Thursday, June 13, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Send us victorious

Update : 16 Dec 2013, 06:45 AM

For the generations born after December 16, 1971, Bangladesh was an existentially “normal” place to grow up in. Nothing in the atmosphere hinted at the violent upheavals our preceding generations had to contend with and there was no way of gauging what the yoke of imperialism felt like.

We grew up as free people, in a free country; free to live according to our own values and free to advance ourselves as equal citizens of the world.  We never experienced the humiliation of subjugation, or racism, and were never made to feel inadequate. In fact quite to the contrary, we were raised to be proud of who, and indeed what, we are – the first generation of an independent Bangladesh.

It’s easy to forget what that really means until you think about what it took to get here. Nearly 200 years of British colonial rule had a devastating effect on our civilisation and we went from being the richest Mughal province to one of the poorest places in the world. The economic exploitation was acute, resulting in death by the millions, but the strains on our social and psychological well-being were equally catastrophic. Added to that, a British policy of advancing some communities at the expense of others created sectarian tensions that wouldn’t go away when 1947 rolled around. 

But an independent Bengal was in the offing even as early as the 40s, and when we moved the Lahore Resolution to bring Pakistan into existence, we were actually signing onto the notion of  “independent states,” i.e. an independence of our own. Machinations by “all-India” Hindus and Muslims denied us a united and independent Bengal, so we were cleaved in half and the bloody tale of that is of course Partition, which seems a lifetime away but really only happened to our grandparents.

Now, with only half of Bengal and in the new notion of Pakistan, we were still hopeful of a chance to determine our own destinies, on our own terms and become economically and politically empowered. We were, after all, among “brothers.” Imagine our surprise when our language, our culture, our ethnicity, our economy and then ultimately our votes were subordinated to a national pecking order that placed us at the bottom. A rude awakening followed, and then the guns came out.

Truth is, the break from Pakistan, even from India earlier, was the political manifestation of a yearning that was alive before either of those republics ever existed. A memory of an independent country, with its own systems, structures, culture and values, resides somewhere in our collective consciousness, and informs our identity as completely as genes determine biology.

Well before Pakistani, British and the Mughals ruled this place, a Bengali kingdom lived and breathed here, and it had its own way of doing things. When Babur, the Mughal, encountered this kingdom for the first time, in the 1500s he made this observation:

“There is an amazing custom in Bengal: rule is seldom achieved by hereditary succession. Instead, there is a specific royal throne, and each of the amirs, viziers or office holders has an established place. It is the throne that is of importance for the people of Bengal … The people of Bengal say, “we are the legal property of the throne, and we obey anyone who is on it.” … Whoever becomes king, must accumulate a new treasury, which is a source of pride for the people. In addition, the salaries and stipends of all the institutions of the rulers, treasury, military and civilian are absolutely fixed from long ago and cannot be spent anywhere else.”

It’s clear that he was describing a modern, responsible country, with institutions, offices and citizenship, something that was an anomaly in the medieval era of conquerors. A self-aware Bengali nation has existed since at least the time of the Buddhist Charjapadas. It ran through the Pala and Sena kingdoms of Gaur-Bongo to the Vangaladesa of the Cholas and was reborn in the Sultanate of Bangala that Babur encountered.

The emergence of Bangladesh was a historical inevitability. Repeatedly, the people of this land have resisted authority that was oppressive or unrepresentative of their beliefs and identity. The Kaibarta rebellion in the tenth century, the independent sultanate of the 1300s the Baro Bhuiyans in the 1600s, the fakir-sanyasin movement in the 1700s, the likes of Shurjo Sen and Subhas Chandra Bose in the 1900s and the movements of 1952 and 1971, were all the same struggle against domination.

That’s why Victory Day matters as much as it does. We have walked a long road to get here. This country stands on a time-worn platform of pluralism and justice, and we exist as a nation because we didn’t, and still don’t stumble in the blind alleys of religious bigotry and cultural chauvinism. We exist because we believe in ourselves and believe that we know a better way. l

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