The lessons we can draw from our country’s inception
As a child, to my naive innocuous mind, March 26 and December 16 were always confusing.
It is no longer a confusion, but I never truly embraced the contradiction of the significance of the two days present.
“If we are independent, does that not mean we are free? And if our freedom was our desire, does that not mean we are also victorious?
And if that is so, why do we have a Victory Day a full nine months later? Why was there a war that needed to be fought after we already had independence?”
So asked my younger self (much to the annoyance of my parents no doubt) and it remained a question until I was old enough to understand that declaring independence was an altogether different scenario from being independent.
As per Wikipedia, (and you can debate to death whether Wikipedia is a “credible” source) “during the early hours of March, 26, 1971, the independence of Bangladesh was declared.” History has a history of revisionism (and negationism) and therefore, keeping this short and to the point is the way to go.
Of course, by then, Pakistan’s “Operation Searchlight” military operation had received the green light from its central government, an operation that, ironically, galvanized the movement for a unified Bangladesh against the oppressive West Pakistan regime, and perhaps even contributed to our country’s eventual inception in December 1971.
But back to my questions.
As I think back to our declaration of independence, and the bloody struggle that followed for nine months afterwards, in order to transform that proclamation into reality, I think about our own individual declarations and proclamations, internal and external, solitary or social, minute or life-changing.
I think of our promises, to ourselves, to our families, friends, peers, at home, at work, and at school. I think of all the things we put off for “later” to perpetuate our complacency, our negative behaviour, believing that there is always a tomorrow to fix things, to transform our lives, to achieve our goals and dreams, to become independent instead of proclaiming independence.
And as I ponder, about our everyday lives, in the comfort of my parent’s rented apartment in Dhanmondi, of problems large and small, feeling good about myself for being “thoughtful enough” to be constructing such thoughts, I try to fathom what it was for the Bangladeshi people during the time of the Liberation War.
What it was for my father, a 20-something farm boy in Barisal, one of countless others, who did not look back when, spurred on by the passion Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman radiated, disseminated, and embedded into the hearts and minds of the population -- took up arms, ready to transform our declaration of independence into reality.
What was it like for the mothers, the wives, the siblings, the children, who looked on, or participated in every which way they were able to, I wondered.
As a boy who grew up in India, who first went to school in India, who learned the Indian national anthem about a decade before learning the Bangladeshi national anthem, who missed India terribly, and considered it home for the first couple of years of being back in Dhaka 16 years ago, it would be fair to say that I did not rank very high on the patriotism scale as a Bangladeshi. I still don’t.
However, I have come to realize, slowly but surely, that as we struggle in our own day-to-day lives, as we go through our own personal battles, that we can always think back to 1971, the odds firmly against us, and attempt to summon even an iota of the courage displayed by the people of not-yet-Bangladesh during those times.
Over the years, I have come to realize the spirit of 1971 is more than just a catchy slogan. The struggle for independence was more than just folklore. The Liberation War is not just another war among the countless that this world has seen.
And though the struggle started much earlier, March 26, 1971, was the exclamation point -- there was no turning back after that. And we didn’t. And we won.
Happy Independence Day.
AHM Mustafizur Rahman is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.