Tweets from Projonmo Square—-four hours in the Tahrir of Dhaka, amidst a people’s revolution

Projonmo Square, around 150,000 protesters have been demonstrating here since February 6th without any recess.

Just walked into the #Shahbagh Square; people from all walks of life have gathered here since the past three days to stage their protest.

I was absolutely flabbergasted, overwhelmed and shocked by the huge crowd that lay ahead of me. Within a minute after I had entered, I was looking at virtually thousands of faces; faces emanating a jubilant feature you normally associate with patriotism and a vision for a better world.

Yet in those faces which had come from all sorts of diverse social backgrounds—-I saw a welcome to anyone willing to join them in this fight to serve the history. I had a momentary glimpse into the future of all ordinary, middle-class, patriotic Bangladeshis like me. I saw an insight into the glorious future that awaited my country, and the huge role that I can play in order to become a part of its history.

What a crowd! #Shahbagh, the Tahrir of Dhaka

Trust me when I say this: never before in my life have I felt a love for my country so subtle yet so overwhelming. At that point in time, even if someone had told me that my country required me to jump in the deepest crevices of the Atlantic Ocean, I would have taken the leap valiantly. It was a feeling that transcends almost all other subtleties in the universe. It was a discovery. A new discovery of patriotism.

Candle-light protests at night

Wherever I look, I find hope. Hope for a country where its nascent generations are as patriotic as the one that liberated it from the hyenas who once upon a time enslaved the masses.

For forty 42 years our land has waited; waited patiently for a blood and passion.

In 1971, in one of the bloodiest civil wars in history, Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan at a cost of 30 million lives and the rape of around 2 million women (In fact, the war is described as one of the few in history where the Pakistani army used rape of Bengali women as a powerful tactic to not only intimidate the people, but also to subsequently create a society filled with bitter truths.). During the war, a group of Bengalis and Biharis (immigrants from Pakistan into Bangladesh), in an attempt to please their Pakistani masters, collaborated with the Pakistani Army and participated in the mass genocide and rape undertaken by the military regime. The main Bangladeshi political party that betrayed their own people to form a paramilitary group with the army was the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Shibir.

The people’s revolution on the second day.

For forty years, none of those collaborators at the top had been handed down a death sentence. And moreover, they are now occupying powerful and wealthy positions in our society. How ironic for a nation! #Shahbagh

But today after all these 42 years, the soil of our land has once again cried the cry of freedom and justice. And it only took one verdict.

On 5th February, 2013 when Kader Mollah———infamously known as Mirpurer Koshai (the Butcher of Mirpur) for mass-slaughtering around 400 unarmed, innocent Bangladeshis and raping many young women in his area during the war; some with his own hands and others by direct orders to his disciples—-came out of the International Criminal Tribunal with a verdict of guilty and a lifetime imprisonment, the general public became more enraged than ever before to see the criminal’s smiling face and victory sign flashing out of all media outlets.

A huge candle-light vigil, with the map of Bangladesh illuminated in the center.

For 400 murders, a person gets a life sentence? Really?

And so the online community of Bangladesh, extremely angered with the judge not giving a death sentence to the accused, called for peaceful protests and demonstrations in the gigantic crossroads of Shahbagh, a bustling part of Dhaka which is almost always clogged with speedy traffic.

Although initially led by the Bangladeshi Blogger and Facebook Activists’ Group, the protest was soon joined in by thousands of ordinary people from all walks of life who were discontented with the tribunal’s verdict.

It took barely a night for Shahbagh to become the center of the people’s revolution, and to represent a new call for justice and rule of law. Traffic was halted for at least a kilometer all around Shahbagh and security was tightened throughout the area.

But the most important part about the protests was the people’s unity. Students, teachers, clerics, liberals, leftists, right-wings, people regardless of their political and religious affiliations appeared hand in hand to lead a new uprising against the traitors, mass-murderers and rapists of 1971. Everyone promised to keep political speech out of everything, and asserted that the sole purpose of occupying Shahbagh was to ignite the spirit of 1971 into all the people of the country.

A revolution for the people by the people. Fourth consecutive day of the protests

It’s 2013. And our generation has now engulfed into a new war of liberation: ensuring justice for the souls who were murdered, raped and betrayed by these war criminals.

2013, 42 years after 1971, brought on a new war. A war that we, the new generation are entitled to fight.

On the third successive day of the protest, when I joined the crowd and chanted “Ekattorer haatiyaar gorje uthhuk arrekbar” (Let the weapons of 1971 be loaded once again this year) at the top of my voice, I knew that for the first time in my life, our land and our generation had a glorious future.

And I felt confident that this was where I wanted to be. That this was the city, this land of the 160 million and this vibrant vicinity was where I wanted to write the golden pages of my autobiography.

And after that day, time and again, I have strolled all the way from my home in Green Road to Shahbagh Square, recently renamed Projonmo Square (the Generation’s Square) in light of the recent events, simply to chant slogans and be a part of the crowd. I will do it tomorrow again, the day after as well, and also the day after that as long as the revolution exists and our demands for a death sentence for the mass murderers of 1971 are not met.

The entire country has but one verdict: the traitors must all be hanged for their mass-killings and rape during 1971.

I will be there as long as the blood underneath my body is hot and flowing through my veins. As long as my people, my nation does not get the justice it deserves.

I will chant ‘Joy Bangla’ (Long Live Bangladesh!) with my sore throat and never get exhausted because I have a feeling that this was what I always wanted to be a part of.

I will not stop, the blood of 30 million people that courses through me will not cease because I know that we are all united as a nation regardless of our religious or political divisions.

In 2013, although I am not in a battle-field, I am the freedom fighter. The new freedom fighter vying for the long-lost justice.

I might just be a speck of light in the huge crowd of #Shahbagh, but I know I am contributing towards sth far greater than any of us can ever dream about: towards building our great nation….

Joy Bangla!

 

 

 

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WHY BANGLADESH WON’T ACCEPT ANY MORE ROHINGYAS

Although the issue has come into a new limelight with President Obama’s visit to Myanmar, no one really needs any introduction to the topic. Pictures of Rohingya men and women have been flooding the international newspapers since the sectarian clashes began in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. And fingers have not only been pointed at the Myanmar government for its failure in protecting its minorities, but also at Myanmar’s neighbor Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh government has firmly refused to allow any more Rohingya influx into the country. And has, instead, followed a neutral diplomatic stance by refusing to condemn either of the two sides. International condemnation, particularly in Pakistan of which Bangladesh was once a part, have on the other hand been tremendous. Everyone has criticized the already impoverished state for its silence and refusal to accommodate people in dire need.

Indonesians protest against Myanmar

But the local public opinion on the issue have been divided.

Although the official count of Rohingyas who are housed in UN refugee camps in the border city of Cox’s Bazaar is around 30,000, the real count is at least 200,000. Most of these Rohingyas work in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh’s most economically-important tourist city. A good many of them marry among the Bengali communities and become settled. The luckiest ones even succeed in getting a Bangladeshi passport, which acts as their gateway to the oil-wealthy economies of the Middle-East where the country sends millions of workers every year.

But all these refugees have to be clothed, fed and educated by the state. In a country where people struggle to meet their daily needs, the government has a very good reason not to take any more burdens. And so to preempt any more influx of Rohingyas in search of hope in Bangladesh, the government has even reduced access to Rohingya refugee-camps for international and local NGOs; making sure that all humanitarian aid were delivered by the army and border guards only. Recently, in an extremely embarrassing feat, a Turkish lawmaker, while on holiday in Cox’s Bazaar during the eve of Eid-ul-Azha, was arrested by the police for trying to distribute meat of the sacrifice among the Rohingya refugees.

But the most important reality of the problem was generated in a spat of sectarian attacks by Muslim mobs on Buddhist communities in Cox’s Bazaar.

A Rohingya refugee, who has fled the sectarian tensions in Myanmar, pleading with the Bangladesh Border Guards to grant him into the gates of Bangladesh

After a Buddhist teenager of Cox’s Bazaar tagged a controversial Islamophobic photo on facebook right after the mayhem of Innocence of Muslims, mobs of Islamists, within a few hours, gathered with bamboos and sticks, and attacked Buddhist temples and homes in Ramu, Ukhia and several other regions of Cox’s Bazaar. Speculators have confirmed that the attack was more planned than anyone could have imagined. People were brought in through trucks and buses from all over the district, where diverse religions have never had a problem, and within a span of a few hours the Buddhists were rendered homeless.

Everything was done in a planned, coordinated manner. Several centuries-old Buddhist statues have been destroyed for good and the police’s role have been called into question. Many have accused the local politicians of being a part of the blasphemy. Fingers have been pointed at DGFI and NSI—-Bangladesh’s two most notorious intelligence agencies——since it was impossible to carry out such an attack on minorities without their foreknowledge.

It all ended with the Awami League, the liberal, secular, left-wing ruling party, and the BNP, the centre-right, conservative, Islamist-secular, opposition party throwing accusations at each other.

But one thing was clear: Rohingyas were involved in vast numbers. Whoever planned the attack, carried out the arson by recruiting them from the UN refugee camps.

Jamaat-i-Islami, Bangladesh’s most problematic Islamic fundamentalist party, has firmly denied any accusations of having a role in the attack on minorities. Although there is a pervasive belief that the conservative, pro-Pakistani Islamist group was involved in the assault, its members have refused all charges of using any stateless Rohingyas to advance their political agendas.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the capital city has been untouched by the Rohingya issue. The centre of all political activism, art, culture and policy-making, Dhaka has gone on as if nothing has happened. One of the most liberal cities of South Asia, Dhaka and its economic ambitions have embraced its stance on the Rohingyas more positively than outsiders can think.

Although there have been mass-demonstrations by intellectuals, freedom fighters and human rights organizations after the attack on Buddhists, the people here are more busy with calling for a permanent end to child marriage and for scraping the new bill on Hindu laws that discriminate against Hindu widows. In a city where religion is becoming less important everyday; where feminists are chanting slogans of rescinding the use of Sharia in property inheritance; and where an ever-increasing proportion of the people are echoing calls for a removal of the phrase “Complete faith and trust in the Almighty Allah” used in the country’s constitution; the Rohingyas aren’t a topic that people want to think about.

Bangladesh’s economic ties with Myanmar have also been an issue. As the neighbor embraces a liberal economy after its democratic transition, Bangladeshi capitalists and businessmen have targeted Burma as a new potential market for enormous growth. Talks are already underway to set up Bangladeshi power-stations in Myanmar so that the energy-starved nation can meet its huge power demand in the rapidly boosting up industrial sector. Any disruption of the diplomatic and trade ties between the two countries would ultimately harm Bangladesh’s expanding business prospects in the region, and would rather benefit its mightier neighbor India.

So questions on all social networks by Bangladeshis have been similar. Don’t people lose lives on a daily basis in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine? No one cares about them, so why all this targeting Bangladesh for something it played no part in? Why suddenly this we-muslims-need-to-save-our-brothers-and-sisters-in-Myanmar-from-Aung-Sun-Suu-Kyi type of thing? Aren’t our tax money low enough already for a huge population like ours?

The Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi’s silence on the issue has also been condemned all over the globe

However, many have raised a voice for the Rohingyas as well. Editorial columns and opinion on leading media outlets have condemned the violence and criticized the Bangladeshi government for its lack of an international response over the issue. Some have reminded the country that during the liberation war of 1971, when the Pakistani army and Jamaat-i-Islami were persecuting and raping as much as possible to create ‘a breed of better Muslims’, the neighboring India, seeing a positive political opportunity of a divided-Pakistan, granted refugee status to 2 million people who fled the violence into West Bengal.

But the situation in this case is different. If more Rohingyas are allowed refugee status in Bangladesh, it is quite unlikely that they will ever return to Myanmar again when the Burmese government accepts them back; thus further burdening the Bangladesh economy.

In an age of high economic ambitions, capitalism and materialism in South Asia’s one of the most populous and rapidly-developing countries, this is how the pervasive belief about Rohingyas is prevalent. Any government in power would have closed off its borders in a situation such as this. In fact many analysts now think that the Bangladeshi government made the perfect decision during the conflict. Not only did it stop violence from escalating within its own borders, but also kept international pressure and awareness abuzz on the Myanmar government, which has followed a system of ethnic cleansing and persecution of the Rohingyas since the early 1970s.

Right after the liberation war devastated Bangladesh and pushed it back by at least five decades, the nascent country, despite all its hurdles, gave refugee status to the thousands of Rohingyas who fled the Burmese military’s sectarian war against the Muslim communities. But after three decades, there is a popular feeling that it’s now time for Suu Kyi and her men-in-uniform to take back the people whom they have wronged in their own lands just because they were Muslims and not from the same faith as the majority of the people. As much as there is a call for Pakistan to take back its huge number of refugees in Bangladesh who have been rendered stateless during the 1971 war, there is also a call for the Myanmar government to stop further burdening the economic potentials of a country desperately in search of social prosperity and interfaith harmony.

Eccentricities in a Bangladeshi Gaa’ye Holud

Gaa’ye holud is an essential part of Bangladeshi marriage traditions. It is the first of the 4/3-day long celebrations carried out to celebrate the unity of two families through marriage. On this occasion, traditionally bride and bridegrooms used to be rubbed on the face with mustard paste by all sorts of people—sometimes on the same day and sometimes on separate days—–but in the past one decade or so, as Bangladesh became increasingly globalized and make up, gold, facebook photos and expensive imported dresses from Pakistan and India rapidly made it impossible to rub mustard paste on the faces of the bride and her groom, gaa’ye holuds began to use mustard paste as decoration items only. Nowadays it is more about wearing good clothes, going to the beauty salon and the DJ playing hard and fast dance beats to which everyone would dance around. At least that’s the picture in the urban cities now.

Photo credit: nudratowens.com

 

Although an indispensable part of the traditional 4-day long Bengali marriage ceremony, gaa’ye holud, in my opinion, is an event most ceremonies can easily do without. In fact, before the latest one I attended whose tales would soon ensue, I can’t even properly recall the last time I went to a gaa’ye holud invitation. To me, as an observer, the event seemed to waste a lot of money, time and other resources for no good reason at all, and the material side of me always sighed to think of all the expenditure going on behind the scenes of a lavish gaaye holud. And there was the philosophy of personal beliefs as well. Around two and a half years back when I turned into an Islamic fundamentalist——-courtesy of the Islamophobic blog-networks———and increasingly shifted towards a more pan-Islamic school of thought and belief system (although I do suffer from intermittent bouts of agnosticism and atheism as well), I began to find the style of dancing and singing in a gaa’ye holud absolutely abhorrent. And with these foundations for a thought-process, my penchant for skipping all sorts of gaa’ye holud grew in an unprecedented manner.

But the latest one was from a series of occasions I could have never refused. It happened to be a classmate-since-class-four’s elder brother’s holud, and my family and I were specifically invited by none other than the mother of the bridegroom herself. It was virtually impossible to escape this one unless and until there was a darn good reason to do so. And hence I had to accede to the request.

But since my mom couldn’t go because of her last minute health-constraints I was left alone. I put on some ironed cotton trousers and punjabi, showered with my new Moroccan rosewater flavored liquid soap and after climbing through an hour-long traffic in a route which would have taken me 20 minutes to reach my destination in anywhere other than the city of Dhaka on a normal Wednesday evening, I finally landed myself in Trust Milonayton on Mohakhali.

Now there’s absolutely no reason to suppose that this was going to be an occasion where the lazy Bengalis will finally decide to be punctual. So although the event was scheduled to be at 7:30 pm, when I entered the grandiloquent hall at around 8:30 pm, there was but a score of people sitting and whiling away their time. I slid myself through the slightly opened façade and was glared at by the cameraman when I almost tripped on his gargantuan wires. That’s nothing new though. I have this thing for slipping whenever I try to walk properly. I raised a hand and punched the air around me to show my disregard for the man’s glare. In a further effort to boost up my lost confidence, I even heaved up my chest and poised my breasts outwards in a malicious attempt to imitate the Bollywood actor Salman Khan. But in return I was met by more stares. And then immediately, just before that Salman Khan-ish feeling decided to leave me, I felt the need to set up a new facebook status through my phone: Letzz rockzz peoplezzz. Fromzz Salzzzmanzzz Khanzz.

Feeling weird, I strode on and scoured the place for anyone I knew. Unfortunately, there was none.

But fortunately, there was an unknown, gorgeous-looking girl sitting just in front the sofa I had taken refuge in; and like me she seemed to be all alone as well. My heart skipped a beat when she turned around and our gazes met, and I could perceive her beautiful multicolored sari draped elegantly over her maroon blouse, hiding her presumptuously poised out breasts in a manner too provocative and too feminine to lower my gaze.

দূর হতে আমি তারে সাধিবো
গোপনে বিরহ ডরে বাধিবো………………...

Kill me woman! Kill me! I thought to myself as she turned backwards again to see the people entering through the red carpet.

I chuckled as I noticed her lavishly made up face and the henna-designed hands. I wondered whether it would be deemed too inappropriate in a public place like that to start a nice little chat with her.

Preoccupied with this dilemma, and wondering whether I possessed enough charisma to charm up an unfamiliar girl, I suddenly noticed a middle-aged woman with her two young (and severely attractive!) post-teenage daughters approach my sofa. The woman sat beside my seat and shifted towards me with a forgive-me smile.

“Ami ki shore jaabo?” Complemented by a smile, in the most pleasant-hearing shuddho Bengali accent I possessed, I asked her whether I should change seats.

“It will be good for us,” the lady smiled back and then looked at her daughters. I changed seats and had to appease my back for shelter in a more uncomfortable chair. Weird. Aren’t these the same ladies calling for equal rights for both men and women? What kind of man would’ve asked the lady or her daughters to shift seats for the men’s convenience when there were many other seats available?

#Such-an-unequal-country!

And it was at that point when the lazy, fat and gluttonous Bengalis found food. A food corner had popped up and was offering the first of the two course meal of the event to the guests. I, being the typical food-loving Bengali, found the smell of jilapis and pakoras wafting through the hall as irresistible as the ladies around me. Very soon I had had stomached around 10 pakoras with chutney and a few incredibly tasty jilapis to counter the sour taste. I also took a plate of chotpoti from the fuchka-chotpoti corner. And then finally, when I had decided that it was enough, I finished off with a few glasses of hot coffee.

It was a further half-an-hour before the bride and her groom arrived. The DJ made a point of stopping all other sounds to play the song Ajib Aur Shaan Shahenshah as loudly as possibleto make the entrance sound as grand as that of Akbar in the Indian film Jodhaa-Akbar. But by then, my heart had skipped beats for several times as more and more beautiful young ladies filed onto the red carpet and took seats around me. I went to deposit my vacant chotpoti plate back to the food corner and then met my friend and host for the evening.

“Aaare doctor sahib. How do you do?”

As we hug slightly and look at each other, my friend has something to say.

“Let me show you an `angle`.” He whispered to my ears over the roar of the music.

“`Angle`?” I asked back, perplexed.

“Yes; an `angle`. The girl in the red sari, standing directly opposite to me over there on the food corner,” he used his eyes to indicate, “I have had a crush on that cousin since class five. Don’t point. Do you like her?”

I turned around 360 degrees to look at the hapless-looking, massively-foundationed and a-conspicuously-dark-shade-of-mascara-wearing girl. “Well. Pretty workable.” And then, as an afterthought I added, “You should see Vina Arsara*. The only girl I ever felt physically attracted to. She used to turn me on; trust me.”

“Oh you know what? I have a pretty-looking friend on facebook with that name.”

“Dude there could be a million other Vina Arsaras on facebook….”

“Yeah but she had a few mutual friends with me. So I guess she is the one.”

“Still it’s a pleasure to behold her. All the boys in Maths class used to run after her when the class ended. And she ran away from all of them.” This culminated in somewhat of a laughter. Even the people around us who were standing with prying ears smirked at our girl-watching conversation. But what exactly do you expect two adolescent males who have known each other for most of their lives to talk about in a place swarming with beautiful girls if not about the opposite sex and their fantasies?

“Oh come on,” my friend brought me back to my senses. “I will show you another `angle`. This cousin is at the bottom of my list though.”

As we walk he suddenly points to another absolutely ravishing, wealthily-dressed girl.

“Holy shit!” The words poured out from my mouth before I could stop them. “Dude, this one really, really is a bubbling piece of hot shit.”

My friend on the other hand grimaced a wide-toothed smile. On his face it was clearly written ‘I told you so’.

After all the ogling was over, when we had both become heavily sinned, and when I was confused whether gaa’ye holud should be renamed as girl-watching or not, it was time for dinner. Morog-polau complemented with Shammi Kebab and khashir rezala. I took a seat at an almost empty table, with only a few weird-looking people sitting around lazily.

But as soon as the waiter had arrived, everyone was filled with a vigor that multiplied by many folds as each plate began to be piled up with the multitude of items.

A middle-aged lady and one of her acquaintances was sitting across from me. On the other side of the woman was probably her maid servant. She piled up her servant’s plate with food and then after some time, all of a sudden, probably thinking that it was beneath her to sit with her servant for the victuals, she got up leaving her plate untouched. It was pretty obvious from the manner she left after thinking it through for sometime that she was affected by problems of class and castes in her decision. And my reasoning behind her eccentric demeanor was further substantiated by how she materialized minutes later at the table out of nowhere and then, instead of resuming her position, she tried to shower both her servant and the acquaintance she had left behind with food from the table. In her mind maybe, she knew that she had behaved unjustly. And thus out of that feeling of guilt, she was trying to make repercussions by being overly kind and entertaining to her servant who had been left behind feeling small and undignified at the mistress’ behavior.

I wondered how I would have behaved if I had been in the woman’s shoes. Surely I don’t mind sharing the same table with our servants or driver in a wedding party. But I reconsidered my mom; I was absolutely sure, given the high level of sobriety and demeanor she maintains, that my mom would have never sat on the same table with her helpers.

It’s a weird world indeed. The formation of Pakistan during the 1947 partition and Bangladesh during the 1971 war stemmed out precisely from class difference. Pakistan was formed to get rid of the Zamindar and landlord-based caste system. And then Bangladesh was shaped because of the class difference and discrimination between East Pakistan and West Pakistan. But today in the modern-day parties of urbanized Dhaka, the issue has largely been scraped away from everyone’s mind.

When I returned back home my mom summoned me to her room.

“What the—?” she stopped in mid-speech as she looked at me.

“Yes?” I wondered how I had disapproved her now.

“Please don’t tell me you wore this simple-looking punjabi to the holud. Please don’t.”

“Well mom. I must disappoint you on that. Because this is the one I wore.”

My mom was ready to erupt. “Why is it that you have to earn my disapproval for your weird style of clothing during every single occasion? Can you never put on something decent?”

“Well you know, don’t you? Half the time I don’t even look at what I have put on. But this punjabi looks okay. Maybe a bit mismatched but workable nevertheless….”

“What’s wrong with you? Don’t you get provided enough to buy you a gorgeous punjabi? And I thought you have your own savings now. I am sure your host did not even look at you once throughout the holud. You are so un-presentable.”

“On the contrary I actually had quite a great time. And anyways, my friend wouldn’t have been my friend if he chose people through their outlook. So please: stop.”

With that I impudently left her room. I got undressed and switched off my bedroom lights to get some sleep. Reclining on my bed, I reflected back on the events of the evening.

So yes, if I am to end this write-up in the traditional SAT essay style, I should probably conclude that that was one fucking eccentric evening!

But then again, my life itself is an eccentric one. So I don’t really think I ought to complain about eccentricities in a Bangladeshi gaa’ye holud.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

*Names in this article have been changed in order to protect people’s privacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The English Language & Cultural Imperialism

A rare photo of the end of British Colonialism of India in 1947

They call it cultural imperialism.

When the British colonialists finally managed to take control of the entire subcontinent back in 1757, they soon realized that it was never going to be easy for them here. They were forced to confront to a nation that was united, regardless of religious and ethnic differences, and knew that somehow this unity had to be destroyed. By creating a division they speculated that the huge nation could be transcended to a high level of mistrust and jealousy. One religion had to be turned against another. One tribal group and its leaders had to be forced to fight against another. Alliances had to be broken and discrimination introduced.

And so the first thing they decided to do was take away the people’s most important tool of unity: language.

Before the British colonization, the main language of the subcontinent under Mughal rule was Farsi—the language brought to the region by the Persian Sufis and saints, Mughal and Afghan rulers. Both Hindi and Urdu are renditions of Farsi, while Bengali is an evolved form of Sanskreet, another prominent language of the highly diverse Indian culture. During the pre-British era, Farsi was the main language of instruction. Although all other languages were equally appreciated and encouraged by the many communities of the diverse sub-continental culture, it was Farsi that was spoken in courts and offices; it was Farsi that the books in schools and colleges were written in; and it was Farsi in which art and literature achieved a modern dimension in Asia and the Muslim world in particular. The British realized this premonition of unity, and thus decided that the subcontinent must produce a new breed of intellectuals and thinkers. And all these educated people had to be learned in English. They foretold that the only way British imperialism will be indelible in this region is by making the people ‘pukka brown sahibs’— brown South Asians talking and thinking in English and trying to sport both an Anglicized accent and behavior.

And so they abolished all the educational offices and reformed them. Built them all anew with new institutions based on English imperialist policies and designs.

This was precisely the way the Native Americans had lost their languages to European colonial settlers. The way the Aborigines and other native tribes like Maoris of the Australian continent had had their languages stolen, eradicated, wiped out and robbed out of them by the English settlers.

Years later, almost 70 years after the British left the subcontinent, robbing it off of all its riches and creating enormous sectarian divide and ethnic discrimination, their imperialist policies are still omnipresent in the region. English is treated as the language of the middle and upper class. While Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and other native languages have been pushed backwards to make them second languages. English no longer belongs to the British imperialists only anymore. From America to India to Australia—all these countries have been Anglicized from head to toe.

Thus posing a cultural theft. A robbery. A treacherous malice. A new means of imperialism.

While one might argue that in this increasingly globalized world, Anglicization was necessary—-and if it was with the loss of the native tongue then so be it—it must be worth mentioning, that native tongue is what creates an identity; a culture dating back to thousands of years. English has to be taught in schools and colleges, but not with the expense of the native tongue.

The fact that the British imperialist policies are still ubiquitous in Asia under cover was realized by none other than the Chinese government. In 2010, according to Olinda Hassan, a Bangladeshi-American blogger, the General Administration of Press and Publication in China banned the use of English in Chinese media such as books, papers and on the web. The government explained this move by saying that the use of English and the English-Chinese combination was rapidly deteriorating the ‘purity’ of the Chinese language and violently upsetting the nation’s traditional cultural values. However it must also be noted that the Chinese government also lowered the age for compulsory English from 11 to 9 in 2001 and has left that policy unchanged as increasing numbers of Chinese students go abroad for educational degrees. English to them is regarded as a means of personal achievement and the language of necessity; to be used in offices and global markets and to profit out as responsible global citizens.

But in the subcontinent, English is deemed as the language that makes everyone an aristocrat. Being able to speak fluent or broken English in public means that you are an educated, literate and important citizen. No further qualification is required to attract stares and points, and the public will be enthralled by what you have to say. Unfortunately, this sort of behavior is exactly what the British rulers wanted and predicted.

It must be noted that in the increasingly multicultural, largely globalized society that we dwell in, English is a very important tool for success. According to many scientists, being multilingual actually enhances the capabilities of your brain by opening up more synapses and thus increasing the proportion of workable brain. But it should be impressed upon the fact that English must not be used as another tool of cultural imperialism the British colonialists imposed upon the subcontinent. The English newspapers, periodicals and publication for teenagers should not be filled with reviews of British and American music, movies and books every single day while the local produce is left for only the lower and underprivileged classes to explore. Foreign productions should be treated as international produce, and no matter how much we try, foreign art and culture can never be ours.

I am sure the British colonialists are laughing from their graves. The once highly patronized subcontinental languages have now largely been replaced with English as the language of the upper and middle classes. The traditional languages have been dumped for the poor working classes and all English-speakers have been made superior. And all this has been achieved through cultural imperialism!

Thoughts on March 26—-from 1971 to 2012

This piece was written on the occasion of March 26, the day when as one of my friends had aptly put “the world became pregnant and bore a new country called Bangladesh”. It marked Bangladesh’s 41st Independence day.

1971 flag of Bangladesh

1971 flag of Bangladesh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Flag of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

I stand atop the mounted floor of my apartment’s roof, over the newly embellished cream-colored tiles. I stare ahead of me at the monstrous skyscrapers of Dhanmondi dominating the skylines with prestige. I think of this evening. I think of what it might have been like at this very instant back in 1971.

Although the Indian writer Sharmila Bose has firmly argued that the figures of the Bangladesh liberation war were fabricated, I try to imagine the moment, the time when the city was shivering after the loss of around 4000 unarmed civilians within one midnight at the hands of a brutal regime that was supposed to protect them. I try to feel the darkness that had engulfed the sun which had risen over Dhaka on March 26, 1971. And all that I get is the stench of death, the death of a vibrant, overpopulated city. People ambushed and then run over by the military tanks in an effort to mix the dead with the mud. Alas! From the mud we rise and to the mud we return, and it is there that we meet the Hereafter.

I see people running. Not in the year 1971, but today. Running about their daily affairs, working hard to meet their everyday needs. Trying their best to make some sense of their life. These are the people, I think to myself, whose diligence have given our country economic progress and emancipation. These are the people because of whom at only 41 years of age, Bangladesh is already the 42nd largest economy—ahead of the colonialist nation that had devastated and exploited it before its liberation—- according to IMF in terms of purchasing power parity . These are the people who make me proud today for working towards the golden future of the glorious land of Bengal, towards the legacy begun by the illiterate Dravidians, continued by the courage and power of Shaista Khan, Siraj-ud-Daula, Preeti Lata, Titu Mir, Sher-e-Bangla, Maulana Bhashani, Sheikh Mujib and countless others. These are the people who teach me to live, enjoy and blog.

What was it like for these people back in that pitch dark day of March 26, 1971? Were they still running about? To bring food and shelter for their families? Or only to flee the darkness that loomed ahead and awaited them eagerly? Was the Adhaan to signal the commencement of night still so loud back then as it is today? And did the men and women still prostate and switch off radios and televisions after the Adhaan even on that particular day?

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The spirit of freedom and egalitarianism has penetrated permanently into our hearts the day Sheikh Mujib took the mike on 7th March and announced freedom from tyranny as soon as even one ounce of blood was dropped from a Bangladeshi man. Ever since that day we have taken pride in being part of a nation that has been oppressed and treated as second-class ever since its formation after independence from the British Raj. We know for a fact that no matter how many Sharmila Boses rant at us and accuse us of being story-tellers, no matter how turbulent our political arena has become, no matter how rampant corruption is in our everyday lives, we are a nation that can be proud of its achievements. We are a nation looking for peace, diligence and simple lifestyles.

It is always very exciting to hear remarks about the War of Independence from foreigners. And what could be better than a quote directly from a new generation Pakistani? One interesting link I made recently is with Nayab Fareed, a Pakistani student studying Mass Communications in Abu Dhabi. This is what Nayab had to say about the Bangladesh liberation war:

“All I know is that Bangladesh was once East Pakistan & then they got separated. It was our fault till an extent. I asked my mom but she told me that she herself was a kid back then. We lost a war to India because of some East Pakistanis when they disclosed some secrets about the navy (I am not sure which incident Nayab is referring to at this point but the Daily Prothom Alo recently published a report on a group of Bangladeshis in the Pakistan Army who accumulated arms and ammunitions for the Bangladesh cause) That’s what I heard once. Also, I heard it was our fault too. Discrimination. We were not very fair to them. At the moment my own country is in a mess, so we discuss Pakistan or maybe other Muslim countries like Palestine/ Iraq/ Afghanistan. It’s disappointing though. Pakistanis regret it & still wish it was our part. I know the Pakistani version of the story, never heard the Bangladeshi version though.”

Of course, expecting a Pakistani to know something about the liberation war is pointless really. The history lives only with the ones who suffered. It is transferred only by those who had been afflicted with pain, with an anguish so terrible to bear that it becomes an offense not to transfer it on in words, thoughts and deeds. Actually, I half expected Nayab to tell me straight in the face that Bangladesh was the result of the India-Pakistan rift as described by many conspiracy theorists. But whatever it was, Bangladesh paid dearly. We lost 3000000 civilians including freedom fighters, children and women, while countless mothers and sisters were raped incessantly till their death. In addition, the country suffered huge droughts after the war as a result of which many more lives were claimed.

Although the Bangladesh government later on proudly proclaimed the raped women as ‘war heroines’ the damage was already done. This is what Taslima Nasrin, an eminent Bengali writer currently exiled from the country for her sectarian writings, had to say later on about one of her aunts and the month of December when the war finally came to an end:

“……………It is December now. This was the month when 18 years ago, nine months after the war, I, as part of a bunch of kids, did procession in the backyard tying a piece of cloth, with red on the dark green and yellow map in the red, on a piece of bamboo, and uttered: Joy Bangla.

In Mymensingh, from March until November ’71, the head Imam of the big Mosque has dumped many into the well after slaughtering them in his own hands. It was in December again when the city people brought out countless corps from the well in order to find their nearest ones. My relatives went out to search for those who had left for the war, or vanished without for good. Pakistani soldiers looted our properties, burnt our house before they left, took my father away and bashed him with boots and bayonets, shot two of my uncles and left their dead bodies on the road, plucked my brother’s right eye out. In December two out of my three uncles, who had left for the liberation war, returned. Sixteen days later, from the Pakistani camp, returned home my 21 year old aunt. Some of the neighbors, who fought for liberation and returned home, have lost their hands, some their legs. Still December is the month when the relatives of the crippled war victims became overwhelmed with joy for their homecoming.

But nobody expected my poor aunt’s return home. They all would have been relieved if she did not. Ever since, I always proudly referred to my father, brother and uncles. I was proud of our losses. But I never mention my aunt. Today stepping out of all damn inhibitions, I am proudly saying that: in the darkroom of the military camp ten brutish lechers (Pakistani soldiers) have incessantly raped my aunt for 16 days.

Our society did not pride on my aunt. In newspapers and magazines, in conferences, meetings and seminars the big shots went loud about raped women. Their pompous title “War heroines” for the victim women of war is nothing but a farce in the name of liberalism.

Although everybody accepted the ravage, the torture by boots and bayonets, even dreadful deaths unleashed by the war-they did not accept the hapless accident: rape.

Photograph of a brutally raped & murdered woman found on the streets during the war

In December, the political leaders were shouting outside for the honor of the raped mothers and sisters; then in December, the month of our victory, as the last resort to keep her honor: my aunt hanged herself on the wooden beam of their house.

Taslima Nasreen: Nirbachita Columns (P: 25-26)
The genocide that began for ethnic cleansing to remove Hindus from the Muslim land, while murdering Muslims and Hindus without any discrimination did eventually come to an end. But the truth is, we are nowhere near to achieving the dreams seen by our freedom fighters. We are not making sure that the women who were raped and the people that were martyred were not done so in vain. We need people to carry on that light of equality, human rights and justice that refused to preempt the courage of the fighters against all odds. We need to relay on this light of freedom.
Are we, as yet, ready to carry on that light forward for our own sake?
Photos & Taslima Nasreen’s words copied from muktadhara.net
Link
Imran Khan at the conference “Rule of Law: The...

Image via Wikipedia

Selective Islam– an article by Imran Khan

In a society fraught with issues like extremism, racism and oppression Imran Khan serves as an exemplary political leader for every politician in the South Asian subcontinent. His philanthropic ideals and search for justice has really impressed me and will continue to do so as long as I learn about him. The blog talks about how Islam is used politically by people who hardly know about the fundamental tenets of the religion and how the Western world has capitalized on this beautiful religion just so as to make the rest of the world secular and more dependent on them. Imran Khan pities those Westerners who despite practicing the Islamic laws of equality and justice do not hesitate to denounce the religion. And he rightfully accuses the Muslim leaders of either being extremists or Western puppets when they should be liberals in accordance with the laws of the Holy Qur’an and the Shariah.  Overall this is one helluva blog.