Another Victory day has come, the 48th in the history of independent Bangladesh. Considering the short span of our life, we have travelled quite a distance from 1971. Memories are what make us, our dreams and aspirations keep us going and our hopes sustain us through the journey of life.
It is important that with the ugliness of war we should also remember and cherish the rewards that this war has gifted our nation, the heroic resistance of our people, the great acts of courage and bravery and the great sacrifices made, how our people faced an unequal enemy and laid down their lives for the honour and love of their motherland. So why did we choose to go to war?
Only when our very existence, as it we were, was threatened, our life, liberty and our way of life were at stake, were we forced to go to war, to save our culture and heritage, our very “Bangaliness” as a nation.
In fact, the reasons were many and included the seething discontent of the people of East Pakistan, disparity practiced between the people of two far lying wings. We fought against oppression and exploitation, to end social injustice and economic deprivation by the rulers in the capital located in the western wing of the country.
Peace loving people of Bangladesh led by their great leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman tried till the penultimate moment to get their legitimate rights and demands peacefully, hoping for a political solution to the crisis following the election of 1970, where the Awami League had won an absolute majority and deserved to form the government at the centre, but were being stonewalled by the leaders in West Pakistan.
The hoped-for peaceful solution never came about, the minority leaders of the West Pakistan backed by a power-hungry military junta went on a killing spree on the sleeping people of East Pakistan at the dead of night on the black night of March, 25, 1971. Liberation was the only answer.
After the glorious victory, the country was throbbing with energy that the war generated, dreams were blooming in every heart, the future was awaited with great expectations and full of all kinds of possibilities. What has happened to all our dreams and aspirations? Have our leaders, the immediate beneficiary of the victory of ‘71, been able to deliver on the promises that were the moral imperatives for the suffering and sacrifices made by the people?
Hindsight often makes us wiser and we can see where so many things could have been different. Many of the sore issues that were the reasons for us to fight the war are still here, very much alive, and continue to plague our people. Social and economic disparity between rich and the poor remains and in many cases the gaps have widened. Economic anarchy has proliferated.
A major portion of our economy is controlled and vandalised by a small section of the people who are politically powerful and are in league with a group of unethical businessmen who have no love for the people or the country and are only spurred by unbounded greed.
No doubt, Bangladesh as a country has made laudable progress in many of the social indices. It has alleviated poverty to a great extent, solved the perpetual food shortage and bettered the lives of millions. These are all benefits of our independence and I am confident that under the right winds the boat of progress will sail ahead.
To a freedom fighter, the most worrisome trend in our country at the moment is the lack of rule of law. Common people are often the victim of a corrupt justice system. It fills us with great sadness to see the grave erosion of moral values; hypocrisy has become the guiding religion and is practiced in politics, and has pervaded in all of our social transactions.
This deterioration has poisoned all spheres of our society, specially, the most vital areas like education, healthcare, justice system, that holds a civilised and enlightened society together.
Our society has differing structures and layers. Ideally, they should all be supporting each other in order to have a healthy and functional social system where no one group should be thriving at the cost of the other. Our rulers and decisionmakers should be keenly aware of the grievances that pile up and accumulate among the helpless common people who have no recourse to get remedies to their problems.
We often talk about the spirit of Liberation War, but what does it actually mean?
To me it was actually a liberation from many of our age-old, regressive notions, prejudices and practices. We forgot about class, social-status, religion, sects or gender in ‘71, we were all thrown onto the same plane, fighting for our lives, our very existence. The whole country was united as never before. We were just men and women only, facing a common enemy.
Humanity saw its great face during the short months of the Liberation War. That was the great legacy of our Liberation War, one country, one culture, one language, spiced with our ethnic varieties, but all harbouring the common dream of a united country, all hoping for the promised golden future.
Tragically, we have strayed far from that spirit. The country is divided today and our political system is fractured.
By nature, I am optimistic and as a freedom fighter I have immense faith in the ordinary people of our country. If we are able to make the right call, they will always come up and deliver.
Before I end my ruminations let me share a story. In 1974 I was part of a state visit of the then chief of our Army Staff, General Shafiullah BU, to Moscow as his Aide.
Every day we would go past a simple but beautiful square and I would see somebody or the other, a man or a woman, come and lay flowers there. When I asked our interpreter Colonel Ishkov about this, as everything was written in Russian, he explained that this was in memory of the unknown fallen soldiers of the Second World War that ended in 1945. Our Liberation War had ended in 1971, only three years had passed, emotions were still raw and my eyes filled with tears. Great respect rose in my heart for the people of Russia, after 29 years of World War II, people were still honouring their heroes with fresh flowers every day and I realised this great country will never have any dearth of heroes if it were in crisis and in need of them. In my own country, after only three years, freedom fighters were already being neglected, pushed to the fringes, with controversy and confusion sown to marginalise them in society.
A society and a nation honours its heroes, not for their benefits, but for itself and for all the future generations to come, for it perpetuates a noble strain, admirable examples for them to be inspired by and to emulate. Otherwise, in times of need, there will be no heroes in that nation who will come forward to sacrifice.
Here I have to say that the greatest neglect and folly we made after the war, was that we forgot that it was the common people who were the most heroic of all, who had suffered and sacrificed the most. May we all acknowledge that and pay them back with respect, care and fairness.
Capt (Rtd) Humayun Kabir is a freedom fighter (Bir Pratik).