‘Joy Bangla’ does not just belong to Bangladesh
We cannot deny that the “Joy Bangla” slogan was a war-cry of the Mukti Bahini and millions of freedom-aspiring people during the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, and obviously, the slogan has been immortalized.
Recently, a war of words over the slogan began in West Bengal in the upcoming Legislative Assembly elections. When West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee chanted “Joy Bangla,” it stirred controversy and the BJP called it a “secessionist slogan” as it is dubbed as the war-cry of Bangladesh's independence.
West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh slammed Mamata Banerjee for envisaging a “Greater Bangladesh” in public meetings. “The honourable person is uttering the Bangladeshi slogan ‘Joy Bangla’ which is the national slogan of Islamic Bangladesh,” he dared to post on Facebook.
It's an outrageous comment and his statement is taken out of context, without understanding history, says writer and researcher Mohiuddin Ahmad.
The Trinamool Congress argues that “Joy Bangla” does not belong to Bangladesh alone, or its ruling party Awami League, as the roots of the slogan lie in the literary works of Kazi Nazrul Islam, a poet who is adored in Bangladesh but also in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, and parts of Assam.
The root of the slogan goes back to the colonial era, when a nationalist movement against the British Raj was raging in India.
The slogan comes from revered poet of Bengal, Kazi Nazrul Islam, from a poem named “Purna Abhinandan.” The two lines are as follows (transliteration): “Joy Bangla'r pūrnochondro, joy joy adi ontorīn; joy jugē jugē asha sēnapoti, joy prān ontohīn!”
The powerful poem glorifies the spirit of revolutionaries in Bengal. Poet Nazrul was enraged after the arrest at Dinajpur in 1921 of a Madaripur native Purnachandra Das (1889-1956), a Marxist exponent.
Nazrul wrote against colonialism, exploitation by the East India Company, and repression by British masters, and was given the epithet, “Bidrohi Kobi” (rebel poet).
Indeed, his literary writings inspired the Liberation War during 1971, when the eastern province bifurcated from Pakistan. Later in 1972, Nazrul was crowned the titled “National Poet of Bangladesh.”
The slogan made its debut in the 11-point charter of the Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad (All Parties Students Action Committee) on January 4, 1969, during street protests against the tyrannical rule of Ayub Khan, president of Pakistan.
Mohiuddin Ahmad, in his book JaSaD-er Utthan Patan: Asthir Samay Er Rajneeti, mentions that on June 7, 1970, Bangabandhu uttered “Joy Bangla” for the first time while addressing a public rally of Awami League at the historic Race Course (now Suhrawardy Udyan) in Dhaka.
On March 7, 1971, Bangabandhu, at a mass gathering of people at the Race Course Ground in Dhaka, called for independence and urged the people of Bangladesh to launch civil disobedience against the autocratic rule of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. In the historic speech, the architect of independent Bangladesh concluded: “The struggle now is the struggle for our emancipation; the struggle now is the struggle for our independence. Joy Bangla!”
On the other hand, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also stated, at the rebel poet’s 116th birth anniversary in 2015 and at West Bengal’s 119th birth anniversary in 2018, that Bangabandhu took the words “Joy Bangla” from Nazrul’s writings.
After the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in August 1975 Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad, the puppet president of the coup leaders, replaced Joy Bangla with Bangladesh Zindabad.
The Bangladesh High Court in December 2017 directed the government of Bangladesh to explain "why ‘Joy Bangla’ would not be declared as a national slogan of the county" after public interest litigation was filed.
“Joy Bangla was the slogan of our independence and national unity. Therefore, it should remain as the national slogan for future generations,” the petition read.
On March 10, 2020, the High Court declared that ‘Joy Bangla’ will be the national slogan of Bangladesh.
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at [email protected]; Twitter @saleemsamad.