An Unfinished Battle
As Bangladesh steps into its 40th year of independence, have the aspirations which came with it been fulfilled?
I would have to say that the aspirations have not been fulfilled, for the struggle was not only for independence but also liberation or emancipation. We had an unclear image of the nation we wanted, but the basic principles were embodied in our Constitution -- those of nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism. We wanted not only a separate state, but a change in state character. We understood back in 1948 that the notion of Pakistani nationalism was a mistaken one for it was based on religion. Our struggle was for linguistic nationalism with liberation.
How is the fact that we have achieved independence but not liberation most apparent?
We see it in the class divisions which have sharpened and deepened and are greater than they were during the Pakistan era. This is very discriminatory; the war was fought by everyone, not one party or class or religion. The education system is divided into three streams -- English medium for the well-to-do, Bengali medium for the middle class and madrassah education for the poor -- increasing the class cleavage. Patriotism has declined. We have developed in some areas, but not in most, and people remain in poverty, suffering and are being exploited. This is the sign of a capitalist society -- profit-making and, that too, personal profit-making. Another sign of a capitalist society is alienation. Where the liberation war had brought us together, today we are alienated from each other.
Why do you believe this has happened?
It is due largely to leadership. During the war, the leadership was not organised, it was spontaneous. We demanded autonomy and we achieved independence, but we were not prepared -- politically, militarily, psychologically or ideologically. A nationalist leadership can bring nationalism, but not democracy, and we did not get the desired transformation of society and state. We should not have thought that the war ended on December 16; it was not the end but a stage of our struggle for liberation. The principles of our Constitution were later removed and we have moved away from those principles. As a result, there is despair everywhere. Also after the war, the war criminals, both local and Pakistani, should have been tried. Failure to try the criminals of such a large genocide is a deep psychological sign that that we have accepted it. People now think crime is an accident and do not hate it as much. All this has happened because the leadership has been busy with its own interests. We have discarded British and Pakistani leadership but not their capitalist, bureaucratic ideology; the new leadership has accepted it and this has resulted in development of a few.
Shall we lose hope then?
No. We went through a very real struggle; we have that experience, we have the philosophy. There are patriotic and democratic people and they must take responsibility of changing the state and society. We have come some way but they must take it forward. They must unite and make people aware that the struggle is not over. We need an anti-capitalist movement. Capitalism is in crisis worldwide -- the recent economic recession is a sign of that. We must join the movement in order to survive. The media has an important role to play here. Our hopes also lie with the young generation, but it is being corrupted. A major reason for this is that history is hardly taught at school level nowadays. We must know history.
We went to war for political liberation, but the transformation of society and state remains to be realised. For this, we need local resistance as well as nationwide movements.