Following the 1947 partition of India, the new government of the Dominion of Pakistan decreed that Urdu would be the sole national language. What is now Bangladesh was, at that time, a part of the Dominion of Pakistan known as East Bengal. A protest movement began to preserve the Bengali language in education, media, stamps, and other aspects of culture. Faced with government intransigence, tensions rose, finally erupting on February 21, 1952, when student demonstrators were massacred by police on their university campus. Following the extensive civil unrest that followed, the Bengali language was granted official status in 1956, and the linguistic heritage of the Bengali people was preserved.
More than half a century on, these events are etched into the foundation of modern Bengali culture. On February 21st, mourners sing songs of lament across Bangladesh. Flags fly at half-staff. Bengalis visit the Shaheed Minar ("Monument of Martyrs") built near the site of the massacre to lay down flowers, and many more flowers are used to adorn the streets with motifs known as "alpana". And in the most beautiful commemoration I can imagine, Bangladesh holds a national book fair for the entire month of February in celebration of the language.
In 1999, the government of Bangladesh sent an official proposal to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to declare 21 February "International Mother Language Day", and the proposal met with unanimous support at the 30th General Conference. Through UNESCO's continued efforts, the observance now serves not only to commemorate the Bengali martyrs, but also to raise awareness of cultural diversity and multilingualism worldwide.
For these covers, I processed a photo of floral alpana on the ground in front of the Shaheed Minar on a 21st of February, and I digitally constructed a feature meant to evoke both "book" and "bulwark". The inscription — "আন্তর্জাতিক মাতৃভাষা দিবস" — reads "International Mother Language Day" in the once-banned Bengali script. The text is cut from the variegated pattern of a red rose petal and given a somber shadow. I used the 2015 Vintage Rose Forever stamp (Scott #4959) and had the covers serviced with the 2016 International Mother Language Day pictorial postmark from Jackson Heights, New York.