Bangladesh has splendidly celebrated half a century of independence and victory. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina administered an oath to the nation to mark the Bangladesh's Independence and Golden Jubilee celebrations and the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Today, the whole of Bangladesh is overwhelmed with the golden jubilee of victory. Now is the time to move forward, to build Bangabandhu's 'Sonar Bangla'. For any country, for the people of the country, this precious moment is also a golden opportunity to share joy and rethink about the country.
This is an auspicious moment of love, struggle, and dignity for those who directly participated in the great liberation war of 1971, for their families, and those involved in the liberation war. Congratulations to all the citizens of Bangladesh, including the war heroes. Bangladesh achieved this victory in exchange for a sea of blood in the long nine-month bloody war. Through the all-out fight, and with the help of the Indian counterparts, the allied forces forced the proud Pakistani military to surrender in mid-December. Accordingly, on 16th December of 1971, at 4:21 pm, at the Racecourse Maidan in Dhaka (now Suhrawardy Udyan), the commander of the Eastern Command of the Pakistan Army, Lt. General A.A.K. Niazi the surrendered document to General Jagjit Singh Aurora allied chief on behalf of Bangladesh. With this surrender, peace came down after all the atrocities committed by the Pakistani aggressors on the freedom-loving people. Reasonably, December 16 is the most glorious and important day for the Bengali nation and Bangladeshis. At the same time, it marks the end of a long and disgraceful chapter of two decades of Pakistani exploitation and deprivation. The Bengali nation is free now from misrule, oppression, and deprivation. A new country Bangladesh emerged. The red-green flag takes place on the world map as the symbol of the glory of the Bengali nation.
Globally, the emergence of Bangladesh within just a quarter century in the post Second World War order is a unique event in South Asia. And the greatest hero of this victory who has been immortal in the history of Bangladesh is Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the greatest Bengali of all time. Bangabandhu (awarded on 5 January 1969) named East Bengal 'Bangladesh' at a discussion meeting of the Awami League on the occasion of the death anniversary of Shaheed Suhrawardy on 5 December 1969. In this context, his statement and argument are noteworthy: "Once upon a time there was an attempt to erase the last trace of the word 'Bangla' from the pages of this country, from the pages of the map forever ... ... On behalf of the people, I am announcing - from today, the name of the eastern province of Pakistan will be 'Bangladesh' instead of 'East Pakistan' (Unfinished Memoirs, 2012, p. 296). The independence was achieved at the cost of the lives of about three million Bengalis and the miseries of two lakh women that sacrificed their lives for the independence in the long period of nine months from March 26 to December 16, 1971. Independence of Secular Bangladesh created by Bangabandhu - "Rabithakur's Ajar kabita, Abinashi Gaan/ Kazi Nazrul's Jhankra chuler babri dolano mahan purush, Srishtisukhe ullasey kanpa, shaheed minarey amar ekushey February'r ujjwal sabha".
Historically, the Bengali struggling nation has fought against exploitation and deprivation all its life. They have given their blood since colonial rule. In the history of two hundred and fifty years, they have sacrificed a lot in the struggle against the British and Pakistan. The Bengalis also played an important role behind the partition of British India in 1947. They were the main artisans of the formation of the state of Pakistan. But in a few years, the dreams of Bengalis were shattered. Within the next few years, the Bengalis faced similar exploitation and deprivation, and then they had to struggle against the Pakistani misrule. It was evident since 1948 with the language movement. Even though India and Pakistan were partitioned based on religion, the Pakistanis always despised the Bengali Muslims and did not consider them the real Muslims. They always tried to keep down the Bengalis. But the occupied Pakistani forces failed to realize that it was not possible to keep the Bengalis under subjugation.
A new era of struggle began soon. The Pakistanis considered the Bengali people as second-class citizens; and began to oppress and deprive Bengalis economically, politically, culturally, and even religiously. They even refused to accept the results of a democratically held elections. In other words, the Pakistanis did not consider the Bengalis as equal in any way. The attitude of the Pakistani rulers towards the question of the rights of Bengalis or East Pakistanis has always been negative. That is why Bangabandhu was very angry with the leaders of the then Muslim League. In Bangabandhu's Unfinished Memoirs, his resentment was exposed: "I was still angry at the Muslim League leaders. What they were doing with Pakistan was contrary to the Pakistan I had dreamed of. Things needed to change" (Rahman, 2012, p. 134). This change and the way to break Pakistan and build Bangladesh was not easy. It was very thorny. However, with firm determination Bangabandhu materialized this required change. Now our responsibility is to manage it in the right way.
Under the strong leadership of Bangabandhu, Bengalis achieved the map and flag of an independent country. A number of people and political events have played instrumental roles in this victory. The language movement started in 1948, which took shape in 1952, the state language movement, the victory of the Awami Muslim League in the United Front elections in 1954, the movement to draft a constitution in 1956, the anti-martial law movement in 1958, the anti-Sharif Education Commission movement in 1962 are among the formative ones. Then began the movement for autonomy, which quickly took the form of the independence movement. As before, Bangabandhu led the six-point movement for the emancipation of the East Pakistani in 1966. The government of Pakistan, along with Bangabandhu, filed a conspiracy case against Agartala in 1968, which turned into a mass uprising of 1969. Then, under the leadership of Bangabandhu, the Awami League won an absolute majority in the historic general election of 1970. But power was not handed over to the Awami League. The all-out program of independence began. On March 7, 1971, Bangabandhu's time-honored historical speech, 'This time the struggle is for our liberation, this time the struggle is for freedom', united the Bengalis to become movement-oriented. Moved by Bangabandhu's call and declaration of independence, Bengalis jumped into the liberation war against the Pakistani forces that lasted for nine long months (March 25-December 16, 1971). At the cost of the blood of 30 lakh martyrs, the dignity of 2 lakh females, and the all-out movement of millions of Bengalis, the Pakistani forces formally surrendered to the allied forces at Suhrawardy Udyan (then Racecourse Maidan) in Dhaka on 16 December. Thus, the moment of independence of Bangladesh did not come in one day. Through many movements and struggles, Bengalis achieved their glorious independence and gave birth to a new state called Bangladesh in the heart of the world.
As a result of the timely decision, declaration and firm-determination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the overall commander of the movement, the untrained Bengalis (mainly peasants and students) defeated the trained, and well-equipped modern armed forces like Pakistan. Bangabandhu means freedom. Bangabandhu means a new horizon called Bangladesh. Eventually, Bangabandhu and Bangladesh have become synonymous. Through his visionary leadership soon Bangabandhu became Father of the Nation, whose existence lasts 56 thousand square miles of the country. Bangladesh has passed half a century, the birth centenary of the architect of Bangladesh Bangabandhu has also passed. With this equation, Bangabandhu's dream 'Golden Bengal' will move forward in a new venture. That is the expectation of today and the present of tomorrow. And it is the responsibility of all of us to implement it properly.
Today the country has crossed half a century of independence and victory. After going through many ups and downs, the country has now reached a stable state. Bangladesh's progress in many development and humanitarian sectors indicators is very significant. In the pre-independence period of 1970, the GDP of Bangladesh was nine billion US dollars. In these 50 years, it has increased almost 40 times. The average per capita income, which was 140 in 1970, has now surpassed 2,000. In other words, per capita income has increased about 15 times. In 1972-1973, the size of the national budget of Bangladesh was 786 crores; the current financial year, it stands at 5 lakh 68 thousand crore taka, which is about 722 times more. In 1971, the average life expectancy of the people of Bangladesh was 46 years. Infant and maternal mortality rates (28 per thousand and 165 per lakh, respectively) have declined significantly. Bangladesh has been self-sufficient in food for many years. At present, the export income is 40 billion US dollars, and the foreign exchange income is 160 billion US dollars. These developments are reflected in education, health, rural, industrialization, housing, urbanization, trade and commerce, poverty alleviation, etc.
Bangladesh's progress in social development is also satisfactorily good enough. Bangladesh's achievements in education, public health, economy, women's education, women's empowerment, gender relations, and equality, etc., are enviable in South Asia. Leaving the low-income country, Bangladesh has been included in the list of middle-income countries since 2015 and is moving forward to become a developed-prosperous country by 2041. Besides success in climate change, disaster management, etc., Bangladesh is also leading in many other fields. In the implementation of Vision 2041, qualitative development in education, health, and communication systems needs to be brought in line with the country's economic progress. In addition, more practical and planned steps need to be taken locally and globally to accelerate economic development.
Now is the time to move forward toward bangabandhu's Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal). Many unresolved issues have already been settled. The language movement of 1952 is now being observed as International Mother Language Day (since 1999). Restoration of the 1972 constitution is a significant achievement. Those convicted of crimes against humanity in 1971 have been tried. The trial of killing the father of the nation and his family has been completed. Now appropriate steps must be taken by the government for the international recognition of the genocide in 1971.
The two most important sectors for Bangladesh to earn foreign exchange are readymade garments and migration. In order to sustain the progress of the garment industry, arrangements have to be made to ensure the interests of the workers. Education, health, and housing for family members, including safety in the workplace, will play an instrumental role in a productive culture. In the case of migration, the government needs to think seriously about the ways and possibilities to achieve the maximum from this sector. The safety of the expatriate workers must be taken into consideration. Their safety must be ensured, and their skills must be developed through language and other vocational training. As a result, they will be empowered; on the other hand, the amount of foreign remittance in Bangladesh will increase a lot.
Women are the half of the total population of the country. Despite the significant development of women in Bangladesh among the South Asian countries, women are still not safe at home or outside. Yet like in the 1971 liberation war, in the month of Bengali's victory, a mother was raped by a security force in front of her daughter (Khulna, December 8, 2021). It is imperative to ensure the security of women for the smooth development of the country; otherwise, the country will be deprived of the contribution of half the population. Ethnic and religious harmony is the oldest tradition of the region. It is sometimes severely disrupted for personal and political reasons, which is by no means desirable. The government needs to be more prudent and take the necessary steps in this regard.
No country's progress is sustainable without quality education and research. Although there has been tremendous development in Bangladesh in these areas, it is inconsistent with other indicators. Unless quality education is ensured, it will not be possible to endure durable progress. At the same time, the scope of basic and applied research on history, society, culture, politics, science, and contemporary issues should be further expanded. All other developments are not sustainable without proper education and research. Therefore, positive attention and appropriate action in this education and research are expected.
Above all, to move the country forward positively, it is necessary to ensure proper implementation of the four-state policies in light of the 1972 constitution. At the same time, widespread corruption must be eradicated, and government officials must serve the people-the owner of all power. Toward the end, Bangabandhu gave utmost importance to these two issues. The prevailing situation is more complicated than in the past. Therefore, in the golden jubilee of victory, we must be determined to move forward with the spirit of Sonar Bangla.
Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chittagong, and organizer of the Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee. Email: [email protected]
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