UNESCO designated 21 February as International Mother Language Day in 1999. The date was chosen to honour five students and others shot dead by the police in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) on 21 February 1952. They were demanding the recognition of Bangla, the language of East Pakistan, as one of the state languages of Pakistan. The state responded with brutality, violence and murder, across the country. Their demands were ultimately successful and Bangla was recognised as one of the national languages of Pakistan. The Language Movement, as it became known, initiated a nationalist resistance movement against the economic, social and political exploitation of East Pakistan which ultimately led in 1971 to its emergence as the independent state of Bangladesh after a 9-month brutal war, in which over 3 million people were killed. Every year, Bangladeshis across the world commemorate Language Martyrs Day on 21 February.

We at UNA Luton celebrate linguistic diversity each year with Purbachal - the eastern sky, a British Bangladeshi cultural organisation which is also chaired by our own Chair, Dr Nazia Khanum OBE DL. We hold the event virtually at a weekend near 21 February, partly for convenience, partly to avoid clashing with official celebrations..

Language Martyrs Memorial, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Anthem for International Mother Language Day

The legendary Bangladeshi writer, poet, reporter and columnist, Abdul Gaffar Choudhury, was an eyewitness of the massacre on 21 February and wrote a moving poem about it. This was put to music and has become the anthem for
Bangladeshi Language Martyrs Day.  The first line is 'Amar bhiaer rakte rangano, ekushe February, Ami ki bhulite pari?' - '21 Febuary is coloured by the blood of my brother, How can I forget it?' 

IMLD anthem in 14 Languages - sung by renowned Bangladeshi singer, Dr Rukhsana Safa, accompanied on the guitar by Dr Sybghat Rahim

International Mother Language Day 2024

UN theme: Multilingual education is a pillar of learning and intergenerational learning

We support this theme and celebrate mother-tongues for promoting effective education for all, respect for cultural diversity and sustainable PEACE.

Date: Sunday 25 February 2024

Organised by: United Nations Association-Luton and Purbachal-the eastern sky

Saleha Begum

The picture above superimposes the young Saleha Begum next to the gates of the school.
One of Saleha Begum's sons, Syed Waqeel Ahad, is a well known muician, singer and actor in Bangladesh. This link shows an impromptu tribute to his mother.

Last year, we talked about Saleha Begum, a schoolgirl in Sylhet in what is now Bangladesh, who was rusticated by her school in 1952 because she supported the demand for Bengali to be recognised as one of the state languages of Pakistan. Her children did not know that she had been denied her education until after her death, and have been campaigning for her to be recognised as a heroine of the language movement. 

Her courage has now been recognised by several organisations in Bangladesh and we have included some photographs. 

The school still refuses to lift the rustication order, which seems strange since everyone uinvolved in taking the decision is long gone, and her record in independent Bangladesh ought to be a source of pride for it.

Her story illustrates the unknown histories of ordinary people that provide the base on which great changes are built.

Below left are four of her children: Syed Waqeel Ahad; Syeda Ferdous Ara Luckey; Syeda Farida Akhter Sakee; Syed Shakeel Ahad.

UN theme: Multilingual education – a necessity to
transform education

A celebration of the contributions of mother-tongues to identities,
cultures, enrichment and community cohesion

Date: Sunday 26 February 2023
Organised by: United Nations Association-Luton and Purbachal-the eastern sky

Promoting linguistic diversity

The event featured poems, statements and songs in a wide range of languages – Arabic, Bangla, Filipino, Hindi, Italian, Polish and Urdu.It was introduced by Shahnaz Saad, the Vice Chair of Purcbachal, and opened with a message from Susan Lousada, Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire.

The main theme was how to maintain languages spoken by minority communities, when the younger generations spoke English as their first language.  Those present concluded that this is possible, despite the dominance of English, if they work hard to stimulate the interest of younger people in them.

Dr David Cheesman, Secretary of UNA Luton, pointed out that the ancient Celtic languages which had been spoken in the British Isles before English evolved, had survived against the odds, and Cornish was even being revived after becoming extinct in the eighteenth century,  but it was a struggle. Champions of the languages had fought to put their languages onto the school curriculum, to have them spoken on radio and television and, perhaps most important of all, to celebrate their languages at cultural events and festivals. The most famous is the Welsh Eisteddfod, a centuries-old competition of poetry and songs. It is now the largest amateur cultural event in Europe.

Dr Nazia Khanum OBE DL, the Chair both of UNA Luton and Purbachal, expressed solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they fought to defend their country and their cultural identity against the invasion of a superpower.

She gave a stirring example of the sacrifices some people have made to defend their mother language. In 1952, Saleha Begum, a schoolgirl in Sylhet in what is now Bangladesh, was rusticated by her school because she supported the installation of Bangla as a state language. The rustication order was never lifted and so she was denied her fundamental human right to education. She was not allowed back to school or to take her Matriculation – the equivalent of GCSE. She has since passed away but her grown-up children are campaigning for the rustication order to be formally annulled so that she can be recognised as a freedom fighter.

All attendees agreed that UNA Luton and Purbachal should maintain their support for those seeking justice for Saleha Begum and other forgotten heroes of the Language Movement.

Programme with video links

Shahnaz Saad, Vice Chair of Purbachal - welcome

Hadi Faisal - poem (Bangla)

Nesmina Pervin Nawrin, Majuba Khan, Farzana Eiva - Ekusher February  song (Bangla)

Shenna Lopez - linguistic background of the Philippines (English), poem (Filipino)

Susan Lousada, Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire - message of support

Zahra Amreen - Dance

Dr Nazia Khanum OBE DL - welcome address

Inayah Khan - poem (Urdu)

Kasia Cantone  - Living in a multi-lingual household (English), poem Polish)

Shawkutur Rahman, Labiba Rahman - proverbs in Bangla and English

David Jonathan - Poem (Hindi)

Khadija El Ouafi - overview of the language of Arabic



Renato Cantone - living in a multi-lingual household (English), poem (Italian).

Moazzem Hussain, Aayan Hasan, Ajwa Hasan - importance of mother tongue (Bangla)

Zeenat Mannan - short story (Bangla)

Dr David Cheesman - languages of Great Britain, ancient and modern

Dr Anwarul Haque - poem (Bangla)

Discussion - how can diaspora communities in the UK maintain their mother languages?

Kimberly Khan - International Mother Language Day (English)

Nesmina Pervin Nawrin - song (Bangla)

Mahima Kabir - song (Bangla)

Full programme

International Mother Language Day:
Valuing identity, culture, diversity and peace

Zoom event, 27 February 2021, 16:00 - 18:30 (GMT)

A celebration with Purbachal - the Eastern Sky of the contributions of mother tongues to identities, cultures, enrichment and community cohesion.

Over 120 different languages are spoken in Luton and we celebrate their variety each February. This year, we held our event on 27 February as a convenient Saturday. The official date for International Mother Language Day is 21 February. This was designated by UNESCO to commemorate 21 February 1952, when a number of students and other civilians were killed by the police as they protested against the non-inclusion of Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan. At that time, Bangladesh was East Pakistan.

The event was hosted by Dr Anwarul Haque, General Secretary of Purbachal, and Majuba Khan, Social and Cultural Secretary of Purbachal.

See the announcement in the Luton News on 24 February and their review of the event on 3 March.

See report from Channel S News

Broadcast 3 March 2021


Welcome: Dr Nazia Khanum, OBE DL, Chair or UNA-Luton and Purbachal

Messages of support from: Helen Nellis, Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire; Susan Lousada, High Sheriff of Bedfordshire; Rachel Hopkins MP (Luton South).


Dr Rukhsana Safa, the renowned Bangladeshi singer, opened the event with the iconic Bangla song, 'Amar bhaier rokte rangano, ' sung in 14 languages.She was accompanied on the guitar by Dr Sybghat Rahim.

IMLD Programme 27 Feb 2021.pdf

Recording of the International Mother Language Day event 2021

Full recording of the event is now available

Commemoration of International Mother Language Day University of Bedfordshire: 24 February 2020

The commemoration was organised by the UNA-Luton at the University of Bedfordshire, with support from the University of Bedfordshire and Purbachal - the eastern sky, a Bangladeshi cultural and artiistic organisation. International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by UNESCO in 1999 in honour of the students killed by the police in Dhaka, then East Pakistan, who protested against the decision of the Pakistan government to impose Urdu as the only national language of the country, suppressing Bengali which was spoken by the Majority. It is a unique example of people dying to protect their language.

See the International Mother Language Day message from Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO