As February gathered steam and we rolled towards the 21st, the day celebrated all over the world as International Mother Language Day, The Daily Star published a report on the blatant hooliganism shown by the Bangladesh Chhatra League in controlling the dormitories of Dhaka University. It is not the first time that student politics has reared its now much deformed and ugly head in our country. Instances of violence, extortion and even murder (so harrowingly portrayed in the killing of Biswajit) have become common associations with student politics. So much so that the general feeling towards politics amongst the youth is one of apathy, disdain and disgust. And yet as we head towards the 21st of February, we would do well to remember that it was not always this way; what we now regard as a poisoned chalice was once the brightest beacon of hope for our society.
During the month of February, nationalistic pride and patriotism come to the forefront in a celebration of language and heritage, something that required a sacrifice of blood and tears from the countless heroes this nation will forever be indebted to. At the heart of the Language Movement was a core of idealistic youth that vociferously demanded its right to speak in Bangla, and it was this very culture of political participation in university campuses that played an integral role in both the Liberation War of 1971 and the achievement of parliamentary democracy in 1991. I could go on a long monologue dropping the names of the language martyrs and the martyrs of the Liberation War but it is of little point. We have failed them spectacularly. Yes, we celebrate our right to speak in Bangla every year in February and celebrate living in an independent country but we are no better off if we failed to preserve the system that made the revolutions possible. In fact, it could be argued that things are worse now on the political front. The up and coming thinkers have turned apathetic and the future of our politics lies in the hands of the pillaging and violent partisan student wings of our feudal political dynasties. The future is as dark as the black worn in respect of the language martyrs.
So where exactly have we gone wrong? The Language Movement and the Liberation War represented two situations that allowed the citizens of the country to unite under their nationalistic sentiment, and with students often being the most idealistic bunch, it isn't too difficult to see how they performed their function so brilliantly. The establishment of democracy in 1991 also falls under the same category. But what has happened since then is an identity crisis of epic proportions. With a lack of outside invaders on our placard of democracy and basic rights, the system collapsed on itself to morph into a pseudo-capitalist business opportunity. The need to push for state reforms was replaced by a desire for money and power through politics. A greed that filtered down from the highest offices to the grassroots levels of the student wings. It was then of utmost importance for the political parties to build strong, partisan groups that acted more as cadres than anything else. The promise of quick money and power was too much to turn down for some and pretty soon the environment devolved into one where the reformists and the thinkers were cast aside in favour of muscle power.
As much as we hate associating ourselves with politics, the onus is very much on all of us to change this vicious cycle of political extortion. There is hope yet that we can turn this around. Shahbagh, for whatever principles it may have stood for, was proof that the youth of this country can be politically aware if it chooses to. The sad part is that it stood as one against the threat of collaborators of invaders influencing our governance and yet quickly turned dormant once our own dirty laundry began to be aired. Reforms are required not only on a personal level, but also on an academic level. Public universities need to step out of a culture of promoting political and personal gain and encourage learning and questioning that allows students to actually understand and appreciate the need for change. How exactly are we paying our respects to the martyrs who fought for us? Wearing black and buying books at the Ekushey Boi Mela? I daresay they'd much prefer us taking up an active role in our political set up and break the feudal dynasties into a true democracy. Yes, student politics is now murky and violent but only because we allowed it to be.
Let us pay tribute to the Language Movement this year by clearing out the very platform which gave rise to Abdus Salam, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abul Barkat and Abdul Jabbar, so that revolutionaries may rise again and the flames of 1952 keep on burning.