2015 Independence Day Special
Editor’s Note Forty-four years after our declaration of independence, Bangladesh has much to be proud of. It is sometimes easy to lose sight of this simple truth. Sometimes we are so caught up in the challenges that we face as a nation and the crises that we see all around us that we do not spend enough time reflecting on just how much we have achieved and accomplished in such a short period of time as an independent people. From the ashes of a war-ravaged, devastated, impoverished land, we have in four short decades forged a country that has taken its place on the global stage and can stand eye to eye with any other nation in the world. We have overcome tremendous hardship and adversity to build a creative, innovative, and dynamic country that has won the respect and admiration of the world. Our journey is far from complete, and there is no doubt a long way to go. We still have much more to do when it comes to eliminating poverty and ensuring justice and opportunity for all. But we should all be proud of this country of ours and how far we have come since independence. The Dhaka Tribune’s I’m Made in Bangladesh campaign seeks to take this message to every village and town in the country, to kindle the fierce pride we know that burns inside of every Bangladeshi, to unleash the energy and enthusiasm of this extraordinary population of ours, to take us to even greater heights. On this 44th anniversary of our Independence Day, the Dhaka Tribune invites all our fellow country-men and women to stand straight and tall and join us in proudly saying to the world: I’m Made in Bangladesh.
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Some memories never fade n Shawkat Hussain There is no memory, however intense, that does not fade. I read this a long time back in a book whose title I have forgotten, whose story I donâ€™t remember, but interestingly, these lines I still remember, and they resurface now, as I struggle to remember that night of March 25, 1971, 44 years back. Some memories do linger, and it is important, even if ritually, to dredge these memories from time to time and pass them on to succeeding generations. I remember the night of March 25, 1971, when the genocide against Bangalis began when we dared to dream of a separate nation. When the gunfire started before midnight, we sat huddled in the dark, in the large drawing room of our house in Dhanmondi, and we sat all night, more than a dozen family members, as machine guns crackled throughout the night. This was the worst night in the living memory of over 7 crore Bangalis. The next morning, thousands lay dead throughout the city and in the outskirts. The Bangali nation was born that very night, although it took us nine months to achieve complete liberation of the nation. I cannot ever imagine these memories to fade. The next morning I remember seeing the dead body of the Imam of Baitul Mamur Mosque on the corner of Mirpur Road and New Elephant Road. It lay sprawled inside his small bamboo hut opposite the Science Laboratory. He was shot down by a sharpshooting Pakistani soldier just as he opened the door to wash himself before Fazr prayers. I remember him because I had my first (and last) Arabic lessons at the hands of this Imam.
Later I remember, when the curfew was lifted, I walked to Iqbal Hall (now Sgt Zahurul Haq Hall) and saw about a dozen bodies of dead students laid out in rows on the grass. I heard there were more dead students in Jagannath Hall. My teacher Dr Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta had been dragged out of his university flat, shot, and left dying in a pool of blood. Later he died in the hospital. These memories and many more, and the memories of thousands of other Bangalis, have now become part of the collective memory of the nation. It is imperative to hold onto these memories, if only to understand how far we have deviated from our original dream of building a nation free from communal violence, a nation based on principles of democracy, justice, and freedom. I had one small private dream in those days besides the larger dream of nationhood. As a third-year university student during the nine-months after the crackdown, I had a few options open: To take up arms and join the war that began almost immediately; to escape to a village or go to India (some actually went to Pakistan); or to stay put in Dhaka, not knowing how long the land now free only in our dreams would really be free of occupying Pakistani forces. I stayed put. I remember reading Dr Zhivago, and reading about Zhivago reading a book in a park, a free man in a free land. My small private dream was to read a book in a park as soon as Bangladesh became a free nation. Nine months later, I was able to realise my dream. Now, 44 years after independence, in March 2015, we feel imprisoned within our own free nation. Continuous hartals and oborodhs by one party and its affiliates have attempted to paralyse our national life, close down schools, colleges, and
universities, forced postponement of SSC exams and hundreds of other exams, shut down mills and factories, hampered inter-district movement of trucks and buses, and disrupted normal life in a way that defies rationality. It is absurd to dream of reading a book in a park when the thought of petrol bombs being hurled at you is constantly there at the back of your mind. All this is done in the name of democracy. We all know what the problems are -- thanks to endless talk shows and opeds -- but we just donâ€™t seem to know what the way out is. When Professor Rehman Sobhan, generally an optimist and one who usually comes up with a solution to every political crisis,
did not see any light at the end of the tunnel (in a long form piece he wrote for this paper), my own generally cynic nature was only reinforced. Now, a different kind of darkness envelops us, a darkness bred of intolerance, greed, violence, and bigotry. Instead of a common dream of nation-building, we are driven by personal dreams of self-glory, selfaggrandisement, and visions of vast and lasting power. But we must keep hoping that something will surely turn up. The tigers have started roaring and nobody gives a damn about hartals anymore. l ___________________________________________________ Shawkat Hussain is a professor of English.
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The emergence of a sovereign Bangladesh n Rehman Sobhan Bangabandhu’s response to the decision by Yahya to postpone the Assembly session was to call for a political mobilisation throughout Bangladesh through a program of non-cooperation. The popular response in Bangladesh to his call registered a measure of support which remains without precedent in the history of democratic and liberation movements. The non-cooperation movement was spontaneously joined not just by the people of Bangladesh but by the administrative and judicial machinery, the forces of law and order, as well as the business community. The non-cooperation movement eventually graduated into a formal shift of allegiance of the machinery of civilian government in Bangladesh away from the central government of General Yahya Khan to the authority exercised by Bangabandhu over Bangladesh. Thus, the entire machinery of state located outside the military cantonments of Bangladesh, unanimously came forward to pledge their loyalty to the leadership of Bangabandhu. By March 1970, Bangabandhu found himself the unchallenged ruler of Bangladesh with the entire machinery of administration in Bangladesh behind him. In no other independence movement has such a shift of loyalty emerged prior to the recognition of national independence. Bangladesh’s de facto independence, thus, emerged as part of a process, where between March 1 and March 15, Bangladesh assumed all the correlates of an independent state. So total was the non-cooperation movement that the economy and infrastructure of Bangladesh came near to collapse with life-threatening consequences for the people of this region. Thus, Bangabandhu had, of necessity, to escalate the movement from non-cooperation to self-rule in order to restore economic activity and maintain law and order. A rudimentary policy-making apparatus had to be established by Bangabandhu to take decisions about the selective revival of the economy and establishment of administrative
authority. A small cell was established where a number of Bangali professionals met every day with bankers and bureaucrats to discuss a variety of operational issues such as the steps needed to revive banking operations, revive exports, pay salaries of public employees, collect public revenues, resume public distribution of fertiliser as well as operate tube-wells, and to keep the transport within Bangladesh functional. Suggested administrative actions to be taken in the name of the Bangabandhu regime were communicated every day by Tajuddin Ahmad and Kamal Hossain to a team of Bangali bureaucrats who had been elected by their colleagues to liaise with the Awami League and act as conduits for transmitting the orders of Bangabandhu to the administration. Many ad hoc problems of an administrative, political, or commercial nature that needed urgent resolution were directly presented to Bangabandhu at his private residence on Road 32 in Dhanmondi which, in effect, became the seat of authority in Bangladesh during March 1971. Delegations of businessmen met with Bangabandhu and selected colleagues to seek emergency decisions about how they should run their business during this period. The machinery of law and order was restored as the police began to take orders from Bangabandhu and to work in cooperation with Awami League political workers to restore a sense of security to the people of Bangladesh. Whilst there were instances of persecuting non-Bangalis, the general law and order situation during March was remarkably stable and even nonBangalis were extended protection. By March 15, for all practical purposes, a functioning administration, operating under the direction of Bangabandhu and administered by key Awami League colleagues, had emerged as a de facto administration and political authority in Bangladesh. However, it is arguable that Bangabandhu’s authority was not just de facto but could be termed legal since his leadership enjoyed electoral legitimacy, registered in the overwhelming vote of the population
endorsing their political confidence in Bangabandhu. This exercise of political and administrative authority by Bangabandhu over the entire geographical area of Bangladesh was more than enough to meet the criterion for sovereign recognition by a foreign government. This exercise of authority by Bangabandhu throughout Bangladesh was projected before the world through a large contingent of the international press who were present in Bangladesh to cover what appeared to be the emergence of a new state. Bangabandhu was, at the same time, communicating with government leaders, who were
solution to the political crisis might have emerged. Such a solution may have ended in a loose confederal arrangement which may have eventually led to a peaceful parting of Bangladesh from Pakistan. But Yahya, goaded by Bhutto and some of the hawks in the junta, still persisted with his delusion that a show of force would bring these middle-class Bengali leaders to their senses or that some of them would come forward over the dead bodies of their colleagues to seek a compromise with the military junta. The junta did not believe that the Bangalis had the political cohesion, courage, tradition, or military capacity to sustain a war of national
It is only in the politically divided Bangladesh of today that such a surreal political debate over who declared independence for Bangladesh could continue
believed to exercise some leverage over the Pakistan government, to seek their assistance in persuading Yahya to accept the logic of the democratic process in Bangladesh. However, it was the world press which projected Bangabandhu’s message to the ordinary people of these countries so that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, during March 1971, became one of the most globally visible personalities in the Third World. When Yahya Khan arrived in Bangladesh in mid-March to resume political negotiations for a constitutional solution to the crisis he was, thus, no longer negotiating with a subject but with a political equal. Bangabandhu, at that point, was not only sovereign in Bangladesh but commanded more authority in his own territory than Yahya did in West Pakistan. If such negotiations between Bangabandhu and Yahya had been carried out on the basis of the political realities that prevailed on the ground in Bangladesh, a peaceful
liberation. To the end they could not comprehend that a nation state had been forged within Bangladesh during March 1971 whose people would be willing to fight spontaneously to protect their sovereignty. At the back of their minds, both Yahya and Bhutto believed that if worse came to worst, Pakistan would leave Bangladesh as scorched earth where the Bangalis would have to pay in fire and blood for their presumptions of sovereignty. Bhutto believed that Yahya could not survive the loss of Bangladesh and that he (Bhutto) would emerge as the new shahinshah of what was left of Pakistan. As it transpired, Yahya used the cover of political negotiations to move troops into Bangladesh to build up enough force to suppress the forces of Bangali nationalism. He projected such an act of force as a reassertion of the political authority of the central government of Pakistan over a province of Pakistan. But by the time Yahya gave his
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mind to make such a proclamation.
Bangabandhu and the legitimacy of the liberation struggle
final orders to General Tikka Khan to launch his genocide on the Bangalis on the night of March 25, 1971, it was Pakistan which was the usurper of authority from the democratically established sovereign state of Bangladesh. Thus, the armed assault of the Pakistan armed forces on the Bangalis was seen as an act of military aggression by one sovereign state on another. This was how the Bangalis viewed the assault on their sovereignty and indeed how much of the world viewed the military aggression against Bangladesh. During the month of March 1971, Bangladesh’s sense of national consciousness evolved into an awareness of their sovereign status through the assertion by Bangabandhu of the right to self-rule. Thus, the concept of national consciousness, which was essentially an abstraction, consolidated itself through a political process which culminated in the emergence of an independent Bangladesh. For the first time, since the Battle of Plassey, Bangalis awoke to the fact that they were ruling themselves through their freely elected representatives.
Bangladesh’s declaration of independence
By March 25, 1971 Bangladesh was already a sovereign state in the minds of its citizens. The proclamation of independence by Bangabandhu on March 26 in response to the military assault on the Bangalis ordered by Yahya Khan, was a juridical act recognising a de facto and legitimate authority. The post-liberation debate over who declared independence of Bangladesh is thus a largely irrelevant debate. It is self-evident to anyone with common sense that the
operative issue is not who declared independence but when Bangladeshis asserted their own independence, which they did during the month of March 1971. In any case, a declaration of independence can only derive from a legitimate authority, otherwise any citizen could proclaim any part of the globe independent. In the Bangladesh of 1971, it was unreal to imagine that an unknown army officer could proclaim independence for 75 million Bangladeshis without any authority to do so and could be expected to be taken seriously by anyone. Indeed, such anonymous declarations could only generate apprehension in the international arena that Bangladesh was degenerating into anarchy. At that time, the only person who was invested with the credibility to declare independence, the legally acceptable sense of the term, was Bangabandhu, because he enjoyed both electoral legitimacy and had a total political mandate from the people of Bangladesh to speak for them. This was recognised by the global community where Bangabandhu alone commanded the visibility derived from his unchallenged leadership of 75 million Bangalis to proclaim their sovereignty to the world. Any local declaration of independence could, thus, only be accepted as a surrogate act on behalf of Bangabandhu. It is only in the politically divided Bangladesh of today that such a surreal political debate over who declared independence for Bangladesh could continue for so long to perpetuate the myth that a declaration of independence could originate from any person who had a
The legitimacy derived from the unchallenged authority of Bangabandhu was crucial to the sustainability of the liberation war. At the time that independence was formally declared on March 26, 1971, Bangabandhu commanded what few, if any, leaders of independence movements have commanded during their phase of struggle with an imperial authority, the freely given and overwhelming electoral mandate to speak for Bangladesh. Such a mandate was not available to Gandhi or Nehru, or Mao, or Ho Chi Minh, or Ben Bella, or Nkrumah, or Nyerere, or even to Mandela, all of whom obtained full electoral legitimacy only after independence. Bangabandhu had already exercised de facto authority, in the eyes of the world, over the territory of Bangladesh when he proclaimed Bangladesh’s independence. It was this universally recognised authority which persuaded Bangali judges, bureaucrats, and diplomats to extend their support to Bangabandhu and for Bangali members of the armed forces of Pakistan to break their oath of service and pledge their allegiance to the liberation of Bangladesh. It should be kept in mind that to the end, Vietnamese fought alongside the French to suppress their liberation movement, Algerians fought with the French to suppress the FLN, local troops, bureaucrats, and police were used by the British to suppress various independence struggles throughout the age of Empire. It was only in Bangladesh that these servants of colonial rule repudiated the authority of the ruler and supported a “rebel” authority because they deemed its leader to have a legitimate authority to speak for all the people of Bangladesh. When the people of Bangladesh took their message to the international community after March 1971, they had no difficulty in commanding support
at the popular level even when the governments of the day remained lukewarm in their support to the sovereignty of Bangladesh. It was this popular groundswell of support in most countries of the world for the Bangladesh liberation struggle and against the genocide of the Pakistan army which compelled some national governments to demand restraint from the Pakistan government. Today the genocide unleashed by Yahya and the Pakistan Army would have been condemned by many governments and there would have been a global outcry for the trial of Yahya and Tikka Khan as war criminals. In 1971 most governments, with rare exceptions, still believed that a state, however weak its popular legitimacy, could massacre its own citizens with impunity. Thus, in 1971 Bangladesh needed to invoke the support of the people of these countries who would, in the normal course of their lives, have never heard of Bangladesh. That ordinary people around the world took notice of the atrocities inflicted on the people of Bangladesh, owes in no small measure to the global recognition given to Bangladesh during March 1971 and the visibility and stature of Bangabandhu as the leader of Bangladesh. Whatever may be said about the role of Bangabandhu and the Awami League after 1971, all Bangladeshis will have to come to terms with the fact that had Bangabandhu not united the people of Bangladesh by building up their national self-awareness, particularly prior to the liberation war, and had he not been able to draw upon their democratic mandate to speak for Bangladesh before the world, our liberation struggle could have turned out to be a much more protracted process. l ___________________________________________________ Rehman Sobhan is an economist. He is Founder Chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue.
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Iâ€™m Made in Bangladesh There are stories all around us that make us proud to be Bangladeshi. We asked you, our readers, to capture and send us these moments in words and photos. The Dhaka Tribune congratulates these talented winners of our contest. Thanks for taking part!
winner Photo: Gâ€™son Biswas
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Rainbow in hand
We can make our lives colourful by maintaining communal harmony. We Bangladeshis can make our society more colourful with participation by all. That is why we are proud to be Bangladeshi.
Photo: Moin Habib
winner Photo: G’son Biswas
Believe it or not, the happiest moment for me was when I got a visa refusal letter from the Canadian High Commission, My parents had wanted me to study abroad and settle down there, and showing respect to them, I applied and was accepted by a renowned university. But I feel that I can live a happy life with inner peace and dignity only when I’m in my beloved country. And now I’m doing fine with my study and my life. This photo was taken after getting that letter. Story: Monirul Islam
Photo of the day
I am made in Bangladesh because it is my centre of gravity. While I’ve spent most of my life abroad, I’ve always felt that my Bangladeshi roots made me part of something greater than myself. Wherever life may take me, I’ll always carry the voice of fallen freedom fighters, the satisfaction of eating khichuri on a rainy day, the poetry of Baul music, and the affection of my family. A piece of Bangladesh is always in my heart.
winner Photo: Behnaz Ahmed
winner Photo: G’son Biswas
I came to Dhaka four years ago when I started my university life. As days passed, I began to see the suffering of the children on Dhaka streets. Innocent kids on the streets often fall prey to child labour and illegal activities. With an intention to change their lives, I have decided to give them the light of education. Though this journey does not seem easy, I will achieve my goal with the help of the Almighty, my courage and knowledge, and people’s support. I know I can bring smiles to the faces of these children because I’m made in Bangladesh. Story: Fatin Hasnath Fatin
winner Photo: G’son Biswas
This is my flag. This is during a conference of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, which I attended. I’m proud of having been one of the only Bangladeshi women there, and this is my “I’m made in Bangladesh” story! Story: Sayra Rafi
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Written in the stars:
Independence Day picks A compilation of some of the bright young trailblazers featured in TMAG’s ‘Written in the Stars’ section over the last two years
Fighting the good fight Special Olympics Gold Medalist Shiuli Sathi is an icon of encouragement and true inspiration. Born to a family of six and the daughter of a rickshaw puller, Shiuli was diagnosed with a mental disability at the age of four. For the first 15 years of her life, she could not walk on her own and had to be carried around from place to place. “I could not talk fluently too,” Shiuli says as she reminisces about her tough childhood, “No one played with me or talked to me. They treated me like an outcast and I hated it.” It was Shiuli’s endless determination and never ending practice at the Dhupkhola Field, which caught the eyes of the selectors of the Bangladesh Special Olympics Association in the year 2007. Her first international acknowledgement took place in that very year when Shiuli qualified for the Special Olympics World Summer Games, in China, Shanghai. Losing to her opponent by just one point, Shiuli brought back two silver and one bronze medal for her country in badminton.
Turning her disappointment for her unexpected loss to her goal to achieve, Shiuli worked harder and in the year 2009, she attended the second summer Olympics in Brunei, Darussalam. Qualifying in every round for badminton and boichi, her years of hard work shone brightly when Shiuli won the final rounds of her sports with huge leads and brought back five gold medals in a row. “I could not believe it,” she says, “I was so ecstatic that I was still in a daze for days” Since then, Shiuli has participated in another special Olympics and has garnered 10 medals in total till date. When in Dhaka, Shiuli works as a teacher’s assistant in the school Sweet Bangladesh in Mohakhali. She teaches dancing to the challenged kids there and when asked about her future plans, Shiuli says that she wants to make an institution where she will train challenged kids of our country to be like her, so that they can live a normal, happy life and contribute to the society as good citizens, taking Bangladesh forward.
Taking action From Tahrir Square to Shahbagh, from Occupy Wall Street to protests in Syria, youth around the world are beginning to rise, to voice their opinion about issues they believe in. How successful or effective they have been is a matter of debate. Young Inspirator Farah Maliha understands the need for a more informed and constructive approach. A military baby, Farah Maliha has
travelled far and wide at a very young age. Where a lot of young people her age (she recently turned 25) and in her
Reality in celluloid Manik, the protagonist of Red Mark Studios’ project, Paatshala – the movie left his home and flew to the city with the dream of enrolling in a local school (pathshala). Reading the synopsis, one might wonder what makes the story so extraordinary. Asif Islam and Faisal Roddy have always thrived to capture stories that were ignored and treated insignificantly within our society regardless of their immense values. Asif says: “Many flamboyant events happen in the world every day. Our world celebrates the Olympics, the World Cup etc, but how important is it for us to value the fact that young Manik wants to go to school. Therefore, our attempt is to bring these small stories out from the shoes would be complaining about the constant moves, Maliha chooses to channel her experience and energies into shaping the voice of the youth through Activista. Activista, which is ActionAid’s youth network, spans 23 countries worldwide. Comprising of young activists, journalists, musicians and artists, basically anyone able and willing to pitch in, the network is
dark and into the light of public awareness.” Faisal explains it more thoroughly by saying: “By using the word “paatshala” we don’t want to refer to an institution. Rather, our objective is to convey the message – the whole world is your school. This means that you can learn from anywhere, from anyone at any time if you want to, and that too without denying the importance of school.” currently involved with ActionAid’s international campaigns for issues such as tax justice, safer cities and emergency response programmes for Syrian refugees. Maliha, who is at present based in Amman, is in charge of the entire Youth programme in ActionAid’s Regional initiative. The objective of this project is to mobilise youth around the Arab region to institutionalise their activism, rather than merely engage in street protests.
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Saving the world, one idea at a time
With three awards and no less than 17 children’s books to his credits, it’s safe to say that writing is in his blood. Ashique Mustafa loves anything creative even if it’s just an interesting discussion with friends.
On basis of their projects “First Lady – Ensuring a safe society for women” and “Digital Maduli: Keep Kids safe near water,” Nawshin Mehzabin Chowdhury and Ashrarul Haq Sifat, won the battle of Telenor Youth Summit 2014.
For Nawshin, it was her everyday experience of being a young woman in Dhaka that spurred her project. Working on a campaign called Safe cities for women by Action Aid Bangladesh, she discovered that most of the solutions being planned rarely had anything to do with technology. She thought that the conventional methods could do with a little technological back up. “First Lady – Ensuring a safe society for women” is a helpline project that aims to ensure women’s safety via information collection and the aid of local authorities (law enforcement and government agencies, NGOs etc). Nawshin intends to go further and build on this idea after her undergrads For Ashrar, the original inspiration was the scale of the problem itself and the potential of using technology to create a solution. It would really mean something, he thought, if the idea saves at least one life after implementation. “Digital Maduli” is a low cost wearable device with SIM integration that focuses on preventing drowning for children, mainly infants by using a Geographical Information System. Ashrar is currently in the process of tweaking and perfecting his invention.
Fahmida Faiza and SIM Shadman Sheikh, students of London College of Legal Studies (South), were selected to participate in a United Nations training this year. One of the most prestigious programmes held at the UN Headquarters in New York, designed to train organisers of Model United Nations (MUN) across the world. Faiza and Sheikh were the first ever Bangladeshis to be selected for this training and were among the selected 80 out of 50,000 applicants worldwide. The workshop was organised and conducted by the UN
Department of Public Information and UN Institute of Training and Research. Faiza: To me MUN means freedom. With the best intellectual minds from home and abroad it is a unique opportunity to learn, share and grow with exchanging ideas for making the world a better place. Shadman: I think the educational value and confidence Model UN ensures is truly worthy to join this global environment. And that’s what made me interested in MUN. It is a unique opportunity to meet, network and negotiate with the best minds from wide a range of background.
Down to science
named “Modelling of single-top-tchannel signal and backgrounds” under the supervision of Arberto Orso Maria Iorio. This project was about simulating high-energy physics processes using state-ofthe art particle physics simulation software and data analyses packages.” Try saying that with your mouth full. Currently, this go-getter is teaching at Brac University, and is in the process of developing a Blind Assistance and Navigation System for indoor environments, a system designed to help blind people find their belongings while in their rooms, by utilising a camera and sound effects.
When someone mentions the words “particle physics”, the first thing that comes to mind is superhero movies. Such lofty realms of science are so beyond the lay person that they might as well be fantasy. After all, how many of us will actually go down that path? Aniqua Nusrat Zereen realised her dream of “being the person that people will follow” by attending CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research, as a summer student last year. When asked to explain her role in the program, she explained “I was selected as a “Summer Student of Non-MemberStates” and was assigned to a project
His foray into children’s literature began when he worked for the children’s page in a renowned newspaper and fell in love with the psychology of children, the way they process new information, and what kinds of things they like to read. He noted that prominent authors like Ananda Shankar Ray and Sukumar Roy, whose work is intended for children, have a vocabulary that beginner readers will struggle with. And that’s the area he focuses on.
Isn’t it very insensitive to keep the dreams pointed towards a specific angle? For me, thousands of dreams peep into the mind every single day
Ashique’s list of Awards
UNICEF Meena Media Awards on 2014 for story Shapna Urano Lokta Chotoder Potrika “Shishu Shahittyo Award 2010 For Morog o Tar Bandhura Habibur Rahman “Shahittyo Puroshkar 2014 for Chotto Ekta Maa
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Democracies at war over genocide The Blood Telegram by Gary Bass (paperback reprint Vintage 2014)
n Niaz Alam The Blood Telegram by Gary Bass is the best single account of how the United States responded to the 1971 Bangladesh independence war. Bass, a Princeton politics professor, compellingly relates how President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, willfully ignored and tried to denigrate the many warnings and ample evidence provided by their own consular officers, of atrocities committed by the Pakistan army during 1971. Archer Blood is the eponymous hero who as the US Consul General in East Pakistan, risked his own career to lead the consulate in sending the “Blood Telegram” on April 6, 1971,
strongly dissenting from their nation’s policy of supporting Yayha Khan’s military junta. Highly readable, Bass’s justly lauded work is best summarised by the two alternative sub-titles used by its publishers: “Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide’’ and ‘’India’s secret war in East Pakistan.” It is not a criticism to say that his focus is purely on the independence war as seen through the prism of Nixon’s White House and Indira Gandhi’s inner circle. Other histories relate the long history of aspirations for independence, Bhutto’s machinations, and accounts of the struggle on the ground. The book instead provides a uniquely fascinating glimpse into the operation of power at the highest levels. Whilst the bulk of people in both India and the US were appalled by the suppression of democracy and Yayha’s brutal crackdown in Bangladesh, Bass’s descriptions of how and why leaders of the world’s two largest democracies took opposing views on questions of Bangladeshi independence, tells its own story about the nature of Cold War politics. For Nixon and Kissinger, the world was a superpower chessboard where the lives of millions of Bangladeshi civilians and refugees amounted to little more than expendable pawns in their obsession with global power plays and the Soviet Union. Thus, it was that, even though Kissinger advised the US president
as early as March 13, 1971, that Yayha ‘’was determined to maintain a unified Pakistan by force if necessary’’ and credited Mujib for embarking on a “Gandhian-type non-violent noncooperation movement which makes it harder to justify repression,’’ adding that “West Pakistan lacks the capacity to put down a full scale revolt over a long period,’’ he still urged the president to do nothing. American backing for the Pakistani junta was seen by Kissinger as too important to jeopardise, most particularly because it was providing a clandestine back channel for his talks with Zhou En Lai, to pave the way for Nixon’s historic trip to, and subsequent recognition of, Chairman Mao’s China in 1972. Nothing, not even the US consulate’s strongly-worded criticisms of ‘’moral bankruptcy in the face of genocide,’’ and the huge groundswell of sympathy for Bangladesh characterised by US politicians such as Senator Edward Kennedy, would veer either Nixon or Kissinger from their path. Reassuring China of their unwavering support for allies and defence of state sovereignty was seen as important enough for them to illegally continue arms shipments to Pakistan throughout the war, riding roughshod over congressional embargoes imposed after press revelations of US arms shipments. Whilst India’s closeness and regional aspirations meant that it was always destined to support Bangladeshi independence, this did
not diminish the pressures on Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She had to balance a polity increasingly bent on war with Pakistan, against an international community hostile to foreign interventions. A large part of her time was spent trying to build up global support, whilst covertly providing support for Bangladeshi Mukti Bahini. Her decision to begin war planning came early in March after she over-ruled a flawed RAW evaluation that Bhutto and Mujib would be able to do a deal. It meant playing a long game and included, for instance, managing Indian public and media perceptions by suppressing reports on the high proportion of Hindus among Bangladeshi refugees. It also meant compromising Nehruvian nonalignment for a friendship treaty with the USSR. When victory swiftly came in the end for Bangladesh and India, it was still actively resisted by Nixon and Kissinger, who increased their support for Pakistan even after full scale war broke out. Their notorious “tilt towards Pakistan” was seen most clearly in December 1971 by the diversion of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet away from active duty in Vietnam, and more covertly through the pressure they exercised on the Shah of Iran and Jordan to supply planes to Pakistan. To some extent, this story has previously been told, notably by Archer Blood himself in The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh published two years before his death in 2004.
Independence Day | 11
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Kissinger and Nixon’s shamelessness in their preference for dealing with despots over democratic politicians had no boundaries Enayetur and Joyce Rahim’s Bangladesh Liberation War and the Nixon White House, 1971 (2000) and AMA Munith’s American Response to Bangladesh Liberation War (1996) cover the same ground, while Christopher Hitchens’ The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2001) provides an astute condemnation of Kissinger’s choice of Pakistan as a diplomatic back channel to China. Where Bass excels, however, is in his drawing together of verbatim remarks made by Nixon and Kissinger, using the recordings of their White House conversations available in the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States series. More than once, this provides morbid entertainment value at the callousness and cynicism of Nixon and Kissinger’s attitudes, and adds vivid colour to the insights Bass gleans from Indian and US archives. Amusingly, he relates Nixon’s bemusement at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, whilst rightly highlighting that the event had huge political significance, drawing attention as it did in New York to US arms shipments, and by using the name of a country which Nixon did not want to recognise. Of course, Nixon’s paranoia and hatred of what he saw as a hostile liberal establishment and media has long been the stuff of legend. Even so, it is still possible to be startled by the extent of his often offensive, scatological musings about world leaders. It is difficult to imagine presentday American presidents getting away with Nixon’s misogynist antipathy towards Indira Gandhi or remarks like “Biafra stirred people up more than Pakistan because Pakistan, well they’re just a bunch of brown goddamn Moslems.’’ Kissinger and Nixon’s shamelessness in their preference for dealing with despots over democratic politicians had no boundaries. The book is littered with evidence of their stubborn regard for Yayha and denunciations of Blood as that “maniac in Dacca.” By making frequent references to Biafra and the Nazis, they show both awareness of the scale of the killing and a complete lack of selfknowledge, as their lack of a moral compass led them to ever more
unrealistic justifications for their policies. A nadir of sorts is reached when they show their conspiratorial glee at their collusion with the dictator in covering up the secret trip to Beijing, with Kissinger exclaiming: “Yayha hasn’t had so much fun since the last Hindu massacre.” In light of more recent debates about Bosnia and Darfur, the willful complicity demonstrated by Nixon and Kissinger in the bloodshed of 1971, and their subsequent surprisingly effective efforts to obscure discussion of it, is hugely sobering. That even vehement critics of the pair will often cite their “opening up of China” as a great foreign policy success, to balance against failings over Cambodia, Vietnam, and Watergate, without making any reference to the Bangladesh war, shows their success and tenacity in glossing up their record. Another outcome which deserves to be considered more deeply by historians, is whether the frustration showed by Kissinger on realising they were backing the losing side, which expressed itself in ever more Strangelovian rhetoric, helped exacerbate Nixon’s escalation of the US bombing of Vietnam in 1972. While Bass laments that the “dead hand of Nixonian cover up” and Kissinger’s deal with the Library of Congress to help sanitise his record during his lifetime, still prevents Americans appreciating the full extent of their complicity, he need not be overly concerned. For putting in perspective Blood’s honourable actions and sacrifices during and after the Bangladesh war of independence, Gary Bass’s book deserves much wider reading. The Blood Telegram is the best researched and most lucid indictment of the Nixon White House’s willful collusion with Yayha’s brutal regime, and will certainly stand the test of time. Above all, it is a worthy tribute to Archer Blood’s integrity and professionalism and holds invaluable truths and lessons for future generations. l ___________________________________________________ Niaz Alam is Chief Editorial Writer, Dhaka Tribune.
12 | Independence Day
Thursday, March 26, 2015
From political abstraction to individual reality
n Esam Sohail
For Bangladesh’s political independence to go beyond geographical abstractions of a map and a flag, the freedom of the Bangladeshi individual has to be guaranteed as well
At the beginning of my 40s, let me point out that I have lived only a third of my life in Bangladesh, a homeland where my pre-university schooling was done, where I made the deepest of friendships, fell in love for the first time, and otherwise marked so many of the teen milestones of life. It was a land where my grandparents immigrated to in throes of the 1947 Partition, bringing with them their hopes for a better life for themselves and their progeny, hopes which were rekindled with decisiveness 44 years ago as they heard the faint, yet firm, voice declaring the birth of their very own Republic. It is also the land that seven out of their nine grandchildren have already left, while the remaining two will likely do so soon. The story of these grandchildren is hardly unique; you are unlikely to find too many families like ours who don’t have a significant number of their current and previous generations abroad for the long haul … and I am not referring to the exclusively economic migrants in the Middle Eastern countries. How can a utopia turn so sour so ironically for so many in the space of just two generations when,
by so many economic indicators, Bangladesh has come up in the estimation of its observers? Man doesn’t live by bread alone, as the ancient proverb goes. It is not that ours was a destitute family. While hardly rich, we had our own home, came from educated and professional parents who provided well, and went to good schools. We had near relatives who went on to become important members of the government and the professions. My parents were the only two qualified medical technologists in Bangladesh at Independence, and my grandfather’s only brother was a cabinet member in the late 1970s. And yet, here I am … far away from Bangladesh and living a quiet, simple, unremarkable existence likes hundreds of millions others on these shores. But it is an existence where, generally, merit is rewarded, dissenting thoughts not punished with violence, and simple things of civilised life -- security of person, access to basic utilities, equality -before the law, and due process are more the norm than the exception. My life here, in material terms, is not much more comfortable than that of my peers in Dhaka who have a similar socio-economic background; what is different is that I have the freedom of publicly and harshly criticising President Obama, or doing scholarly research on the most controversial topics of history and religion without fearing for my life or my liberty. It is a freedom that I, and everyone else, should have had in the country whose freedom was declared on March 26, 1971, a country I called home once upon a time. Along with several other freedoms whose telling absence 44 years after Independence has seen tens of thousands of the best, the brightest, and the most entrepreneurial leave for the shores of England, Canada, the United States, and Australasia. The exodus is unlikely to stop anytime soon. On the contrary, as more people get more educated and more connected with the world outside, there is likely going to be only an increase in the realisation that basic social and civil freedoms that
are simple facts of life in the civilised world are barely acknowledged in Bangladesh. In a free society, it shouldn’t matter to my neighbours or family what faith I profess or which God(s) I worship, and it shouldn’t matter to my government that I disagree with its preferred historical narrative. For that matter, a woman’s life and limb shouldn’t be in jeopardy because she happens to be in a public place in “Western” attire, and a university fresher shouldn’t have to belong to the ruling party’s student wing to get a spot in the residence halls. Let us not fool ourselves. 44 years after formal political independence, we are about as far from respecting the freedom of the individual as we ever were. The culprit here is both the state as the superstructure and the society underlying it. Or, put it more simply, we have never progressed beyond the utterly uncivilised thought process which assumes that people, society, and governments have some strange right not to be offended. From this perverse assumption of a phony right flows the mandates, punishments, and violence against the individual whose religion, thoughts, attire, speech, and intellectual pursuits end up upsetting her family, neighbours, coworkers, and government. Tell me, taken in that context, how are we anymore “free” than someone in Pakistan? I had once written about how we have an obsessive focus on the past, often at the expense of the future. The celebration of the past is important, but that importance would only remain a fleeting feeling unless the future is envisioned correctly. For Bangladesh’s political independence to go beyond geographical abstractions of a map and a flag, the freedom of the Bangladeshi individual has to be guaranteed as well. The sublime abstraction of a politically independent country means little, in concrete terms, for the social reality of an unfree individual. l ___________________________________________________ Esam Sohail is an educational research analyst and college lecturer of social sciences. He writes from Kansas, USA.
Independence Day | 13
Thursday, March 26, 2015
The business of independence n Ikhtisad Ahmed Forty-four years are not enough to wash away the scars of war. Today, however, is a day that epitomises the spirit of resilience and the unwavering commitment to justice and equality that Bangladeshis have had since before they had a land to call their own. Watching the state of our nation, one cannot help but feel that fortyfour years have, sadly, been enough to extinguish that light that led the way, preceding the nine months of horror. Mine is the first generation that cannot lay any claims to the bold proclamations and the most difficult of labours that birthed our country. Cut adrift by those who lived those dark days, surging forward with the hope of having something to proudly call their own, we can only feign a passionate nationalism. The intravenous drip feeds us mangled remains of our proud heritage, corrupted by those who lived through those dark days, but
now diminish their essence, destroy their meaning. The catheter that leads out of us, thus, regurgitates that same bile. Patriotism is dead, the meaning of independence is lost. Yet, today we take to the burning streets and paint them green and red. The green browning as the rot sets in, the red is borrowed from the darkening dried stains on the land across the country for the past two and a half months. Two and a half months of violence, idiocy, moral and ideological bankruptcy, passing for politics -- absurdity is the new normality. The small fraction who write on these pages for a larger subset of an insignificant percentage of the population that is being held hostage to this unconscionable absurdity will do what it has been doing for those two and a half months and continue to pontificate, to proffer, to pronounce. There will be eulogies and paeans aplenty flowing from scribes such as myself. We should be thrown on the same
Mine is the generation who make up the majority of the population celebrating independence today. Not knowing the pains at which it was obtained has made us take that precious word for granted pyre the real average Bangladeshi has been burning on since the year began -- at least then we can truly represent the average citizen of this land for whom we have failed miserably to speak as our leaders have abjectly failed to serve them. I take pride in the reality of my country, I celebrate that. Set aside the bureaucratic nonsense that showers us with statistics about a pitiful middle-income dream, peel away the comforts afforded by being privileged -- and make no mistake, if you have the ability to read this, you are privileged by Bangladeshi standards, perhaps with aspirations of becoming one of the elite. Behold the grandeur of being complicit in dysfunction becoming acceptable to the ruling class, the burden forced on the rest of our Golden Bangladesh whom we care very little about. Mine is yet another generation that fails to feel the pulse of the country, chasing evermore the selfish goals of material gains, quenching increasingly selfcentred delectable desires. Speaking for the nation, lamenting it, joining in the partisan celebrations within it, serve those personal objectives. We do not understand the country and its people. We do not wish to, hence we do not ask them. We simply seek to announce that we know best. The pride we take in celebrating March 26 serves the dual purpose of glossing over our miserable failures -- again,
make no mistake, the failure is not the countryâ€™s or the majority of its citizensâ€™, it is ours, the privileged, and the more culpable elite -- that have created our present reality in this nightmarish cul-de-sac, and of promoting us. Worthless cretins see themselves as demigods. In Bangladesh, that delusion is forced upon the masses. Mine is the generation who make up the majority of the population celebrating independence today. Not knowing the pains at which it was obtained has made us take that precious word for granted rather than treasuring it. The phenomenon can be seen across Europe. Countries that colonised do not know the true horrors of being colonised, and the sweet taste of usurping the coloniser has too high a cost. We stand by and see freedoms being taken away from the citizens -- the elite negotiate a settlement that gives members of the class conditional freedoms that, like the riches they continue to amass by remorselessly pillaging, do not trickle down to those they oppress and plunder -- because we did not have to fight to obtain them, and, therefore, know not that we need to fight to protect them. We have meekly surrendered the independence that our parents and grandparents fought for and won, and we did not even wait for their bones to begin to turn to dust in the soil that they willingly and valiantly bled on so that we could have somewhere to call home. We are the hopelessly lost souls who celebrate intangibles without knowing their meaning or value. l _________________________________________________ Ikhtisad Ahmed is a DT columnist.
14 | Independence Day
Thursday, March 26, 2015
A solution to our problems? Where do things stand 44 years after the declaration of independence? Dhaka Tribuneâ€™s Mohammad AlMasum Molla spoke with eminent political scientist Dr Rounaq Jahan for her take on how far independent Bangladesh has come and what remains to be done
Rajib Dhar Dhaka Tribune: How do you evaluate the current political situation in Bangladesh? Rounaq Jahan: The current political situation is depressing as well as alarming. It is depressing because for nearly a quarter century, we have been talking about the same sets of issues without being able to resolve them. Our political discourse is playing like a broken record. Since the mid-1990s, we have been arguing about how we can ensure organisation of free and fair national elections that would result in smooth and peaceful transfer of power between contesting sides. We have been lamenting about our failure to establish the rule of law, the lack of checks and balances in our political system, and absence of transparency and accountability in our governance. For many years, the shortcomings of our fragile electoral democracy have been known to us and we have debated various reform proposals to address these deficits; yet despite knowing about our problems and solutions to some of them, we have not been able to make much progress in ridding our politics of bad and undemocratic practices. We have not been able to walk the talk. There is a wide gap between actions and pledges of our leaders. What is alarming is that over the years, instead of getting better, many of our problems are getting worse. Our confrontational and winner-takes-all style of politics is becoming more entrenched. In the last two months we have witnessed our two opposing political sides on a war-like footing pledging to eliminate each other. DT: People were keen about politics before and during the Liberation War
because it could change their fate. But now, people seem to have lost interest. Would you agree? RJ: I would not go so far as to say that people have lost interest in politics. People are getting disenchanted with the kinds of politics they see in their daily lives. But they still remain interested in politics. They talk about politics all the time and hope that our politics and politicians would reclaim their glory days when people thought that through the political process, they would be able to assert their rights and build a more just society, economy, and political order. DT: What is the problem with democracy in Bangladesh? Considering the turn of events in the 1960s and 70s, where do you think democracy should have been standing now? RJ: Our main problem from the beginning was that we did not pay much attention to the challenge of institutionalising democracy. During our foundational period, we did not build democratic institutions and practices which could have fostered a rule-based system. Instead we turned to charismatic leadership to hold us together. It was understandable because we were a war-ravaged country and after a bloody war of national liberation, institutional patterns of behaviour had broken down, and we did not have enough time to build new coherent patterns of institutional norms and practices. Within a short period, our new political system suffered many shocks. We shifted from a multi-party parliamentary system to a one party presidential system. The charismatic
leader on whom we all depended was assassinated and the country fell under military rule. After 15 years, we were able to overthrow military rule as a result of mass movements led by political parties, but we were not able to throw out many of the undemocratic practices of military rulers. One key practice of military rulers was building political support and parties through use of state resources. Both the BNP and the Jatiya Party were formed and nurtured by two military dictators through the use of state patronage. Both used a carrot and stick policy to divide and marginalise the opposition and win supporters. Unfortunately, since then, our elected political leaders found it convenient to continue with this practice of military rulers. They too have used state resources for building party and political support. This undemocratic practice had been the greatest obstacle in building the rule of law in the country. The political compulsion to control state resources for building and sustaining political support has been the source of our confrontational politics. No party or electoral alliance feels that it can afford to lose an election and sit in the opposition, as the system is geared towards giving all the rewards to the winners and all the punishments to the losers. DT: Why have the political parties in Bangladesh failed to become effective institutions? RJ: Prior to the birth of Bangladesh, political parties such as the Awami League (AL) and the National Awami Party (NAP) which were founded as opposition to the sarkari parties like the Muslim League had clear agendas. The ALâ€™s main agenda was Bengali nationalism. NAP had a socialist agenda. They tried to mobilise popular support around their agendas. After 1972 when we achieved independence, political parties got more involved in electoral politics and in the struggle to gain control of the government. During the 1980s, when political parties were engaged in anti-military and pro-democracy movements, they did have an agenda. They wanted the overthrow of military rule and the return of rule by elected civilians. But after the restoration of
electoral democracy in 1991, political parties again got busy in election politics and the struggle for gaining control of government power. They did not pay attention to the task of promoting democratic institutions or practicing democracy within their own organisation. They did not try to work on developing distinct socioeconomic policy agendas. More and more political parties tried to co-opt rich businessmen or former civil and military bureaucrats to win parliamentary seats. The ideological and policy appeal of political parties faded and they became patronage distribution machines. DT: Do you think politics lost its way after the Liberation War? RJ: After the Liberation War, politics faced many challenges for which it was not prepared. In the 1950s and 1960s, we were involved in a constitutional movement to assert our rights. Our mainstream political parties such as the Awami League believed in democratic struggles. But after March 26, 1971 we had to suddenly get involved in a liberation war and we became independent after nine months as a result of that war. After liberation, various groups started demanding revolutionary changes and became engaged in armed struggles. It was difficult for political leaders, who were socialised in constitutional and democratic politics, to meet the demands and aspirations of a people who had witnessed unprecedented bloodshed and a genocide. DT: What is the most negative thing about political parties in Bangladesh? RJ: The presence of opportunists who get involved in party politics simply to advance their personal gains. DT: Do you see anything at this point that can make us hopeful about politics playing a positive role in the future of Bangladesh? RJ: At this point, I do not see the emergence of anything very positive. I have been hoping for a long time that the younger generation would provide leadership for a new kind of politics that would again restore our confidence in politics which would contribute to social, economic, and political progress. I am still waiting, and remain hopeful for the future. l