The Taste of Freedom
Aasha Mehreen Amin
Photo: Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy
The streets are filled with young men sporting bandanas with the red and green while they sell flags that symbolise the most precious thing that we possess: our freedom. The enthusiasm with which Victory Day is celebrated these days is certainly something to be optimistic about. Even now for many of us, it is hard not to get a little choked up every time we hear our beloved national anthem.
But what exactly is it, this thing called 'freedom'?
For Bangladeshis privileged enough to belong to a certain income group, who are educated and have at least the means to satisfy basic needs and then some, the value of freedom is huge even though most times we take it for granted. For us Victory Day is really a day to celebrate and commemorate. It is a day we feel intense gratitude to all those millions of people whose debt we can never repay. Those who gave up their lives, those who suffered ghastly torture, those who continue to live the nightmare of losing their loved ones in a flash, those who must carry on without parents brutally murdered.
Leafing through some of the picture books on the Muktijuddho one is filled with awe at the sheer selflessness and courage of those young men and women who didn't think twice about rushing to the call of freedom. Some of our freedom fighters were not even in their teens, most of them had not even seen a gun let alone learn to shoot with one. Yet this inexperience did not deter their resolve to fight unto death, until their motherland was free of brutal oppressors whose bigotry led to such heinous crimes against humanity. There is a distinct fearlessness and honesty in their eyes, something that is hard to find in today's free Bangladesh. True, we don't have any foreign enemy to fight and the majority do not have to worry about our ethnic identity being annihilated but it is sad that we do not hold any common conviction that would unite each and every one of us. Instead, we have managed to find more and more reasons to be divided, whether it is along political lines or differing interpretations of the same religion. The greatest divide however, is economic and it is here that we have completely ignored the noble lessons that the Muktijuddho had given. The fight had been to drive away the tyrants who made sure that our people would remain poor, that they would be deprived of all the opportunities accorded to other citizens of the same country, that they would be stripped of the one thing that every human being eternally strives for -- dignity. But for almost four decades of independence, we still seem to be stuck in a gigantic force field of apathy and self-interest. Save a growing minority, most Bangladeshis find it difficult to manage one square meal, millions do not have homes of their own, thousands do not have a roof over their heads. It is an ugly existence that should fill us with shame and misery. It should, but does it?
If you ask your domestic worker who works seven days a week and has to live on a ridiculous wage that has no relation to the cost of living, whether she understands what it means to be 'free', she may just laugh in derision. For the day labourer, the rickshaw puller, the little child inhaling noxious 'dandy' to escape, the forgotten beggars with mangled limbs, freedom means one thing: it means not being a member of the poor.
According to international organisations we have made great progress in some areas -- primary education, immunisation programmes, more women in the workforce, to name a few. But resources are getting scarcer, there are more and more people scrambling for them and a handful controlling practically all of them.
This is not the egalitarian, emancipated and enlightened nation that our martyrs and surviving Muktijoddhas dreamt of when they valiantly faced Death. They believed that their sacrifice would be taken forward, not just through a few days of commemoration, but a vow by all Bangladeshis to work hand in hand to build a nation of hope and possibility.
Yes, freedom is sweet but shouldn't all Bangladeshis be able to taste it?
(R) thedailystar.net 2009