1416Published on November 16, 2020
Syed Badrul Ahsan:
Let the facts about our history, about the nation-state we are part of, be restated yet once again.
This country is a People’s Republic, brought into being through the sacrifices of three million people and the humiliation endured by tens of thousands of women during the War of Liberation. The villages pillaged, the towns destroyed, the blood which flowed in 1971 as a consequence of the predatory acts of the Pakistan occupation army and its local quislings are the foundations of our history.
This People’s Republic we inhabit is home to all classes of people, all religious denominations - Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Chakmas, Mros, Santals and everyone else. It is a secular land we caused to be brought into being close to fifty years ago. It is a land that in 1971 was a revolt against religious fanaticism. We did not wage war for a communal or theocratic state. In these nearly fifty years, despite all the impediments coming our way, we have kept the lamp of secular nationalism burning.
This People’s Republic of Bangladesh is the legacy of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose centenary of birth we so proudly observe in the country and abroad today. He was the Liberator, our lighthouse in the dark, our window to the world. In his name, even as his tormentors threatened to take his life in 1971 a thousand miles away from home, it was his trusted lieutenants - Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, M.Mansoor Ali, A.H.M. Quamruzzaman - who shaped the twilight struggle which was to lead to the emergence of this sovereign nation.
These are some of the salient facts that have underpinned our history; and because they have, let the message go forth, to all citizens and to people abroad, that Bangladesh is no place for the forces of communalism, of fanaticism, of sectarianism to indulge in their nefarious activities. It is manifestly wrong to indulge men who mean to take this secular republic back into the darkness we came out of in 1971 and again in 1996 when our ethos as a secular nation-state was restored. In these past few years, though, we have observed with anguish how appeasement of sectarian forces and indulgence of elements unhappy with our liberal politics has thrown up dark images of horror we today need to beat back in our national interest.
We have observed fanatical outfits railing against women’s education. We have experienced the sinister acts that have led to a mutilation of history in school textbooks. We have had the unsettling images before us of communal extremists murdering innocent men and women in their outlandish belief that they speak for God. Temples have been vandalized with impunity. The extremism of these fanatics and our collective failure to tackle them firmly has caused us an enormity of pain.
And now we have the audacity of a man, associated with the Khilafat Majlish, to deal with. Moulana Mamunul Haque has demanded that a sculpture of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman not be installed at Dholaikhal. It is impertinence to the nth degree when a man has the temerity to argue that Bangabandhu must not be celebrated and honored in the land he led to freedom. One does not need to argue with the moulana, save only to remind him that he needs to respect the history of this land, he needs to remember that any attempt to undermine Bangabandhu’s legacy and the heritage set in motion in 1971 will be met in resolute manner. It is for the government to ensure that such attempts, audacious and puerile as they are, are harshly handled in the larger interest of the people of this country.
Of course Dhaka is a city of mosques. Lest we forget, Dhaka is also a city of temples and churches. And Dhaka is certainly a repository of Bengali cultural tradition, as underscored by its literature, its arts and culture and by the liberalism of its residents as also citizens across the land. Dhaka is not and has never been a hub of fanaticism. And Bangladesh is not a geographical entity where bigotry will have space.
The moulana and the likes of him need to be enlightened, in bold black and white, on the difference between idolatry and aesthetics. Sculptures are a representation, all across the world, of the sublimity of art. Idols are, for some religions, foundations of the beliefs of their followers. Need one say more?
Let sculptural manifestations of our historical heritage arise all across this beautiful land. In the broad expanses of Bangladesh, let sculptures relating to Bangabandhu, to the Mujibnagar government, to those who laid down their lives so that the rest of us might live and thrive in freedom, to those who have through the generations embodied our cultural and literary traditions, be inaugurated. The purpose is history, the upholding of inalienable truths we hold dear.
That is all we need to say. That is the inviolable truth we need to defend as proud Bengalis, as believers in Bengali nationalism, now and always.
Writer: Journalist and Biographer