language Movement in 1952. After being released, I was invited by brother Sulaiman and joined the Majlis. I was the chief of the Majlis in Rangpur until April 1955. I used to attend their meetings and camps during that period. 

Q: When and how did you first participate directly in the Language Movement?

GA: I got involved directly with the Language Movement in March 1948. I remember that on 11th March 1948, a group of us students went to campaign/picket at T&T office. 10 or 12 of us were arrested from that spot. We were taken to the Tejgaon police station. We were kept in a room that has a leaky roof made of tin. When the rain started we all got wet. I remember that the residents of neighboring homes brought snacks/dry foods to us. We spent whole day eating those dry foods. We were released in the evening.

Q: Please shed some lights about the negative reaction that you received during the initial period of the Language Movement. You must have some knowledge about a particular incident that took place in Old Dhaka?

GA: Other people already have said enough about this. Since the period of the Pakistan [Independence] Movement, as Siddique Bazar, Bongshal and Chak Bazar were Muslim dominated areas, we had to visit those areas for support for any campaigns. One day I took a student rally to Chak Bazar. I was shouting slogans for the Language Movement from a chunga [tin-mike]. As we passed the jail gate, our jailed colleagues from inside the jail also joined us with slogans. We heard their slogans as far as the end of Chak Bazar. 

When I started my speech near Chak Bazar Masjid, a mixed group of pro-government thugs and those opposing the Language Movement attacked us. They snatched the mike from me and started hitting me with it on my head and body. We tried to explain to them and calmed them down. Those who behaved with us like this on that day on the question of our Language Movement, some of them are still alive. I met many of them a lot of times in my later life. 

I made speeches from the tin-mike [chunga] at many other places. I gave slogans like ‘Bangla – Urdu are two brothers, We want Bangla with Urdu’. The aborigines of Dhaka used to speak a colloquial Urdu, so we never got any support from them for Bangla. However, not everyone attacked Bangla supporters. In the pockets of old Dhaka where Mawlana Deen Muhammad, Mawlana Jafar Ahmad Usmani and Mawlana Shamsul Haq Faridpuri had a lot of influence, people were inclined more towards Urdu. 

Many people were suspicious about the Language Movement as there was propaganda that it was a Hindu movement instigated by India. I must admit that, not everyone got involved with this movement with the same [sincere] intention.

I remember another incident. I had some contact with Saiyed Ali Ahsan [a renowned writer and intellectual] as a member of the East Pakistan Literary Union. I had an argument with him regarding the state language. He was opposed to the Language Movement. There were many people like this. This proves that many intellectuals and civil society members were not supportive of the Language Movement at that time.

Q: What was the logic in support of the Language Movement? Please shed some light on the situation at that time.

GA: The majority population of [combined] Pakistan was Bangla speaking people. So it was a logical demand that Bangla should be one of the state and official languages of Pakistan. 

Many of the Bangla speaking people did not know that Urdu is not the mother-tongue language of most West Pakistanis. For this reason, when Quaide Azam Jinnah declared that ‘Urdu will be the only state language of Pakistan’, most Bengalis considered that to be an enforcement of language by the West Pakistanis upon the East Pakistanis. As non-Bengali Pakistanis in Bangladesh spoke in Urdu, Urdu was considered the language of the West Pakistanis. Naturally this created a huge resentment among the Bengali students towards West Pakistan/Urdu.

There were two groups among the Pakistan Independence Movement activists [in the then East Pakistan]. One group was led by Nazimuddin and Nurul Amin, the other group was led by Suhrawardi and Abul Hashim. Nazimuddin’s group was supporting Urdu, so Suhrawardi’s group supported Bangla. We, followers of Shamsul Haq, were in this group.

Q: Can you say few words about Shamsul Haq?

GA: He was a very skilled qualified activist of the Pakistan Independence Movement. Later he was elected as the Muslim Secretary of the Awami League. He had significant contribution in the Language Movement.

Q: Who opposed Bangla being a state language? What mentality led them oppose this?

GA: There were different types of people within them. Some were blind followers of Quaide Azam Jinnah. They could not imagine differing with Quaide Azam in anything that he said. 

The Ulama [religious scholars] of this country were pro Urdu. The reason may be that they were more familiar with Urdu than with Bangla. I remember an incident of Mawlana Deen Muhammad speaking at a Paltan rally. As he started his speech in Urdu, we students started shouting ‘Please speak in Bangla’. He responded saying, ‘You are not satisfied unless cinema films are in Urdu, but now you demand speech in Bangla’. We became silent after that. We did not have that many supporters, so he continued his speech in Urdu. 

Nazimuddin’s followers were pro Urdu. Because they thought it was necessary for the integrity and unity of Pakistan to have only one state/official language, so they labeled the campaigners of the Language Movement as agents of Hindus and Communists.

Another group opposed the Language Movement- they wanted to establish a strong language [Urdu] for all Muslims in the Indian region to counter the influence of Hindi. 

Q: What was the significance of the incident [general strike demanding Bangla as state language] on 11th March 1948? Did any public demonstration or strike take place for the Language Movement before then?

GA: I do not remember of any public demonstration or strike before 11th March. Before arrival of Quaide Azam Jinnah, there were campaigns for popularizing our demand as a mass public demand. 11th March deserves to be a historical day in this regard. It was mainly a student led demonstration in 1948. 

Q: In what situation did the 7-points treaty between PM Nazimuddin and student leaders take place? Was it as a result of the 11th March strike?

GA: Nazimuddin signed the treaty with the student leaders in order to calm the situation. The main target was to calm the situation before the visit of Jinnah. The treaty was signed on 15th March. Yes, it was a result of 11th March. 

Q: When did Quaide Azam visit Dhaka? Did anything unpleasant take place during his visit?

GA: He arrived in Dhaka on 19th March, 1948. He gave his speech at the Racecourse on 21st March. He gave his speech in English. I was seated in a corner at the backside of the stage. I was looking at Quaide Azam from behind. He was moving his arms and legs while giving the speech. I returned to my dormitory angry when he said that only Urdu will be the state language of Pakistan. I listened to the rest of his speech on a radio.

Nothing unpleasant took place except some ‘NO NO’ shouting in Curzon Hall. 

Q: Did any heckling take place at the racecource? 

GA: I did not witness anything like that. I could see only a part of the huge rally from my place. I did not see anything unpleasant happening. Not even when I was returning angry to my dormitory. No one spoke about anything unpleasant happening afterwards. 

Q: Were you present during meetings between Quaide Azam and student representatives? Did anyone discuss the demand for the Language Movement during those meetings? 

GA: Only Vice President and General Secretary of hall unions were present in those meetings. I was not present [as the GS of the central union]. Mr Toaha was the VP of our hall. We were members of the same group. 

Q: Was Jinnah given any memorandum with demands for the Language?

GA: Yes, he was given a memorandum. I heard that, when he was told that there are examples of a country having more than one official language, he responded saying that he was aware of that. He became slightly irritated and said, ‘Now leave it to me’.

Q: Were you present at the convocation in Curzon hall?

GA: That was a special convocation. I was a Masters student at that time, so I was not present. Later, I heard about it from friends.

Q: You said that Mr Toaha was the VP of your hall. How was your relation with him?

GA: As I said earlier, we were members of the same group. We had a very cordial relationship. We used to walk together, eat together. Mr Toaha was a very good Quran reciter. He used to offer prayers. [Later in life Mr Toaha left religion.]

Q: When did PM Liakat Ali Khan visit Dhaka? Did he speak at any student rally in Dhaka?

GA: He visited Dhaka in 1948. I think it was during the winter. Yes, he gave a speech at a huge rally held in DU Gymnasium. The meeting was chaired by VC Sultan Uddin Ahmad.

Q: Was he presented with any memorandum on behalf of the students?

GA: Yes, he was given a memorandum on behalf of the students. As the then DACSU GS, I presented that memorandum. The demand for the language was at the end of the memorandum. Before that, we included some condemnation of regionalism and provincialism. As I remember, I repeated the paragraph regarding the language twice. There was huge applause after the first reading. As the applause stopped, I heard Mrs Rana Liakat saying to Mr Liakat, ‘Language bare may saf saf bata dena’ [say it very clearly about the language issue]. After hearing her whisper, I said to the audience, ‘Let me repeat this’, then I read the whole paragraph again. The audience again supported with huge applause. 

Q: How is it you were given the responsibility to present this memorandum in that rally?

GA: For good reasons, student leaders from all 4 student hall unions agreed that the memorandum should be presented by someone from the DACSU. VP Mr Arbindu Gosh was a Hindu, so it was thought that the government would take it negatively if he presented it. So, as the GS of DACSU, I was given the responsibility.

Q: What did Liakat Ali Khan comment regarding the language issue?

GA: During his speech he made this comment, ‘if this is not provincialism, then what is provincialism?’ After hearing this we thought that he would say something very clear about the language issue, but he avoided it altogether.

Q: Who were the main initiators of the 11th March agitation/strike in 1948?

GA: It was a joint effort by the leaders of the hall unions and the Language Movement ExCo, They decided in agreement about the general strike and the public demonstration.

Q: What were the significant moments for the Language Movements after that?

GA: After 1948, the most significant moment was when Pakistani PM Khaza Nazimuddin declared in Paltan that only Urdu will be the official language. When he repeated what Quaide Azam said previously, the Language Movement turned into a public demand for the first time.

Q: When was the Dhaka University Language Committee established?
GA: I am not informed about this, I was a lecturer [in Rangpur] at that time.

Q: What was the role of the leftists in the Language Movement?

GA: As the leftists opposed the Pakistan Independence Movement, there were not many Muslims in leftist groups. The leftists did not have any visible activities. They became active after 1952. But even then they did not have any significant organization. Most of them used to work as part of the Awami Muslim League [father organization of the current Awami League]. So, there is no scope to view their role in the Language Movement in an isolated/special way.

Q: Did you have any contact or relation with Sheikh Mujib during your activist life at university?

GA: Sheikh Mujib was not a significant personality at that time. I first met him during the election campaign for JuktoFront in 1954. During the 1954 election campaign, Mr Suhrawardi [political mentor of Sheikh Mujib] went to speak at a camp of democratic activists in Rangpur. Sheikh Mujib was with him too. I was a lecturer at that time in Rangpur. Sheikh Mujib introduced me to Mr Suhrawardi saying, ‘This is the ex-GS of Dhaka University Central Students Union, DUCSU. He presented the memorandum with demand for the state language to PM Liakat Ali Khan in 1948’. Sheikh Mujib also mentioned about my then profession. 

Q: Where were you in 1952? What was the situation of Language Movement at that place?

GA: I was at Rangpur Carmichael College. Some lecturers and students of that college were involved with the Language Movement. A few students and activists including myself and Mr Zamir Uddin were arrested at that time. 

Q: Do you want to add anything more about the Language Movement?

GA: Even after Bangla was accepted as a state language of Pakistan, it was not possible to make it an official language of Pakistan. Now that Bangladesh is an independent country, we have the opportunity to establish Bangla as the official language of our country.

Interview of Professor Ghulam Azam on Bangla Language Movement
Conducted by Dhaka Digest, January 1979

Biography until 1979

Professor Ghulam Azam was born on 7th November 1922 [5/8/1329 Bangla calendar] in Dhaka. His parental home is in Birgaon village, Nabinagar, of Brahmanbaria district [formerly part of Kumilla district]. 

Professor Ghulam Azam is a renowned personality and prominent leader of the Bangla Language Movement. He was one of the core student leaders who campaigned tirelessly for the demand of establishing Bangla as a state language from the very beginning of that movement. 

He was elected as the General Secretary (GS) of Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) during the period when the demand was first raised to declare Bangla as a state language of Pakistan. Naturally as the DACSU G.S. of the time and a student leader, he had to play a very important role in that movement.

Mr Ghulam Azam enrolled at Dhaka University (DU) after passing his Intermediate (I.A.) exams in 1944. After graduating from DU with B.A. Honors he enrolled as a M.A. student in 1946. He was elected as the GS of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall in 1946. He was then elected as the GS of DACSU for the 1947-48 session and was reelected in this position for the 1948-49 session. In 1948, the then Pakistani Prime Minister Liakat Ali Khan visited the East Pakistan and spoke at a huge student rally held in DU Gymnasium on 27th November. In that historical rally, the then DACSU GS Mr Ghulam Azam read a memorandum that included demands for establishing Bangla as a state language of Pakistan, with huge applause from the audience, and presented that memorandum to the PM Liakat Ali Khan. 

He was a meritorious student throughout his student life. He passed his junior exams with first division in 1937 and in his high madrasah exams in 1942 he ranked 13th. After that, he passed B.A. from Dhaka University in 1946 and M.A. in 1950. Same year he joined Rangpur Carmichael College as a lecturer and remained there until 1955. During this period he was arrested in 1952 as a leader of the Language Movement in Rangpur. 

He was not directly involved with the Tamuddun Majlis [a literary circle of practicing Muslim writers and intellectuals who first proposed Bangla as a state language] during his student life, but joined them after being released from jail in 1952. He joined Jamaat-e-Islami in April, 1954 and became a member of this party in 1955 while in Rangpur jail. 

Mr Ghulam Azam is an activist by nature. He was arrested in 1948 while picketing for the Language Movement. He was again arrested in 1952 as a leader of the Language Movement. Again in 1955 during the East Pakistan Governor’s rule and was released only after a habeas corpus petition. He was arrested again in 1964 when Jamaat-e-Islami was banned and spent two months in the Lahore jail, In March of that year he was expelled from the West Pakistan only to be re-arrested upon arrival in the East Pakistan and was jailed for 6 months. He was released after a habeas corpus petition again.

Mr Ghulam Azam was elected as a provincial joint secretary of Jamaate Islami in 1956 and as the General Secretary in 1957. He remained in that position until April 1969, when he was elected as the Ameer of then East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami. 

In 1971, He travelled to West Pakistan to attend central ExCo meeting of Jamaat-e-Islami. During his return flight to East Pakistan, Dhaka was being bombarded by the Indian Air Force. As a result, his plane could not land in Dhaka. The plane diverted to Colombo and then landed in Jeddah. Mr Ghulam Azam thus began a life in exile.

In April 1973 the then Bangladesh Government revoked his citizenship. He returned to Bangladesh in 1978 with a visa. During his six years in exile he demonstrated an incredible level of activism, hard work and busy lifestyle. He chaired the first delegate meeting of the International Islamic Youth Conference held in Riyadh in 1972. He was the main speaker in the following conferences: 

1. International Islamic Youth Conference held in Tripoli in July, 1973
2. FOSIS Annual Conference held in London, 1973
3. Islamic Mission Annual Conference, 1973
4. IIFSO Annual Conference held in Istanbul, 1977
5. MSA Annual Convention in Michigan, 1973

He was an invited guest in many international conferences during his exile, including: 

1. International Conference organized by Rabeta al Alam Islami in Makkah, 1974
2. International Islamic Conference organized by European Islamic Council, London, 1976
3. International Islamic Jurisprudence Conference, organized by Muhammad bin Saud University in Riyadh, 1976
4. International Islamic Conference on Education, organized by King Abdul Aziz University in Makkah, 1977

Mr Ghulam Azam is the author of more than 100 books including Economic Solution to Modern Economic Problems, A Guide to Islamic Movement, Ideological Clash in Pakistan, Islamic Education Theory, Islam and Secularism, Ideals from the life of the Prophet, Islamic Movement in Bangladesh, etc.

—–

[As we of Dhaka Digest visited him for the interview it was evident that he is a regular reader of our magazine, he talked to us with much interest and sincerity despite having a very busy schedule and workload. We hope this interview will provide much valuable information for writing a comprehensive history of the Language Movement in future.] 

The Interview: 
——————-
Question: When do you think was the beginning of the Language Movement? Were you involved with it from the very beginning? 

Prof Ghulam Azam (GA): Tamuddun Majlis initiated this campaign. But I do not remember the exact time period. As far as I remember, I got involved in March 1948 just before the visit of Quaid-e-Azam [Muhammad Ali Jinnah].

Q: who were the main initiators of this campaign?

GA: Tamuddun Majlis, which was established and led by the DU youth leader Prof Abul Quasem, was the main initiator of this language campaign. The demand for establishing Bangla as a state language turned into a public movement just before the visit of Quaid-e-Azam [Jinnah]. The movement became slightly diminished after the signing of a treaty between the government and the ‘Movement for State Language’ committee, and also due to the effect of the Jinnah’s influential personality. However, although it did not become a full mass movement by that time, the campaign was becoming stronger by day. It became a strong student movement after the speech of Prime Minister Nazimuddin at a Paltan rally in 1952 [rejecting the demand], and turned into a mass public movement after the firing on the student rally [on 21 February 1952].

Q: When did you enroll at Dhaka University? When did you get elected as the GS of DUCSU? What was the condition of student union activities at that time?

GA: I enrolled at DU right after passing my I.A. exams in 1944. I passed B.A. in 1946 and when I was a M.A. student I was elected as the GS of the Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall for the 1946-47 session. Then I was elected as the GS of the central students union DUCSU for the 1947-48 session. 

DU was a residential/boarding university from the beginning. Every hall had so much extra-academic activities that the role of the central students union was very limited. There were two Muslim halls and two Hindu halls. All of them had so many literary programs, drama/theatre, sports and religious activities to keep the students very busy and active.

As a result of the Pakistan Independence Movement, the students were divided into Muslim and Hindu halls, so the central university union was non-functional for few years. It became active again in 1946 and I was elected as its GS the next year. The student union did not have any political activities; those were limited within the halls.

Q: What was the reaction from the ordinary students towards the Language Movement at the beginning?

GA: Ordinary students were not very aware about this movement/campaign before the visit of Quid-e-Azam [Jinnah]. It first attracted their attention during the campaign of 11th March [related to Jinnah’s visit]. There was no sign of opposition to this demand from the students. Either they supported it or they kept silent. Mass reaction started in 1952.

Q: Were you involved with the Tamuddun Majlis?

GA: I was not directly involved with it during my student life. When I was a lecturer at Rangpur College, I was arrested for being involved with the Language Movement in 1952. After being released, I was invited by brother Sulaiman and joined the Majlis. I was the chief of the Majlis in Rangpur until April 1955. I used to attend their meetings and camps during that period. 

Q: When and how did you first participate directly in the Language Movement?

GA: I got involved directly with the Language Movement in March 1948. I remember that on 11th March 1948, a group of us students went to campaign/picket at T&T office. 10 or 12 of us were arrested from that spot. We were taken to the Tejgaon police station. We were kept in a room that has a leaky roof made of tin. When the rain started we all got wet. I remember that the residents of neighboring homes brought snacks/dry foods to us. We spent whole day eating those dry foods. We were released in the evening.

Q: Please shed some lights about the negative reaction that you received during the initial period of the Language Movement. You must have some knowledge about a particular incident that took place in Old Dhaka?

GA: Other people already have said enough about this. Since the period of the Pakistan [Independence] Movement, as Siddique Bazar, Bongshal and Chak Bazar were Muslim dominated areas, we had to visit those areas for support for any campaigns. One day I took a student rally to Chak Bazar. I was shouting slogans for the Language Movement from a chunga [tin-mike]. As we passed the jail gate, our jailed colleagues from inside the jail also joined us with slogans. We heard their slogans as far as the end of Chak Bazar. 

When I started my speech near Chak Bazar Masjid, a mixed group of pro-government thugs and those opposing the Language Movement attacked us. They snatched the mike from me and started hitting me with it on my head and body. We tried to explain to them and calmed them down. Those who behaved with us like this on that day on the question of our Language Movement, some of them are still alive. I met many of them a lot of times in my later life. 

I made speeches from the tin-mike [chunga] at many other places. I gave slogans like ‘Bangla – Urdu are two brothers, We want Bangla with Urdu’. The aborigines of Dhaka used to speak a colloquial Urdu, so we never got any support from them for Bangla. However, not everyone attacked Bangla supporters. In the pockets of old Dhaka where Mawlana Deen Muhammad, Mawlana Jafar Ahmad Usmani and Mawlana Shamsul Haq Faridpuri had a lot of influence, people were inclined more towards Urdu. 

Many people were suspicious about the Language Movement as there was propaganda that it was a Hindu movement instigated by India. I must admit that, not everyone got involved with this movement with the same [sincere] intention.

I remember another incident. I had some contact with Saiyed Ali Ahsan [a renowned writer and intellectual] as a member of the East Pakistan Literary Union. I had an argument with him regarding the state language. He was opposed to the Language Movement. There were many people like this. This proves that many intellectuals and civil society members were not supportive of the Language Movement at that time.

Q: What was the logic in support of the Language Movement? Please shed some light on the situation at that time.

GA: The majority population of [combined] Pakistan was Bangla speaking people. So it was a logical demand that Bangla should be one of the state and official languages of Pakistan. 

Many of the Bangla speaking people did not know that Urdu is not the mother-tongue language of most West Pakistanis. For this reason, when Quaide Azam Jinnah declared that ‘Urdu will be the only state language of Pakistan’, most Bengalis considered that to be an enforcement of language by the West Pakistanis upon the East Pakistanis. As non-Bengali Pakistanis in Bangladesh spoke in Urdu, Urdu was considered the language of the West Pakistanis. Naturally this created a huge resentment among the Bengali students towards West Pakistan/Urdu.

There were two groups among the Pakistan Independence Movement activists [in the then East Pakistan]. One group was led by Nazimuddin and Nurul Amin, the other group was led by Suhrawardi and Abul Hashim. Nazimuddin’s group was supporting Urdu, so Suhrawardi’s group supported Bangla. We, followers of Shamsul Haq, were in this group.

Q: Can you say few words about Shamsul Haq?

GA: He was a very skilled qualified activist of the Pakistan Independence Movement. Later he was elected as the Muslim Secretary of the Awami League. He had significant contribution in the Language Movement.

Q: Who opposed Bangla being a state language? What mentality led them oppose this?

GA: There were different types of people within them. Some were blind followers of Quaide Azam Jinnah. They could not imagine differing with Quaide Azam in anything that he said. 

The Ulama [religious scholars] of this country were pro Urdu. The reason may be that they were more familiar with Urdu than with Bangla. I remember an incident of Mawlana Deen Muhammad speaking at a Paltan rally. As he started his speech in Urdu, we students started shouting ‘Please speak in Bangla’. He responded saying, ‘You are not satisfied unless cinema films are in Urdu, but now you demand speech in Bangla’. We became silent after that. We did not have that many supporters, so he continued his speech in Urdu. 

Nazimuddin’s followers were pro Urdu. Because they thought it was necessary for the integrity and unity of Pakistan to have only one state/official language, so they labeled the campaigners of the Language Movement as agents of Hindus and Communists.

Another group opposed the Language Movement- they wanted to establish a strong language [Urdu] for all Muslims in the Indian region to counter the influence of Hindi. 

Q: What was the significance of the incident [general strike demanding Bangla as state language] on 11th March 1948? Did any public demonstration or strike take place for the Language Movement before then?

GA: I do not remember of any public demonstration or strike before 11th March. Before arrival of Quaide Azam Jinnah, there were campaigns for popularizing our demand as a mass public demand. 11th March deserves to be a historical day in this regard. It was mainly a student led demonstration in 1948. 

Q: In what situation did the 7-points treaty between PM Nazimuddin and student leaders take place? Was it as a result of the 11th March strike?

GA: Nazimuddin signed the treaty with the student leaders in order to calm the situation. The main target was to calm the situation before the visit of Jinnah. The treaty was signed on 15th March. Yes, it was a result of 11th March. 

Q: When did Quaide Azam visit Dhaka? Did anything unpleasant take place during his visit?

GA: He arrived in Dhaka on 19th March, 1948. He gave his speech at the Racecourse on 21st March. He gave his speech in English. I was seated in a corner at the backside of the stage. I was looking at Quaide Azam from behind. He was moving his arms and legs while giving the speech. I returned to my dormitory angry when he said that only Urdu will be the state language of Pakistan. I listened to the rest of his speech on a radio.

Nothing unpleasant took place except some ‘NO NO’ shouting in Curzon Hall. 

Q: Did any heckling take place at the racecource? 

GA: I did not witness anything like that. I could see only a part of the huge rally from my place. I did not see anything unpleasant happening. Not even when I was returning angry to my dormitory. No one spoke about anything unpleasant happening afterwards. 

Q: Were you present during meetings between Quaide Azam and student representatives? Did anyone discuss the demand for the Language Movement during those meetings? 

GA: Only Vice President and General Secretary of hall unions were present in those meetings. I was not present [as the GS of the central union]. Mr Toaha was the VP of our hall. We were members of the same group. 

Q: Was Jinnah given any memorandum with demands for the Language?

GA: Yes, he was given a memorandum. I heard that, when he was told that there are examples of a country having more than one official language, he responded saying that he was aware of that. He became slightly irritated and said, ‘Now leave it to me’.

Q: Were you present at the convocation in Curzon hall?

GA: That was a special convocation. I was a Masters student at that time, so I was not present. Later, I heard about it from friends.

Q: You said that Mr Toaha was the VP of your hall. How was your relation with him?

GA: As I said earlier, we were members of the same group. We had a very cordial relationship. We used to walk together, eat together. Mr Toaha was a very good Quran reciter. He used to offer prayers. [Later in life Mr Toaha left religion.]

Q: When did PM Liakat Ali Khan visit Dhaka? Did he speak at any student rally in Dhaka?

GA: He visited Dhaka in 1948. I think it was during the winter. Yes, he gave a speech at a huge rally held in DU Gymnasium. The meeting was chaired by VC Sultan Uddin Ahmad.

Q: Was he presented with any memorandum on behalf of the students?

GA: Yes, he was given a memorandum on behalf of the students. As the then DACSU GS, I presented that memorandum. The demand for the language was at the end of the memorandum. Before that, we included some condemnation of regionalism and provincialism. As I remember, I repeated the paragraph regarding the language twice. There was huge applause after the first reading. As the applause stopped, I heard Mrs Rana Liakat saying to Mr Liakat, ‘Language bare may saf saf bata dena’ [say it very clearly about the language issue]. After hearing her whisper, I said to the audience, ‘Let me repeat this’, then I read the whole paragraph again. The audience again supported with huge applause. 

Q: How is it you were given the responsibility to present this memorandum in that rally?

GA: For good reasons, student leaders from all 4 student hall unions agreed that the memorandum should be presented by someone from the DACSU. VP Mr Arbindu Gosh was a Hindu, so it was thought that the government would take it negatively if he presented it. So, as the GS of DACSU, I was given the responsibility.

Q: What did Liakat Ali Khan comment regarding the language issue?

GA: During his speech he made this comment, ‘if this is not provincialism, then what is provincialism?’ After hearing this we thought that he would say something very clear about the language issue, but he avoided it altogether.

Q: Who were the main initiators of the 11th March agitation/strike in 1948?

GA: It was a joint effort by the leaders of the hall unions and the Language Movement ExCo, They decided in agreement about the general strike and the public demonstration.

Q: What were the significant moments for the Language Movements after that?

GA: After 1948, the most significant moment was when Pakistani PM Khaza Nazimuddin declared in Paltan that only Urdu will be the official language. When he repeated what Quaide Azam said previously, the Language Movement turned into a public demand for the first time.

Q: When was the Dhaka University Language Committee established?
GA: I am not informed about this, I was a lecturer [in Rangpur] at that time.

Q: What was the role of the leftists in the Language Movement?

GA: As the leftists opposed the Pakistan Independence Movement, there were not many Muslims in leftist groups. The leftists did not have any visible activities. They became active after 1952. But even then they did not have any significant organization. Most of them used to work as part of the Awami Muslim League [father organization of the current Awami League]. So, there is no scope to view their role in the Language Movement in an isolated/special way.

Q: Did you have any contact or relation with Sheikh Mujib during your activist life at university?

GA: Sheikh Mujib was not a significant personality at that time. I first met him during the election campaign for JuktoFront in 1954. During the 1954 election campaign, Mr Suhrawardi [political mentor of Sheikh Mujib] went to speak at a camp of democratic activists in Rangpur. Sheikh Mujib was with him too. I was a lecturer at that time in Rangpur. Sheikh Mujib introduced me to Mr Suhrawardi saying, ‘This is the ex-GS of Dhaka University Central Students Union, DUCSU. He presented the memorandum with demand for the state language to PM Liakat Ali Khan in 1948’. Sheikh Mujib also mentioned about my then profession. 

Q: Where were you in 1952? What was the situation of Language Movement at that place?

GA: I was at Rangpur Carmichael College. Some lecturers and students of that college were involved with the Language Movement. A few students and activists including myself and Mr Zamir Uddin were arrested at that time. 

Q: Do you want to add anything more about the Language Movement?

GA: Even after Bangla was accepted as a state language of Pakistan, it was not possible to make it an official language of Pakistan. Now that Bangladesh is an independent country, we have the opportunity to establish Bangla as the official language of our country.

New Videos added

Please see the Progress Bangladesh Youtube channel for interviews and videos with English subtitles. 

Interview with Amaan Azmi (son of Ghulam Azam): 

Part 1:

Part 2: 

Tajul Islam (defense lawyer) regarding the case: 

English language talk by Professor Ghulam Azam at ISNA conference in 1995: 

 

Open Letter from Lords Avebury and Carlile

From
The Lord Avebury
The Lord Carlile of Berriew QC CBE

June 7, 2013

Re: Trials before the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), Bangladesh

Dear High Commissioner,

We write in relation to a particularly urgent human rights situation in Bangladesh as members
of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group in the UK Parliament.

Proceedings before the ICT have troubled the international community for some time. You
will be aware of critical statements by the Special Procedures, as well as the reports by a
number of independent international NGOs. As the time for the first decision on appeal on
conviction and sentence of death approaches, it seems vital that you should request the
Bangladesh authorities for an invitation to visit by a joint delegation to viisit Bangladesh as a
matter of urgency with the objectives of assessing the procedures of the Tribunal and seeking
access to those concerned, including the defendants in their place of incarceration.

We fully support the prosecution of the most serious crimes of international concern and the
ending of impunity, but it is the duty of the State to ensure that in any judicial process
established for this purpose, international criminal justice is enforced in a way that is not only
complementary to national criminal jurisdictions, but also respectful of international human
rights standards and international standards of procedure, fairness and transparency. Any
lesser standard would negate the overall goal of securing the peace, security and wellbeing of
a nation. It would fail in its central purpose of bringing a sense of justice to the numerous
victims of conflict.

As early as 2012, the legislative framework of the Tribunal, namely its Statute the
International Crimes Tribunal Act 1973 (ICTA) and the Rules of Procedure, were criticised
for falling well short of recognised international standards. Although amendments were made
to include the most basic rights for an accused person, i.e. the presumption of innocence and
the independence of the judiciary, they were insufficient and provided only theoretical
protection which remains illusory in practice. Throughout the proceedings, which began in
2011, the government of Bangladesh and the ICT have been subject to widespread and
detailed criticism for their failure to secure the rights of the accused.

We note that a number of communications and urgent appeals have been submitted to
following Special Procedures:

a. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD);
b. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID);
c. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions;

d. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; and
e. Special Rapporteur on Torture.
In response, the WGAD issued Opinion No. 66/2011 (Bangladesh) and Opinion No. 66/2012
(Bangladesh), in which it held that the cases fall in Category III of the categories applied by
the Working Group. It called on the government to adhere to the standards and principles set
out in the UDHR and ICCPR and to re-consider the applications for bail by the accused. In
Opinion No. 66/2012 the WGAD referred to the matters contained therein as of such gravity
as to warrant communication to the Special Rapporteur on Torture; a decision in that regard
remains pending.

On 7 February 2013, Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or
Arbitrary Executions, and Gabriela Knaul, the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of
Judges and Lawyers issued a statement finding that the trial conducted in absentia against Mr
Abdul Kalam Azad did not provide for all the guarantees of a fair trial and due process.1 Mr.
Heyns stressed:

“Capital punishment may be imposed only following proceedings that give all possible
safeguards to ensure a fair trial and due process, at least equal to those stipulated in the
ICCPR, to which Bangladesh is a State party.”

Gabriela Knaul stated:

“I am concerned by questions that have been raised about the impartiality of judges and
prosecution services of the Tribunal, as well as their independence from the executive.
Witnesses and lawyers for the defence have also complained about an atmosphere of hostility,
intimidation and harassment. Due process requires at a minimum that defendants are able to
speak freely with their counsel, have adequate time to conduct their defence, and the ability to
call witnesses to speak on their behalf. The principle of equality of arms should be respected
at all stages of the proceedings.”

A further statement was issued in April 2013

We note that calls for the respect of the provisions of the ICCPR have been made by a
number of government and non-government representatives other than ourselves and the UK
Government. These have been largely ignored, and further abuses of process have been
allowed to pass unchecked. By way of example, judges have been removed and replaced by
the Government in the midst of a trial without providing any time or facilities for the new
judge to familiarise himself with the evidence already heard. In addition, the integrity and
independence of the judges have been seriously undermined by revelations in the
international media in December last year of serious judicial misconduct bordering on a
criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. These allegations have not been refuted,
and they compromise the fairness of the proceedings before the ICT.2

We regret that the Tribunal and law enforcement agencies have failed to investigate and
sanction repeated incidents of witness intimidation and, in one well-documented case,
abduction. On November 5, 2012, the witness Sukhranjan Bali was abducted from the
Tribunal precincts, allegedly by law enforcement officers. After months of unanswered
questions, Mr Bali was found in a Kolkata jail. In a statement given whilst in detention in
India, Bali has confirmed that he was ‘abducted from the court premises in a police van and

1 http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12972&LangID=E

See the article by The Economist, 15 December 2012: http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21568349-weekchairman-
bangladeshs-international-crimes-tribunal-resigned-weexplain?
zid=306&ah=1b164dbd43b0cb27ba0d4c3b12a5e227

was taken to an office in Dhaka’ which he stated belonged to the Detective Branch of the
Bangladesh Police. This incident highlights the need to conduct an independent and impartial
inquiry at the international level as it has a serious impact on the integrity of the proceedings.

Mr Bali is a Hindu. It is not in dispute that he lost at least one family member during the 1971
War of Liberation. He has no association with the Government, Jamaat-e-Islami or any other
political party. He has clearly been subjected to the most horrific treatment by both the
Bangladesh and Indian authorities.

A recent incident in Dhaka further reinforces the need for the Special Procedures mandate
holders to conduct an immediate inquiry. On May 26, 2013, Mr Munshi Ahsan Kabir,
Defence Counsel for the accused Mr Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid was physically
assaulted by a Prosecution Witness, namely Mr Jalal Uddin in Dhaka city. An attempt to file
a complaint with the police was refused on the basis that the Commanding Officer was
unavailable and the duty officer was unable to accept the complaint in his absence. There has
been no action taken despite the lawyer in question suffering injury.

Recently, a planned trip by a delegation of lawyers from the House of Lords to visit the
Tribunal and to have open access to everyone concerned including the defendants was
indefinitely postponed due to the recent violence on the streets and the concern that the
government of Bangladesh may exploit the presence of the delegates as a means of
legitimising the decisions taken by the ICT, as was evidenced during the recent visit by
Ambassador Rapp.

In the light of the reports by the Special Procedures and the criticisms by NGOs, the onus is
now on the Human Rights Commission to assess and evaluate the proceeding before the ICT,
and if the Bangladesh government fails to issue the invitation as suggested, to conduct a desk
study that will bring the failures to observe judicial and procedural norms to the attention of
the international community. We reiterate that with the looming threat of the death penalty
being carried out imminently as the defendants lose their appeals, your immediate action is
needed..

H E Navi Pillay

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland