Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

The other narrative

Update : 21 Dec 2021, 11:14 PM

Depending on which side of the divide one listens to, the narrative of our independence is enunciated differently. It’s a usual sachet of history while it remains fresh and bubbling over. As is the case with the concepts of India’s partition and the creation of Pakistan, once the sands settled, truisms have appeared. 

India has divided opinion on whether it was partitioned or whether it gained independence. Indeed, it is more convenient to play the “independence record” on August 15 and the “partition CD” on December 16. In both cases, Bangladesh comes as a mention in passing. Our Victory Day is observed as the day India defeated Pakistan in a 13-day war. To confuse matters further, the narrative has been carefully sculpted to focus on India’s Republic Day in January, when independence is ceremonially celebrated.

That the Bangladesh narrative might change decades later cannot be ruled out. Going by the script Indian politicians are writing, we shall have to stand and set in stone the real narrative. By then, the Rajnath Singhs and Amit Shahs may or may not be there to eschew their version. To one that follows history in detail, poising to reminisce at every twist and turn, it would almost be amusing. 

Except, the millions dead, the hundreds of thousands of women defiled, and a peace-loving nation scarred beyond redemption isn’t funny at all. The tales of torment that Indira Gandhi went through, at times cutting a lonely figure, had as much of a humanitarian ilk as it did in adding to the script of the decimation of Pakistan. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party makes no secret of its ultimate goal of a return to undivided India. Whether that’s the psyche of India’s people or not isn’t overtly obvious. What is clear is that the people have chosen to trust the mandate of the BJP. Leader after leader has passed on the same message, using different words to the extent of using rather derogatory terms in describing Bangladeshi-origin persons inhabiting India. 

For all the diplomatic suaveness and commitments, the bullets keep flying in the border areas. Balance of trade continues to be lop-sided; Bangladesh is the highest remitter of forex from employment for India and the West Bengal markets continue to be propped up by business generated by Bangladeshis. A grateful country’s bending backwards to provide almost free transshipment support, allowing India’s doctors and hospitals a flurry of patients and unhindered use of ports doesn’t cut ice when the narrative is propagated.

Pakistan continues to be in a state of denial about the gruesome atrocities its troops carried out on its then own countrymen. The new generation complain they weren’t privy to any of such facts. They too, miss out a simple fact -- that the age of technology does give them access; that 50 years of excuses can’t be made. 

The denial camouflages a reality that a retribution is due, beginning with an apology extending to summary trials that were promised in 1972, and reneged on. Instead, beginning from its prime minister, there are hems and haws at Bangladesh’s spectacular progress. If Pakistanis moan over what they’ve missed out on, India bleeds.

Be that as it may be, there is a compelling case for stitching a new narrative, one that recognizes realities, but also puts in pole position the bulk of the freedom fighters that emerged from the rural populace and vanished back there once the war was over. They went back to what they knew best to do -- leaving the space of history and doctrine to a society both patriarchal and city heavy. It is their story that was somehow missing in the 50-years celebrations of our independence and liberation. 

The narrative of the common freedom fighters, the ones of the sector commanders, the Bir Shreshthas, Bir Uttams, Bir Pratiks, and above all, the ravaged women and certainly the war children need to be told. Without their voices and that of the provisional government and leaders, history can never be complete.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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