As Nirmul Committee celebrates it’s 32nd founding anniversary, the question that becomes pertinent is what will be the focus of this largest and probably the longest running civil society movement in the world with its ‘huge global presence beyond the perimeters of Bangladesh. This question has actually become evident after the current Awami League government, in fulfilling it’s election commitment and more importantly from it’s allegiance to 1971 and obligation to Bangladesh and the Bengali nation, initiated the process of trial of criminals involved with crimes against humanity during our liberation war. Although it is true that the trials are anyway near from over and will surely take many more years if not decades to be fully over, it is also a reality that the process is on that track and that civil society activism to keep the process ongoing is gradually becoming less important. So if one asks, what is the future scope of Nirmul Committee, one can not be criticized for such inquisitiveness.
However no matter how simple the query may appear, it’s a long answer that awaits the questioner. And to answer the same we have to look back at our present and history. If we dissect the aspirations of our predecessors, who shed blood without the slightest hesitation, enjoying the realities of today, I think most will agree with me that most of those aspirations are either fulfilled or are being fulfilled. Although it may be difficult to explain this comment of mine at length, given the limited scope of this article, a few things still warrant some discussion. One important reason why the war of our liberation was fought was to secure political and economic independence for the Bengali nation. Political independence was secured on December 16, 1971 afternoon, when more than ninety thousand Pakistani Military personnel in the Eastern Theatre surrendered unconditionally to the joint India-Bangladesh Command at the then race course in Dhaka in broad day light, making history by marking it as the largest surrender in the modern history of mankind. Our economic liberty was far from achieved and suffered major setback with the unfortunate assassination of Bangabandhu on August 15, 1975, along with most of his family members. Bangabandhu was assassinated just when he was on the path of attaining our economic freedom. Under his able leadership Bangladesh had graduated to a low-income country with GDP touching the 7% magic figure and per capita income well above 350 US dollars. Bangladeshis saw steady decline in their per capita income after Bangabandhu’s assassination which was below US dollar 200 in 1976 and dipped to the range of US dollar 100 in 1977. Bangladeshis had to wait for an era to get back that per capita earning. The wait to reclaim 7% GDP was even longer and did not come till Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina was elected to power for her first term in 1996.
Democracy and welfare state were two other principal objectives that motivated the Bengali people to resist the fourth largest army in the world in 1971 with minimum arsenal, but maximum courage. Leaving aside the handful, most will agree that democracy is now well established on firm grounds in Bangladesh. Those countering this statement by pointing to the handful of BNP MPs in the present Parliament, who resigned recently, may humbly be reminded that during the widely participated and contested national election of 2009, BNP could retain their role as the opposition in the Jatiya Sangshad by a mere 5 seat lead over Jatiya Party, while the countrymen voted Awami League candidates to victory in more than two-third constituencies giving them absolute control of the country and the parliament. So when the party is leaderless with two of the top leaders of the party charged with corruption and one is even a fugitive and when even in such disastrous situation higher ranks of the party embark on nomination trading and nominate multiple candidates in every constituency and on top of that to make things even worse, maintain collaboration with not only Jamat E Islam, but all anti-liberation elements, it is not at all surprising to see where we see BNP in today’s politics and parliament, closer to the graves away from the hearts of millions.
I think the minimum needs to be uttered to portrait Bangladesh as a welfare state. With the government implementing world’s largest housing project and vaccinating the entire nation against COVID-19 multiple times absolutely free of cost, are two of hundreds of such nicest deeds of Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina that proves my case. Having said all these and enjoying one marvel after another of Sheikh Hasina’s government starting from Bangabandhu satellite to Padma Bridge, Dhaka Metro Rail, Karnaphuli Tunnel and Ruppur Nuclear Power Plant to name a few, strong argument unfortunately can’t be made if someone asks, “Okey fine, but what about secularism?”
Secularism was undoubtedly one of the key corner stones on which the foundation of Bangladesh was laid. Bangabandhu had foreseen the failure and uselessness of the “two nation theory” that laid to the partition of India and creation of the failed state called Pakistan, soon after it’s independence. The foundation of a one nation state for the Bengali nation with secularism as its one of the main driving forces was laid on the day when the defiant students of Dhaka University protested against Jinnah’s proclamation that, “Urdu and Urdu shall be the only state language of Pakistan”. The seed of a “nation state” that was laid on that day was realized into the independent country called Bangladesh in only twenty four years under Bangabandhu’s leadership. Therefore Bangladesh, it’s founding pillars and off course it Founding Father remained the target for the anti-liberation, pro-Pakistani forces since day one of Bangladesh. And since they remained in power in most of the history of independent Bangladesh since the brutal assassination of Father of the Nation, they got the unchallenged opportunity in trying to turn Bangladesh up side down, with full support from those at the seat of power. Everything possible was done and no stones left unturned to uproot secularism from the soils of Bangladesh. And it should be remembered that secularism remained the target of the rulers of this land not only after the assassination of Bangabandhu or not only during the Pakistan era, but long before that even during the British Raj. It was the British who sowed the seeds of religious hatred among the Bengalis, by splitting undivided Bengal and by preaching that Bengali Muslims and Bengali Hindus were two different nations and that these two people could only prosper by competing and not by collaborating and/or coexistence with each other.
One of the prime targets of these traders of evil and terror remains the rich heritage of Bengali literature and culture. They have realized that the main strength of the Bengali nation is it’s culture, which is also the essence of Bengali nationhood. This is the reason why we have always seen them going against those who cherish and nurture Bengali literature and culture. Events like the series of brutal attacks on Bengali cultural and literary activist to the humiliations of the bouls are all closely linked and when traditional jatra gets replaced by religious gatherings, it comes as no surprise as yet another blow of axe to the roots of the Bengali nationhood.
So if we are to secure what we have achieved in our over half century of independent existence, we have to strike back and striking back doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to adopt to brutal means like them. It rather means that you have to uphold, nurture and propagate our literature and culture if we want to prove ‘Bangabandhu’s one nation hypothesis’ a successful one. This is a task that is not at all an easy one to achieve and to overcome this huge hurdle one has to agree that it is Nirmul Committee that has to lead this movement from the civil society perspective. Therefore, undoubtedly the purpose of Nirmul Committee is far from over. Nirmul Committee leadership is well aware of this responsibility and creation of Nirmul Committee is yet another courageous step in that direction.
Professor Mamun Al Mahtab Shwapnil is Head, Interventional Hepatology Division, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University & Finance Secretary, Forum for Secular Bangladesh & Trial of War Criminals of 1971