He rose from a remote village in Gopalganj and eventually led the nation to its independence. There is hardly any second example of this in the world. No wonder he is duly regarded as the greatest son of this land situated on the banks of the Padma, Meghna and Ganges and the shores of the Bay of Bengal.
Bangabandhu is the leader of our self-reliance and independence. He determined the destiny of this neglected nation through his far sight, political wisdom and ideology. An ideology that was decorated with honesty, deep affection for the people, sacrifice and bravery. He had acquired these unique qualities from our thousand-year-old heritage and culture.
His dream was ‘one nation, one country and one flag’ and with this dream in his heart, he led the nation to freedom with a brave heart and in the best possible manner. Our great war of liberation was fought in his name. He has been adored by his people as ‘Father of the Nation’. He has received unanimous recognition as the greatest Bengali of all time.
Throughout his life, Bangabandhu believed in secularism. Accommodating all religious beliefs and inter-religion harmony were the ideologies of this great leader. He never left these ideologies in his long, colourful political career. He had great trust and an equal amount of affection for his people across religion, colour and cast. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians – for that reason uphold him unconditionally as their unparalleled leader.
Bangabandhu is probably the first person to clarify that ‘secularism was not synonymous with atheism’. He stood firm to protect the religious rights of seven and a half crore Bengalis, but at the same time also warned that none should attempt to utilize religion for political gains. Bangabandhu’s secular political ideology and a Bangladesh for all religious beliefs under his leadership were against the interests of the communal and reactionary forces of the dark. They, therefore, did their best to distract the nation’s history in the opposite direction, since the assassination of Bangabandhu and his family members in 1975. State-sponsored terrorism, fundamentalism and communalism thus tarnished the culture and heritage of this land of a thousand years since then.
The nation is however fortunate that honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has not only conceptualized her visionary father’s wisdom but has also brought the country back on track. Bengali nation and Bangladesh has turned around once again under her able leadership. Every morning now comes with new glory for this nation with Sheikh Hasina in the seat of power.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina proclaimed 2020-2021 as ‘Mujib Barsho’ to celebrate the birth centenary of Father of the Nation in the most befitting way. The nation is grateful to her for taking this great initiative. Elaborate programmes were chalked out to celebrate ‘Mujib Barsho’, which would be the right way the grateful nation paid homage to its all-time hero. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly brought everything to a halt.
As we all know, this land, now Bangladesh, is the home to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Chakmas, Santals and many other small races of different religion and colour for thousands of years, the reason why all the different currents have culminated in one to make Bengali culture so rich and powerful. The single factor that has contributed most to our struggle for independence, liberation war and our historic victory on December 16, 1971, is the cultural strength of the Bengali people. And the basic essence of Bengali culture is secularism and harmony. Without these Bangladesh ceases to exist. That becomes something else in the name of Bangladesh.
Our great leader had touched Bengali hearts to realize that the prosperity, development, prestige and strength of independent Bangladesh will depend on a secular state policy derived from the Bengali culture.
This is the reason why he incorporated Bengali nationalism and secularism as the founding principles of the Bangladesh constitution. He added specific clauses in our constitution prohibiting the exploitation of religion in politics. Our current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is following her father’s footsteps to uphold a secular Bangladesh. Unfortunately, evil quarters are active to destroy our communal harmony.
This is well established that although most of our people are religious, Bengali culture is our main driving force. It was our long tradition of communal harmony that helped us to stand united against all odds in 1971.
Since the cold war was over, the entire world has been engulfed by a sharp rise in religious fundamentalism. Religion is being exploited to gain politically. The same phenomenon is also evident in Bangladesh. A group within us has joined hands with external forces in their evil attempt to label Bangladesh as a communal country.
Pakistani rule came to an end with our liberation war. The mass uprising of 1969 and the battlefields of 1971 were the culmination of our language movement of 1952 and subsequent nationalist and progressive movements of the 60s. 1971 was the outcome of Bengali nationalism, gaining momentum from Bengali Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians.
We not only got a new map and a new flag, but also a secular constitution in 1972, which unfortunately lost its character in the power struggle of the two generals. Not only that, but we have also experienced communal attacks on our minorities for vested interests.
We were brought down to earth at the news of atrocities committed against our minorities after the 2001 national elections. We all know very well how ugly, painful and brutal communalism can be. But we sometimes fail to notice what is going on and why.
People of two different religions hate each other only because of communalism, which at times even lead to communal clashes and shed blood of the innocent. But people across religions have been staying in this country together in peace since eternal times. Hindu farmers never fought their Muslim brothers.
They never wanted to uproot the other. Muslim fishermen fished in our rivers with the Hindus and the weavers of different religion have also worked side by side. Common people have celebrated each other’s religious festivals. They have walked the same way, traded in the same marketplace and stayed under the same sky, but they never inquired who was Muslim or Hindu.
It is no doubt the responsibility of the state and political parties to maintain communal harmony in our society, but the socio-cultural organizations also have multi-dimensional responsibilities.
Secular upbringing at home during childhood, secular primary education and continuous awareness building in rural and urban communities is a must to bring in positive change in our psyche. ‘Sampritee Bangladesh’ intends to take up the long term challenge to achieve this desired goal with the majority of our people on-board.
‘Sampritee Bangladesh’ looks forward to spreading this message in every corner of the country during ‘Mujib Barsho’. With this good intention we started our journey early this year with the motto, ‘Bangabandhu's birth centenary and a Bangladesh of harmony’. We were hoping that the numerous programmes that we would organize during this year in different parts of the country would present the right perception about our history to our present and future generations and introduce them to the evolution of our culture and heritage. We intended to educate them to dream of a secular and prosperous Bangladesh and at the same time raise their level of awareness. Unfortunately Covid-19 pandemic was a big blow to our aspirations, but it could do little to stop us. We have adapted to the ‘new normal’ very fast and have reached a million hearts through our regular weekly online events - ‘Sampritee Sanglap’ and ‘Tele-Medicine’ during this ongoing pandemic. ‘No Covid-19, no nothing’ can stop us in our quest for a Bangladesh of harmony!
PijushBandyopadhyay is Convener ofSampritee Bangladesh.
Professor Mamun Al Mahtab (Shwapnil) is Chairman, Department of Hepatology, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University and Member Secretary of Sampritee Bangladesh