Syed Badrul Ahsan
He was perhaps the last of the heroes of 1952. In him was defined, in the decades following the historic protest that for the first time after Partition gave Bengalis a renewed sense of national identity, the essence of legitimate protest. He was part of the large community that would refuse to be cowed by Pakistan's political establishment when it came to the place of Bangla in the socio-political structure of not just East Bengal but the rest of Pakistan as well. At a time when the spirit of traditional Bengali resistance to what could well be described as command politics arose once more to defy the state --- for the state was wrong to think its fiat would run unchallenged --- Matin made sure that his would be a vociferous voice of protest in defence of the Bangla language.
Matin had not forgotten Mohammad Ali Jinnah's reprimand of Bengalis on the issue of language in March 1948. Nor did he ignore Liaquat Ali Khan's rejection of the demand for Bangla as a language of the state in clear defiance of logic. On home turf, Matin was among those Bengalis whose new-found radicalism promised change. And change did come through a shedding of fear and a throwing down of the gauntlet. On 21 February 1952, it was Bengali nationalism, based as it was on its long heritage of cultural underpinnings and political convictions, which triumphed. Despite the tragedy caused by the state, despite the murders of Jabbar, Barkat, Rafiq, Salam and so many others, the point was driven home by Matin and his comrades that the world had changed for the Bengali, that indeed the old dictum of Muslim nationhood being the foundation of the state had lost meaning, that a new story was about to be written in East Bengal.
On 21 February 1952, Abdul Matin did not waver. Even as some among the resistance made it known that caution was in order, that the state ought not to be rubbed the wrong way, Matin made his position clear. That position was unequivocal, without ambiguity of any sort. Section 144, already imposed by the state in order to have the possibility of public resistance to the demand for Bangla pushed into a corner, would be violated. Matin, and so many others like him, would not kowtow before the state. Heritage, after all, was greater than the state. And a sense of identity was all. Matin, like his compatriots, gave voice to that sense of identity on 21 February. Bengalis were not to look back again.
In Abdul Matin's passing a generation of enterprising, brave men passes into the ages --- for a multiplicity of reasons. It was a generation which comprehended the meaning of idealism. To that sense of idealism was attached a sure feeling of history. When you add to all that the leftist orientation of Matin and his fellow travellers, you have before you an entirety of dreams forged on the anvil of social commitment. Matin's belief, therefore, in communism was an expression of the nature of social change he wished to bring about in company with others. He was not, in the end, a politician. He could not be one, though he did envision a strong communist movement taking shape in Bangladesh. For a time he hitched his wagon to the National Awami Party, of the Bhashani mould, star. And yet NAP was not to be his comfort zone. There was the Workers' Party, which he tried to hold forth as a vehicle of change. In the end, Abdul Matin reverted to the role he played best, himself. In that role, it was moral authority he exuded when all debate converged on thoughts of enlightened self-interest.
To this maker of history, to this participant in the making of history, goes the grateful tribute of a nation. Abdul Matin's courage made a difference. In an era where such old-fashioned courage is hard to come by, it becomes necessary to travel back to one's roots. Matin's rootedness was all.