HISTORY WILL TEACH US NOTHING
It wasn't long ago that a friend of mine who is a foreigner had asked me, “Do you have any place in your country where you can feel the essence of your history?” My knowledge of the history of our Liberation War made me answer rather proudly, “Of course, we have. It's the campus of Dhaka University.” In fact, every inch of it is swathed with the memories of our fight for emancipation. Of late, I decided to revisit these places to feel the sacrifice of our martyrs and the leaders who guided our nation in those days of turmoil.
On a merry day of autumn I went out to re-explore the good old DU campus. The most significant place near the campus that is related to our nation's history is the Suhrawardi Uddyan, the former Ramna race course, where Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made his epic speech on March 7. It is also here that the Pakistani army surrendered to the allied command and Bangladesh became a free country. It is also the resting place of three of our national leaders: Khwaja Najimuddin, Hossain Shahid Suhrawardi and Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq. In fact, the entire Suhrawardi Uddyan is a national memorial.
But as soon as I entered the park, I felt a crushing blow. When I reached the spot where our Father of the Nation had addressed his fellow countrymen, my eyes and nose were overwhelmed with the stench of rotting garbage. A memorial has been erected on the spot. It is surrounded by a pool of water, and waste and garbage of different shades and smell are dumped in another shallow pool, also a breeding ground for insects and mosquitoes. Beside the pool, the thicket and the benches near the memorial are used as secure places for the modern day Romeo-Juliets. My presence was a disturbance to these busy lovers.
Seeing one pair covered their faces with an umbrella to hide from my presence, I thought it would be better to move and to let them enjoy the “freedom” to love, ironically in the same spot where as a nation we achieved the taste of freedom. I moved to explore more of Suhrawardi Uddyan but the visit was really distasteful. When I reached the beautifully built amphitheatre, the architecture impressed me. But the manner in which this exquisite architecture is maintained is no less than appaling. It has become probably the largest open public toilet of the capital. All the floating residents of this park use it as a place to empty their bellies. If the authority could prevent this abuse and clean the gateway and passage it would be one of the places where healthy recreation would be possible.
The whole compound of Suhrawardi Uddyan has been occupied by homeless people. They are living in makeshift polythene shanties. It has been alleged that these people are involved in peddling drugs and prostitution. Even many people including students can be seen in this compound smoking weed. So it was hard to think that this place might be considered holy due to its association with our liberation war but now it is not fit for a healthy stroll down our history.
It was with a heavy heart that I got out from the park and moved to the TSC, the DU heartland. It has always been cherished as the centre of intellectual activities of the country. The exquisite Raju Sculpture reflects the significance of this place in the history of the country's students' movement. The hot and sunny weather made me a bit tired and I badly wanted a place to sit. As I reached near the waiting room where the DU students were supposed to wait for the bus, I found it occupied. Heroin addicts use this place to get high; they have also turned this place into one big urinal.
The street that brushes past the TSC leads to another remarkable spot in our history-- the Shahid Minar. I found it rather clean as it has been frequently used for socio-political gatherings. But when not in use, Polybags, juice packs, dirt, rubbish find their resting place under the shadow of the monument. Under the large trees again I met some lovebirds. The epitome of our language movement has become a good place for chatting, dating and taking siesta for the homeless.
While walking down the streets of Dhaka University, the lack of maintenance of the historic buildings is quite eminent. The DU dormitories are also significant for our national history. Most of our leaders, authors and important personalities have resided in these halls. Dormitories like Jahurul Haq Hall, SM Hall, and Jagannath Hall were where our liberation movement against the Pakistani oppressors began. That's why in the black night of March 25, the Pakistani soldiers killed hundreds of students in these halls.
But many of these dormitory buildings are now counting their days. Some days ago a part of Rokeya Hall was about to collapse. The crippled Shontosh Chatterjee building of the historic Jagannath Hall is awaiting the same fate as that of the October tragedy building. Residents of Mohsin Hall fear another Rana Plaza- Tragedy. Most of these buildings have become derelict and weakened by lack of maintenance.
As a common citizen of Bangladesh I was wondering why our people and government became so forgetful of our history of struggle. Some claim that a government in favour of liberation war is now in power. But during their five years tenure why didn't they take any step to maintain the monuments linked with the history of our liberation war? What is the use of offering floral wreaths on some particular days if we neglect these places like cattle pitch in rest of the year? These were the thoughts flashing in my mind at the end of the day when my visit to these momentous places was finally over.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]