Cultural practice can protect Bangladesh from evil forces

One who lis­tens to Lalon song, Nazrul song, reads Rabin­dranath and listens to Tagore song, can­not be an extre­mist or militant. The observation was made by Chief of the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) Unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Monirul Islam at a discussion on how to tackle militancy.

Importantly, at the discussion he had also mentioned that he made the observation on the basis of his conversations with those who wanted to come back to normal life from militancy, and to the family members of the militants who were killed during gunfight with law enforcers.

One will notice two important points from the observation of the police officer who has long experience in tackling militancy. One: Practicing of cultural activities is the best remedy for tackling militancy or religious extremism. Two: Practicing of cultural activities should be given more emphasis and importance. Currently religious extremism or militancy has become a worldwide wearying phenomenon for which Bangladesh has also been suffering not less.

Our police officer, in fact, has just repeated the thoughts of numerous distinguished persons across the globe regarding the importance of cherishing and practicing one’s own culture.

As Mahtma Gandhi says, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the souls of its people.” So nourishing one’s own culture means finding the identity of one’s own heart and soul. A nation finds its identity in its culture.

Culture means the customs and beliefs, art and way of life of a particular country or group; or the beliefs and attitudes about something that people in a particular group share. Therefore, cultural identity is the foremost and distinguished identity of a country and its people.

Love for one’s culture means love for his fellow people as well as his country. So practicing one’s culture means practicing the love for his country or practicing patriotism. One who love the people and his country cannot be an extremist or a militant as extremism and militancy bring irreparable harm to the country, its people and above all to humanity.

And the most valuable outcome of nourishing one’s own culture, as Jawaharlal Nehru says, “Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit,” is that it makes one’s mind free from meanness, imprudence, hatred, and in particular, from religious superstitions. In this way, a person who loves his own culture also feels love and respect for the cultures of others. Thus a person with love for his/her own culture becomes a patriot without fail. And due to his widened mind and spirit he/she also achieves a cosmopolitan mindset. That is, ultimate goal of cultural practice is achieving humanity. And, a humanitarian world is the ultimate goal and dream of human being. Cultural practice plays a very important role in quest of establishing a humane world.

Anywhere across the world the power of culture has played a very important role for emancipation of a nation either from colonial rulers or from extortion and misrule of dictators or from any type of national crisis. Pakistani rulers, as part of their conspiracy to destroy the Bengali nation, tried to destroy our culture first. Long before their military invasion in the then East Pakistan, on 25 Mrch, 1971 aiming at Bengali cleansing; they made cultural invasion on us. In 1952 they tried to destroy our mother tongue, the soul of all cultural activities of a nation. They also banned Rabindranath and cut across Nazrul besides spreading religious hatred among the people of Bangladesh. The Pakistani dictators knew that cultural death means death of a nation.

But one truth the invader Pakistanis did not know or failed to realize that love for culture, which can also be termed as love for tradition, makes a nation stronger in time of national crisis. As Winston Churchill says: “A love for tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril.”    

Pakistanis totally failed to fathom the Bengalis’ love their culture. The love for their culture immediately turned into rebellion against Pakistani invasion, which ultimately, under the indisputable leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, brought emancipation and independence for Bengalis.            

To ensure a non-communal and extremism-free society, there is no alternative to ensuring an environment where people can practice and perform cultural activities without any feeling of fear. One of the main goal of our War of Liberation was to establish a secular state where people of all religions will live in peace and harmony with cultural and religious freedom.   

Father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman struggled throughout his life to establish a society where each and every citizen will have cultural freedom, his dreamland - Sonar Bangla, the Bengal of Gold. Immediate after the independence of Bangladesh, at a public meeting at the Sohrawardy Udyan on 9 June in 1972, Bangabandhu said:

“Bangladesh will be a secular state. Secularism does not mean anti-religion. Muslims will be practicing their religion. Hindus will be observing their faith. The Christians will be exercising their religion. Buddhists will be practicing their religion. In this land there is no anti-religion but there is secularism. This has a meaning. Here religions cannot be used as commodity for political purposes. Here people cannot be looted in the name of religion. Politics in the name of religion to create Razakars and Al-Badars in the soil of Bengal will not be tolerated any longer. The politics of communalism will not to be allowed.”

Without nourishing, nurturing and practicing of Bengali culture, it’s not possible to establish Bangabadhu’s Sonar Bangla.

In spite of the Pakistani rulers’ invasion on Bengali culture through various evil schemes, Bangladesh had been a cultural sanctuary till the brutal killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 15 August, 1975. After that, a grave darkness engulfed the whole country for around two decades. During that dark period, the anti-liberation evil forces did everything possible to make the newly independent country a failed state. Misrepresentation and distortion of the history of the War of Liberation, misrule corruption, nepotism, killing, lawlessness, lack of justice, injustice, and all the evil things overwhelmed each and every government sector of the country.

As though the Pandora’s Box, containing sickness, death and many other unspecified evils of the Greek mythology had been opened in the country by the hands of anti-liberation, communal, corrupt dictators. Their main target was to rub out the spirit of the War of Liberation from the mind of the Bengalis. For this, they resorted to Goebbels theory of telling big blatant lies trying to convert those as true to people, the trick of Paul Joseph Goebbels, a German Nazi politician and Propaganda Minister of Adolf Hitler.

But only one thing, as the Greek mythology goes, was left behind in that box is hope. In that two decades of darkness in Bangladesh, the spirit of the liberation war, patriotism and the power of our culture were the hopes to the patriotic people of Bangladesh.

Although the two-decade-long misrule of anti-liberation forces ended one day, the deep cuts and wounds still haunt the country. Besides, at the direct backing of the rulers for long two decades, those evil forces have gained a strong foothold in the society. They have been working secretly, behind the curtain and also in disguise to foil the ongoing massive financial and social development activities in the country. They are trying to make gain, however slightest it is, from every situation using their old technique – deforming and distorting the fact.

During that two-decade-long dark era, Patriotic Bengalis, forceful with the spirit of the War of Liberation, tried heart and soul to keep up nourishing, nurturing and practicing of cultural activities, their only hope, to keep alive the faith and hope of a non-communal and secular Bangladesh.

As a result, there were spontaneous arranging of all kinds of cultural activities throughout the year everywhere in the country. Arrangements of cultural activities would go for six months at a stretch immediate after the rainy season was over from September to February. There were Jatrapalas, Kobi song, Baul song, Jaree song, Gazir Gaan, Circus exhibition and month-long rural fairs on occasion of various religious celebrations almost in every village in the country. People in every village and students of schools and colleges would stage amateur dramas. And cinema halls were almost always houseful.

In every Para (locality) of a village there were rural singers who would frequently sit with Dotara (two-stringed musical instrument), Ektara (one-stringed musical instrument) or Sarinda/Sarongi (violin like musical instrument) at the Bangla Ghor or Kachari Ghor (a separate chamber adjacent to a village home that is used for mainly making idle talks with fellow villages - can be compared to a drawing room at a urban residence) and would sing folk songs.

There was a common scene at every rural bazaar: a man in lungi-panjabi (traditional men’s clothing of Bengal) with a cloth-bag carrying suspended from the shoulder, standing under a tree’s shadow, a booklet in his hand - chanting a poem in high pitch in rhythm. The subject of the poem might be a past historical incident, a religious myth, a romantic theme, a recent locally sensational occurrence, a nationally sad or amazing event, or anything. The chanting-person himself is the poet and publisher of the several-page cheap-paper-booklet containing the whole poem. Many of the people who would come to the bazaar for buying household essentials would also buy the booklet at a price of two taka or so. In my childhood, I have also bought such poem booklets from village markets of our locality in Mymensingh district.

The anti-liberation communal evil forces could not stop patriot Bengalis from practicing their cultural activities and could not divert their patriotic mind from their love for culture. These cultural activities would widely be practiced and performed everywhere across the country till 90s decade.

But the scenario changed drastically after the BNP-Jamaat alliance came to power through 1 October 2001 general election. Though that alliance government was led by BNP, in fact, Jammat was the driving force of BNP and the government as well. Therefore, the 2001-2005 Khaleda Zia government was quite a lot different than the 1991-1996 Khaleda government.

Durjoy Roy is News Consultant of Bangladesh Post