Hand ’71 over to the youth
Our almost two-and-half decade struggle against the misrule of Pakistan began around February-March 1966 with the six-point demand. The first of the six points dealt with government structure and the character of the state, calling for a federation of Pakistan. But as for the other demands dealing with universal voting rights, monetary policy, revenue and taxes, foreign trade and so on, it was doubtful whether these would be achieved under Pakistan which was so accustomed to military rule.
The doubts proved true when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his associates were placed behind bars and the police opened fire on the demonstrators. But as the six-point movement gained momentum, it became clear that the design of a state that lay behind the movement was Bangladesh. After all, the six-point movement was about democracy, self-determination and rights over resources.
Bangabandhu had repeatedly made it clear that if the six points were not met, there could be no return to the old state structure. He was focused on the post-six-point reality so that the struggle for self-determination became an independence struggle.
His 7 March speech indicated that a liberation war was inevitable and it also contained some guidelines for the war. It gave a glimpse of a state structure. After7 March, Pakistan’s rule in Bangladesh was restricted and in presence of the military, governance was in the hands of Bangabandhu and the Bengali people. From 25 March on, Pakistan was an occupation army which was driven out in a matter of just nine months.
The declaration of independence was made on 10 April 1971and on 17 April the independent Bangladesh government was formed. There were no longer any doubts about the state structure of Bangladesh. We knew this would be a democratic state owned by the people. We knew it would be diametrically opposite to the state of Pakistan, a humanitarian, liberal, non-communal state, advanced in education and culture and where all rights, including human rights, would be upheld.
It never occurred to us that in independent Bangladesh anyone would be oppressed for independent thought. We had no doubts that the rights of the peasants and the workers would be achieved. The declaration of independence made on 10 April spoke of equality, human dignity and social justice – the three mantras of the Bengalis’political determination and the aim of the struggle. We were sure that these ideals would be the fundamental basis of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh became independent and we got an excellent constitution. It spoke of equality, human dignity and social justice. We believed that these ideals could be achieved in a democratic and socialist state. But that determination gradually began to lose force and equality was replaced by inequality, human dignity was overlooked and social justice existed only for those with power and money.
Socialism was lost in the onslaught of socialism, in the wave of free market economy. Even democracy went into exile and then returned, albeit in a precarious state. The martyrs had dreamt about equality, dignity, justice and an ideal Sonar Bangla, Golden Bengal. Can that dream not be revived, its seeds be planted afresh?
As we stand today in 2019, on the anniversary of independence, we see some bright colours of development that have been brought about by the hard labour and endeavours of our farmers, workers, women and youth. One the other hand, we see some dark shades of inequality. This is the inequality between the poor and the rich, the cities and villages, the owners and the workers, and the gap grows.
Our economic growth is on the verge of reaching 8, but the number of ultra poor is still significant. Large numbers of people are deprived of health care and not able to provide their children with due nutrition. So many children are not receiving education. Corruption has increased, freedom of expression has shrunk, and elections from local to national levels are questionable. There is a sense of chaos everywhere. The highways are unsafe, people die on the roads every day, but the transport owners and workers continue in their arrogance, challenging the government. Even the police cannot control them because there are backed by elements in the ruling coterie. Why should this be so?
For the answer to this, we have to go back to 1971. The war of independence brought all Bengalis to a common platform and that was of the struggle for existence. The people of the villages opened their doors to the people from the cities. They shared their humble meals.
That was our spirit. But once the war was over, we slipped back into our class compartments. In 1974 a famine broke out in North Bengal, thousands of people flooded to Dhaka city, but the people of Dhaka closed the doors in their faces.
The difference between 1971 and 1974 points out that people do not change just like that. They can be changed by education, culture and the state, if it is humanitarian, if law is given due value and if there is justice and equality.
The character of the state changed in 1975. It gradually followed the model of Pakistan. Culture was neglected and discrimination in education increased. The three types of the education opened doors of opportunity for the well-to-do. In 1971 we saw the dire consequences of religion being used in politics, but then that was encouraged in Bangladesh, thus increasing discrimination. In 1990 democracy was restored but was used in the interests of the party and power. And 1971 was neglected. The liberation was became a forgotten event, at least by the state.
The damages brought about by remaining at a distance from 1971 for a few decades after independence, are that we have also been distanced from memories, history, heritage and culture. These distances have impacted the psyche of a young person born in the eighties, have implanted fabricated history, culture and ideology in the mind. This has led to the excesses in our society, the intolerance and selfishness. It is difficult to clear these away. This needs grounded education, culture and the practice of good behavior and tolerance in personal lives. But those who must ensure all this – the state, the government, the family and various institutions, are disinterested. If the state violates people’s rights, if the families falter due to corruption, market pressures and isolation, if the institutions are not accountable and authoritative, then who will bother about reforming the youth? And if this is not done, the dreams of the martyrs will remain a far cry.
It is a difficult task, but not impossible. Political commitment is required. Politics must change. Political parties must have the determination to practice all the criteria of democracy. If politics is not clean, then perhaps the efforts for change can never be taken up.
We must bring up our children in education and culture. Radical changes are needed in the education system. Only education can build up a bank of memories and culture can use these to turn the wheels of everyday life.
In August last year when the young people took to the streets in demand of safe roads, their objective was to repair the state. And 1971 must be handed over to these young people so they can once again sow the seeds of the martyrs’dreams. If they take ownership of our memories, our history and the ideals of 1971, then significant changes will be brought about everywhere.
There is frustration everywhere around us, but I have been observing youth for long and so I am not dismayed. If not today, then tomorrow, or the day after, the seeds of independence will be sown again and the harvest will be brought home. If this possibility did not exist, then there would have been no 1971 and we would not have achieved independence.