Spirit of freedom

Zahid Hossain

Emotion-charged Ekushey February marks the nation's annual celebration of a tragic day that set in train, not at once predictably, the great national struggle to be free and independent. At the core, though, of the historic day is the supreme sacrifice made for the mother tongue, Bangla. And close to it were the students who took to the streets in what became an earnest movement in favour of the mother tongue.

What started more as a local and instantaneous protest against the excesses of the Pakistani rulers in 1952 soon magnified into a greater national movement which came to a peak in the late sixties and was crowned with success in 1971 with Bangladesh emerging as a sovereign independent state.

The language movement started about the time of the partition, consolidated around 1948 and gained momentum in 1952. The war of independence of 1971 is the culmination of the national consciousness built through the language movement. The struggle for democracy of the late eighties is also the outcome of the political consciousness of the people. All these give us enough cause for euphoria. But we need to keep the record straight so that the doubts may never assail the events the nation cherishes so much.

Ekushey February is wholly an expression of a national inspiration for cultural self-determination. And it started as such and not at all on the narrow considerations of capitalizing on linguistic injustice. But it was wholesale injustice and discrimination and even racial hatred that were garbed in the rather innocuous call for one lingua franca for all of Pakistan.

Ekushey rose to meet the challenge for what it was. And it became the mother to the Bengalee people's decades-long struggle for rights culminating inevitably in the war of liberation and resulting in a massive victory and thereby the national independence. Yes, the political fruits of the Ekushey were reaped far more than these were ever expected to. What happened to what Ekushey set out to do in the first place and indeed its only issue? Literary and overall cultural development, the blooming of a thousand flowers bearing the stamp of the Bengali genius, that is- which was all of the goal for the movement for cultural self-determination, was literally smothered by its political proliferations and their progressive successes.

As years passed on more and more economic exploitation and political control of the then Pakistan government inspired and united the entire nation to achieve not only the right to speak in mother-tongue but also to establish equal rights in all spheres and aspects of national life. The 21-point of the Jukta Front and the 6-point demand of the Awami League were the organized processes of those demands. The suppression of those legitimate demands through bullets resulted in the public movements of the sixties. The demand for provincial autonomy was most forcefully expressed through six-point of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the 11-point programme of the students and the whole country became united under the banner of the Awami League. The overwhelming victory of the Awami League in the election of 1970 was the direct effect of the inspiration of nationalism created on the Ekushey February.

The next phase of the effect of the Ekushey February was the spirit of the independence created by the denial of the then military ruler to form the central government on the basis of the result of the 1970 election. The climax of war was reached when the brutal genocide begun on the night of march 25,1971 by the Pakistan occupation forces. The spirit of nationalism and the determination to achieve independence inspired the whole nation to the supreme sacrifice. Thus the achievement of victory in that war was also an outcome of the spirit of Ekushey February.

We all know that freedom is the price of eternal vigilance. Freedom has blessed us with sovereignty and democracy to safeguard which we should always remain alert and prepared for every sacrifice. The Ekushey February has taught us the lesson to always uphold the truth and follow the rightful path. To fight against injustice and remain ever ready to make any sacrifice for establishing one's rightful claim is also the lesson of the Ekushey February. The shaheeds of the Ekushey never bowed down to the rulers of Pakistan and did not bother to sacrifice even their lives for realizing the demands of the people for establishing a rightful place for their mother-tongue.

Since 1975, democracy has been thwarted several times by the imposition of autocratic military rule and thereby disturbing the fundamental principle of democracy of the right to elect a government of people's choice in a congenial atmosphere. The normal political processes and the practice of real democratic systems and the way of life suffered a real setback. The real spirit of our independence did not hold for long on the right track and has constantly been corroded from within for quite a long time. This was mainly due to the miserable performances of the autocratic military rulers on the linguistic, literary and overall cultural front. Independence is a state of the mind that diminishes with the degeneration of the overall cultural content and situation of a nation. We were, for quite a few years, caught up in this type of infernal situation and as a nation we have to pay quite heavily for that anti-Ekushey and anti-liberation spirit of the autocratic rulers.

In the economic sphere, there are some notable achievements. We have recently achieved near self sufficiency in cereals, the per capita income has also risen reasonably. Nevertheless, we are among the poor nations of the world and with low income level and endemic poverty. Unfortunately our battle in this front has also been occasionally threatened by some of our politicians and their unjustified programmes and negative approaches to some of our important national economic issues.

However, in any case, Ekushey February is basically one of the major milestones of our national, political and social life and the teachings and lessons of Ekushey will continue to inspire us for all the time. Thus the best homage to the Ekushey martyrs would be to desist from the path of destruction and to carry forward the mission for which they gave their precious lives. Let us all resolve on this occasion to rededicate ourselves to the welfare of the people.

Zahid Hossain is Chairman, Society for Projection and Advocacy for Awareness Programme.

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