Language movement activist Jamil Chowdhury, while at the helm of the pilot project of the Dhaka Television (now BTV) in 1964, established Bangla as the official language of the station. His love for his mother language developed while serving at the station and ultimately led him to become a linguist. Jamil Chowdhury is now leading the Bangla Academy’s applied Bangla language dictionary project. In his long and illustrious career, he taught physics at the University of Dhaka, served at the Atomic Energy Commission and retired as an additional secretary of the government in 1992. In an interview with New Age, Jamil Chowdhury reflected on his struggles to establish Bangla as the official language of Dhaka Television Station during the Pakistani period and his becoming of a linguist.
BTV was introduced as a pilot project under a contract signed between the Pakistan government and the Japanese multinational company Nippon Electric Company Limited in 1964. NEC appointed Jamil, then an employee of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, as the head of the Pilot Television Dhaka project, in April 1964, for an initial period of three months.
‘There was a provision for time extension provided the government was satisfied with its operations,’ Jamil said.
It was a private project and he was accountable to the Japanese company but under the supervision of the Pakistan government. ‘I decided to broadcast only English films and Bangla programmes even though the Urdu-speaking people living in Dhaka had demands for Urdu programmes.’
One of his first decisions as the project director was to make Bangla its official language, said Jamil Chowdhury. ‘Being an activist of the language movement, I thought I should introduce and popularise Bangla at the pilot project. And I got tremendous support from my colleagues.’
‘Then I decided to have correspondence in Bangla with the people applying to purchase TV sets, and write bank cheques in Bangla, although Bangla was not the official language of government offices and banks.’
So he used a trick. ‘I met one of my friends employed at the telephone office and told him that I would pay the telephone bill through a cheque written in Bangla. In case of any official reservations, I requested him to write me a note mentioning that the cheque was declined for using Bangla, so I could show it to the local press. I knew the public would never accept any disrespect to Bangla.’ Jamil said he used the same trick with the officials of the National Bank of Pakistan as the whole matter required approval from the bank. ‘The bank forwarded the case to the State Bank of Pakistan, which gave a positive order saying that bank officials would have to translate Bangla cheques into English.’
Then he embarked on another ‘risky venture’ while preparing a token gift to be handed over to the then Pakistan president Ayub Khan at the project’s official launching. ‘I sought help from Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin, who was respected across both parts of Pakistan. We made a silver crest using local motifs, at his suggestion, and an image of a TV set under which there was a greeting written in Bangla for Ayub Khan.’
Jamil Chowdhury said he had kept the plan secret from the government officials and disclosed it only before the launching ceremony on December 25, 1964. ‘I showed them the gift on December 25 and they were very angry. Initially they refused to accept it but there was no time to change it then. So we handed it over. But I could not know the reaction from Ayub Khan.’
Jamil observed that viewers of the TV station were happy to watch Bangla programmes. Only an Urdu daily published from Dhaka, named Pasban, criticised the channel for not airing Urdu programmes but the government was silent over the issue.
After three months of successful operation of the project, the Pakistan government formed a separate company named Television Promoters Company on March 24, 1965 under the company act 1913. A year later, the Pakistan Television Corporation Limited was formed under the same section. ‘Both the companies were private organisations but under the supervision of the government, and I was appointed the head of both of them.’
Jamil said the TV channel and its employees were nationalised through a presidential order on September 15, 1972. ‘I was made the director general of the state-run channel. Initially, I did not see much difference except that we had to broadcast government press notes frequently,’ he said.
In 1977, Jamil Chowdhury was transferred from BTV to the planning commission. He retired as the additional secretary of the education ministry in 1992. Subsequently, he joined the Centre for Policy Dialogue as its director.
But his activities during the early days of BTV, Jamil says, grew such a passion in him for Bangla that he started research on the application of the language in everyday life. ‘Love for Bangla made me a linguist.’
Bangla academy published two of his books on Bangla language titled Banan O Uchharan (Spelling and Pronunciation) in 1985 and Byaboharik Uchharan Abhidhan (Applied Pronunciation Dictionary) in 1988.
The academy later published his book Bangla Banan Abhidhan (Bangla Spelling Dictionary) in 1994. Indian Dey’s publication published his Shabdo Shanket, a dictionary on applied Bangla language.
Source: New Age