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While the world is preoccupied glorifying Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi for slapping an IDF soldier, the international community is forgetting the martyrdom of Kamala Bhattacharyya, a young Bengali girl who was murdered when Bangladesh was ruled by Pakistan for defending the Bangla language.

Ahed Tamimi

Ahed Tamimi Photo Credit: Flash 90

In recent weeks, headlines have been dominated by a young Palestinian activist named Ahed Tamimi, who became a media star for slapping an Israeli soldier. The reason she has gotten so much publicity is she is a young, blond haired, white skinned Palestinian teenager who was arrested for her anti-Israel political activity. It is true that politically active youngsters always garner more attention than adults. However, the second that activity leads to violence and incitement to violence, the media star becomes an activist not worthy of the attention for she remains opposed to peace. It would be better for the media to focus on other young women who have better values.  

Indeed, it appears that the international media outlets are focusing on the wrong female teenager.  There are numerous young Kurdish women fighting for the right to use their language who are much more newsworthy and do not condone violence and incite. And this week, we in Bangladesh are commemorating the memory of another young woman who fought to defend the Bangla language and definitely deserves our attention.   

In the 1960s, before Bangladesh became an independent state, the Bengali Language Movement erupted in Barak Valley, Assam Province, which was then being administered by Pakistan. The Bengali Language Movement started to wage protests because the government wanted to make Assamese the official language of Barak Valley, even though the majority of the population there spoke Bangla. In May 1961, numerous protesters picketed for the status of Bangla as an official language. Eleven people were martyred during these protests. One of them was a woman named Kamala Bhattacharyya.

Bhattacharyya is perhaps the only female progenitor of the Bangla Language. And she contributed to the promotion of Bangla even though she came from a very poor family and lost her father at a young age. Instead of slapping soldiers on her spare time, Battacharyya used to spend every free moment she could reading. She used to have to borrow books from classmates because her family was too poor to be able to afford to buy her some of her own. And then one day, she decided to attend the protests defending the status of Bangla. There, she was murdered because she attended the protests defending Bangla as an official language in Barak Valley.  

Yet despite her honored position as a politically active young girl who was murdered defending the basic human right to have the language of the majority of a province respected and given the legitimacy that it deserves, the intellectuals of West Bengal, especially those associated with art literature, do not know who she is. No scholarship was written about her in any university in West Bengal. And outside of Bangladesh, no one knows who she is. However, everyone knows who Ahed Tamimi is.

Kamala Bhattacharyya

Kamala Bhattacharyya Photo Credit: Hindu Struggle Committee

Yet even though no one in the international community knows who she is, I am very grateful to this young girl who gave her life for my Bangla language. She is a true Bengali heroine, unlike our present ruler. Sheikh Hasina today tries to pretend that she is dedicated to the Bangla language, but this is not the case. Under Sheikh Hasina’s orders, 500 words were removed from the Bangla language. Opposition leader Khaleda Zia and numerous other opponents of the government remain in prison for their political beliefs under her tyrannical rule. These people were denied the right to celebrate Bangla Language Day.  Today in Bangladesh, Hindus and other minorities who dedicated their life to Bangladesh are removed from the history books. Their role in promoting the Bangla language as well as the Bengali culture and history is being purged from the national memory. I hope and pray for a day when the memory of the martyr Battacharyya will be more popular than that of Ahed Tamimi and that Sheikh Hasina’s government will fall so that the Bangla language can thrive once again.