The Organization for Toronto International Mother Language Day Monument Inc. (known as OTIMLDM Inc.) held a meeting with local press this Sunday afternoon (February 10th, 2019) at Café de Taj restaurant. The meeting was attended, among others, by the editor of local weekly newspapers and the members of the Board of Directors of the host organization. OTIMLDM Inc. is an organization with a specific goal, to build a permanent monument in Toronto that will commemorate the International Mother Language Day.
The Day, 21st of February, is recognized by the United Nations as well as many other countries including Canada. As the official UN communication on this says “Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost. At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.”
The day has been observed worldwide since 2000. However, the history of it day goes way back, in 1952 and involves the heroics of a tiny nation in South Asia called Bangladesh. On the 21st of February 1952, the students of Dhaka University, the famous university situated in the capital city of Bangladesh, took to the streets, protesting the oppressive declaration of the government making Urdu, one of the major languages spoken in the country, the only official language of the country. Even though Bengali was spoken by an overwhelming majority of the people of the country, the government of the day decided to impose Urdu as it was the language spoken by the minority ruling class. As protests broke out against this declaration, the students organized a demonstration on the streets and police opened fire, killing at least 4 people. However, the ruling party had to give in to the demands of the people and Bengali gained recognition as one of the official languages of the country. Since then, the people of Bangladesh have been commemorating this day, 21st of February, as the martyr’s day and since 2000, this day has gained recognition as International Mother Language Day.
The leaders of OTIMLDM Inc. also mentioned that the birth of International Mother Language Day has a unique Canadian connection as well. In 1998, it was a Canadian of Bangladeshi origin from British Columbia, Rafiq ul Islam, who wrote a letter to the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asking him to take a step for saving the world’s languages from extinction by declaring an International Mother Language Day. Rafiq proposed the date as 21 February to commemorate the 1952 killings in Dhaka during the Language Movement. 20 years later, it is only fitting that another group of Canadians with Bangladeshi heritage are working hard to build the first ever permanent monument in Toronto to commemorate the day.
According to the United Nations, Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear. Globally 40 per cent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand.
Among the leaders of the organization, Mak Azad (President), Rizuan Rahman (Secretary General), Mirza Rahman (Treasurer), Barrister Chayanika Dutta, Syed A Goffar, Fayzul Karim, Maliha Mansur, Sabita Somani, Aruna Haydar and Habibullah Dulal (all Directors of the Board) were present.
Secretary General of OTIMLDM Inc. Rizuan Rahman opened the conversation and shared that the City has already approved the concept design and invested resources by carrying out some pre-construction tasks such as soil testing and geological impact assessment etc. The organization is required to fund the construction of the structure and once the construction is complete, City will carry out the landscaping works to finish the entire project. The construction of the monument will cost approximately $150,000 and the entire fund will be provided by the organization.
Barrister Chayanika Dutta, who leads the fundraising team of the project said that so far, they have raised approximately one third of the required fund. She also reiterated that transparency and accountability is paramount and they have put measures in place to ensure that every single transection and action of the organization complies with the highest standard of transparency and accountability. Members of the public will be able to learn more about the project by visiting the organization’s website www.imldmonument.com. A gofundme page is being constructed and information pertinent to the project as well as fundraising will also be available through the facebook page of the organization www.facebook.com/TorontoIMLD. Some of the local newspapers will also publish regular updates on the project. The meeting ended with a note of thanks from the President of the organization.