Monday, March 24, 2008

Reflections on Bangladesh after Independence


TODAY’S BANGLADESH rich history and culture and its landscape, which is dotted with a vast network of peaceful villages, came through a selfless sacrifice and unrelenting determination of freedom-fighters that had great courage and conviction.

Full liberation is the dream of everyone in the world. To achieve liberation in all respects man dreams, imagines, thinks, plans, works and dies in the world. But this is not quite the Bangladesh where lives were sacrificed; blood was shed for in 1971. Freedom-fighters had fought gallantly with the enemies to free the motherland and to establish democracy, secularism, and Bengali nationalism.

To became the world's 139th independent nation, Bangladesh was suffered a genocide by Pakistani army, which killed approx. 3 million people, raped 40000 women, burned hundreds of villages, and brutally murdered intellectuals. On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army launched “Operation Searchlight” to eliminate the Awami League and its supporters in East Pakistan. The goal was to crush the will of the Bangalees. "Kill three million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands,” said the then Pakistan President Yahya Khan.

Independence Day is a critically important title. It signifies the fundamental meaning of the nation. Independence Day has always had two meanings for everyone. One is a very patriotic meaning of being grateful that someone got people here and they are glad others took care of securing that for them. Independence Day reminds every Bangladeshi of the struggles of the leaders, thinkers and the freedom-fighters of every community and religion who devoted their lives to this noble objective. Needless to say, Independence Day on March 26 in Bangladesh, is first and foremost a day for gratitude.

There is no denying that things in Bangladesh today are not the way they ought to be, let alone what they promised to be. After the bloody war of independence which secured an independent state from West Pakistan, the nation’s first top two executives — Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman were assassinated. Between 1974 and 1990, the country was governed largely under states of emergency or martial law. True things have been changed. But after 37 years, is Bangladesh out of autocracy or enjoying the fruits of independence!

After 37 years, people of Bangladesh are facing a mortal challenge while they are remembering the supreme sacrifices and gallantry of the country’s bravest and enlightened people. The nine-month-long genocide ended with the killing of teachers, writers, journalists, professionals, and social thinkers which was the last part of the Yahya-Tikka-Niazi blueprint. But till now, is Bangladesh free from any blueprint? Secularism, democracy, scarcity of essential livelihoods, freedom of rights even tolerance, and communal harmony are being thrown overboard today.

Political independence is not a primary. It rests on a more fundamental type of independence: the independence of the human mind. It is the ability of a human being to think for himself and guide his own life that makes political independence possible and necessary. The political parties in Bangladesh put the country across an insurmountable political divide. A democratic political system is inclusive, participatory, representative, accountable, transparent, and responsive to citizens' aspirations and expectations. Politics, like much else in Bangladesh, has always been characterized by violence.

Although democratization is not a linear process that moves from an authoritarian to a democratic regime, Bangladesh has gained it after the sacrifice of the life of Dr. Shamsul Alam Khan (was joint secretary of Bangladesh Medical Association, died November 27, 1990), Noor Hossain (a worker of Awami Jubo League, died 1987), and with many other injured participators in an anti-autocracy movement on December 6, 1990. But after 37 years, Bangladesh is without its freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of thought and conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of profession and occupation, or Rights to property, which were the issues of liberation war and its spirit and aspirations of independence.

Functioning of government is another important factor for democracy. If democratically based decisions cannot or are not implemented then the concept of democracy is not very meaningful or it becomes an empty shell. Member of the opposition's parties, parliamentary committees, or even from the ministries can hardly play a vital role for any major decision in Bangladesh. It is raves that the losing parties and their supporters accept the judgment of the voters, and allow for the peaceful transfer of power.

Bangladeshis’ latest suffering in food crisis, may give strength to a general feeling that democracy should be restored. Food-price inflation, at around 11%, is already the biggest grievance of most Bangladeshis. It could climb as a result of the destruction.

War crimes evoke a litany of horrific images to everyone’s mind. The worst war crimes in the annals of history in 1971 were not simply possible by the state-sponsored Pakistani army against Bangladesh. People suffered such attempted extermination with the help of local allies. So much is certain, that no civilized society, any more than a society at peace, can allow unpunished criminal activities like war crimes.

It’s not obviously unethical or illegal to demand while the sector commanders of eleven areas of Bangladesh along with millions of Bangladeshis in their recent convention at Bangladesh China Friendship Convention Centre on Friday, March 21, 2008, vowed to put the war criminals on trial by any means so justice can prevail in the society. Or if they will not attend the 37th Independence Day reception hosted by the president, Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed, on Wednesday, March 26, 2008 as part of the heartiest gratitude towards freedom-fighters and the decision not to attend any state functions in which anti-liberation forces, including leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, will be present. Because the non political government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed can bring the war criminals under prosecutions rather following the same footsteps of its predecessors.

Of course the main agenda of the caretaker government is to hold a free and fair election, but this is high time to initiate legal actions against the war criminals and the trial is more important than the ongoing crackdown on corruption. If these criminals go unpunished, there would be recurrence of such crimes in the country and no political government will be able to bring them back under trail as because they will be obviously associated with such groups or persons.

While millions of Bangladeshis are paying their heartiest gratitude to those freedom- fighters and expecting that each and everyone, who fought in the complex and challenging situation and sacrificed their lives, should be highly respected and taken care of when they need, very often it is regular to see the sufferings, humiliation and deprivation of freedom-fighters. Some of them are rickshaw-pullers, slum dwellers or even beggars. Most of the countries in the world respect their freedom-fighters and senior citizens for their great contribution towards the country. Government has special priorities for those great heroes.

Although the government is considering a proposal to increase the monthly allowance of the freedom-fighters from Taka 600 to Taka 1000, which is not of course enough, the rich individuals or qualified public organizations can respect the freedom-fighters by helping them financially.

While marking Independence Day, Bangladesh is in lack of positive hints to mark. Thirty seven years are perhaps a short time in the life of a nation to resolve its identity issues, but it cannot be denied that Bangladesh is at a crossroads and must act before it is too late. #

March 24, 2008, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York.