It’s been 44 years now that Bangladesh has become an independent nation, but it still feels like yesterday. Freedom from Pakistan was won after a long war of nine months and Bangladesh was born with the promise of being a peaceful, tolerant, democratic and secular nation. Though if you talk to Indians, most will say that the 1971 war was fought between India and Pakistan and Bangladesh’s guerrilla forces had no part in it. It was as a result of India’s victory that Bangladesh was born, they aver.
However, the fact is that independence was achieved by the sacrifices and bloodshed of Bangladeshi freedom-fighters. The second partition was the result of the uprising of Bengali muslims of East Pakistan against the constant attacks on them by non-Bengali muslims. The idea of all muslims living happily ever after in one country after separating from India, obviously wasn’t working out.
The nationalists who fought for Bangladesh envisioned a country that would differ from Pakistan in its goals and principles. A nation where everyone, irrespective of religious inclination, would coexist in mutual harmony. However, within a few years of independence, the country’s ugly side emerged. Though Bangladesh is not divided geographically, there is a major division on the basis of principles: at one end there are dogmatic religious fascists and on the other is the liberal secular minority. Religious extremists attack unarmed liberals with impunity, and rising frequency, while the judicial system remains in disarray. So, far from being different from Pakistan, today’s Bangladesh is actually no different from it.
The powers that be in Bangladesh have long fed the masses with catchy words like freedom, democracy and secularism, however, the country is not mature enough to understand and implement these ideals. The day Bangladesh comprehends the value of these words and start to practise them, that would be the day when the national flag fluttering over the memorial of the martyrs in Dhaka would derive its true honour.
I don’t celebrate the independence day of Bangladesh because I am hardly able to see any difference between Bangladesh and Pakistan. Freethinking is prohibited in both countries, so how does that make us free? I strongly feel that Bangladesh does not have the right to celebrate independence day till freethinkers stop getting killed and exiled ones are brought back home. The celebration on February 21 will, therefore, be nothing but a superficial pomp and show as long as Bangladesh does not fix its issues of injustice against the liberals.
I don’t have faith in religion, but in human beings. I place my faith in good work, constructive ideas, dedication, equality and freedom of speech. Do I not have the right to live in Bangladesh? It’s been 21 years now that I have been banished from my motherland. It wasn’t my choice; the government forced me out and the doors of return are closed till date. Why did I have to face this fate? Did I kill or loot anyone? I was a doctor and a writer. All I have done is to write for the people so that the light of knowledge could reach the common masses and they could live a better life.
In 21 years of exile, the definition of a country has changed for me. It’s not a territorial entity anymore, it’s all about people; who are liberal, love each other, believe in freedom of self expression and are not shackled by the inhibitions of religion and superstitions. That is where my motherland is, that is where I belong.
Politicians make the boundaries of the world. If non-political entities had the power, the world would have been a different place altogether. The map wouldn’t have been altered on grounds of partitioning in the name of religion and faith. The world is becoming smaller and people are learning foreign languages as well as adopting food habits, lifestyles and cultures of far away countries. Dividing people on the basis of language and socio-cultural structure does not make sense any more. It’s time that divisions made by politicians for their own benefit be removed. Let there no longer be barbed wires or walls segregating people.
Animalistic tendencies are inherent in humans; we try to rein them in to be social. If we could get rid of these instincts totally, the world would be one; without divisions, borders or countries. The geographical distance between America and Eurasia would always be present but the cultural distance has diminished. The economical gap between the rich and the poor too will get bridged in time. Even if there are socio-political differences, that is no justification to sow seeds of hatred, intolerance, religious dogma, superstition and terrorism. These horrible aspects shouldn’t be a part of the culture of any nation. This is the era of science and technology, let us utilise this for something constructive, and let’s unite with the purpose of being one country, one nation and one world.
In the war of 1971, muslims fought against muslims. It wasn’t a battle between two sects of muslims; sunni muslims took up weapons against another group of sunni muslims. This conflict was one of a kind. A group of bravehearts stood up against their own sect in order to save their mother tongue. This is a great instance of secularism. This is the kind of secular politics that I have tried to propagate through my writings. And this is what other freethinkers of Bangladesh have done as well, yet all those who believe in the idea of a secular country are being exiled, one after another.
I don’t refer to Bangladesh as a country anymore. For me, a country is a sense of shelter, an envelope of protection. A piece of land where people don’t feel protected, where writers and intellectuals don’t have the liberty of self-expression is anything but a country. It is easy to be an independent national in the logbook of the world; but being a country isn’t easy. It requires a sense of responsibility. Just like having the appearance of a human being is inherent, but being human is not.