Editorial opinion | Bangladesh at 50: Expectations and achievements

The immediate goal should be to give people back their right to free speech. The regime and its draconian anti-free speech laws have already turned Bangladesh into a gigantic prison. As inmates, why then should we remain fearful of the prison cell? If we all speak out loud, the echoes of our voice are bound to burst the prison doors open. So why the pessimism, comrades? Speak out loud! হাল ছেড়ো না ,বরং কন্ঠ ছাড়ো জোড়ে!

Fifty years ago, people of East Pakistan fought for their right to self-determination, for their right over the revenues East Pakistan generated, for their right to speak their mother tongue, for preserving their cultural heritage, for an independent state that doesn’t discriminate along religious, ethnic, gender, class, and caste lines. Fifty years later, people in independent Bangladesh still fight for their fundamental rights, for their right to cast votes, for their right to seek justice, for their right to speak out, to protest, to demand what the constitution entitles them to. One ruling class has paved the way for another, only to rule with the same impunity. At the expense of secular politics, religious fundamentalism has taken root at the heart of domestic politics; the dream of a welfare state was nipped in the bud by neoliberal elites. A nation that fought for its language now brutalises its ethnolinguistic minorities, rules over them with the iron fist of the military, appropriates indigenous lands, destroys indigenous livelihoods for the benefit of the ethnic majority.

In independent Bangladesh, facing persecution, religious minorities leave their homeland in the dark of the night. Bangladesh commemorates its martyred intellectuals on the eve of the victory day. The same state incarcerates writers, artists, and activists for speaking truth to power. Every year, Bengalis pay homage to the women raped by the Pakistan military. The same people remain standstill when Bangladesh Army men rape indigenous women. Bangladesh adopted secularism as a founding principle of its constitution that also guarantees freedom of expression. The same nation stands idle when secular writers and activists lose their lives in Islamist machete attacks in broad daylight. While the primary remittance earners, the garments workers and migrant workers, continue to toil and die in inhumane working conditions, Bangladesh celebrates its economic growth that only makes the rich the richer, the poor the poorer.

In the last two elections, Bangladesh Awami League — the current ruling party used to winning elections by landslides during the Pakistan era — didn’t dare to hold a free and fair national election lest it might lose. Spawned by a military dictator, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main opposition party, never aligned its interests with those of the laity. Facing government onslaught, along with its Islamist partner Jamaat-e-Islami, BNP is no more than a paper tiger. The leftist parties — plenty in number but meagre in terms of political power and popularity — spend more time in multiplying after infighting over the correct course of the proletariat revolution and celebrating the achievements of brutal dictators like Stalin and Mao. The hardline Islamists, on the other hand, given the government’s lack of democratic credentials, have now filled the vacuum left by the mainstream opposition and can gain as many concessions as they would like from the government — both in terms of material benefits and shaping state policies.

Immediately after independence, Bangladesh lost its way. One political assassination after another, one military coup after another, civilian and military demagogues have made sure that liberal democracy would never flourish in Bangladesh. Suffice it to say here that those who believe that democracy will be served on a silver platter are mistaken. Equally mistaken are those who think that so long as they cater to every whim of the ruling demagogues, they will be spared from the wrath of the latter. For nobody will be spared from the fire that demagogues eventually lit, as witnessed in Myanmar. The ethnic majority, including their leader Aung San Suu Kyi, remained silent when the military carried out a genocide against the Rohingya Muslims. Now that the military junta has captured state power, the ethnic and religious majority cannot argue that they haven’t been warned; they cannot deny their complicity in the Rohingya genocide.  To stop Bangladesh from following Myanmar’s suit, the fight against authoritarianism should be fought on moral grounds; it should be waged based on democratic principles. This is the only path towards consolidating liberal democracy. The immediate goal should be to give people back their right to free speech. The regime and its draconian anti-free speech laws have already turned Bangladesh into a gigantic prison. As inmates, why then should we remain fearful of the prison cell? If we all speak out loud, the echoes of our voice are bound to burst the prison doors open. So why the pessimism, comrades? Speak out loud! হাল ছেড়ো না ,বরং কন্ঠ ছাড়ো জোড়ে!

 

Image: Drawing by S.M Sultan, from Internet

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