Joy Bangla; Who is Afraid
of the Cry of Bengali Pride?
The words Joy Bangla resonated in the flood-lit Bangabandhu Stadium on February 17 at the spectacular inauguration of the World Cricket Cup Championship 2011. Joy Bangla – victory to Bangladesh – is an eminently proper slogan for the world cricket championship event. But of course the symbolism and significance of Joy Bangla extend far beyond the sports arena.
The musical tableau at the inauguration depicting the liberation struggle featured the slogan in thundering unison. The video clip of the historic speech of 7th March, 1971 shown at the inauguration ended with the words Joy Bangla, accentuated by the upraised arm of Bangabandhu. The ceremonial statements of the officials including that of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina concluded with the slogan Joy Bangla. Joy Bangla had remained conspicuously missing in public events under the erstwhile regime. There still appears to be a reluctance to ask why this was so.
Have we forgotten that the full-throated sound of Joy Bangla struck terror in the hearts of enemies of the liberation fighters in 1971? My contemporaries will remember that the Pakistanis in Dhaka at that time in conversation referred to the liberation forces (Mukti Bahini) as the Joy Bangla Force.
The cruel twist of history, with the ignominy of the killing of the Father of the Nation and the coup d' etat of 1975, banished Joy Bangla as an assertion of pride and valour. Joy Bangla was replaced by Bangladesh Zindabad as the celebratory slogan for public occasions. Not that Zindabad (a wish for long life) was wrong, but how could this compare with the evocative power and historic significance of Joy Bangla? And can one be blamed if this is suspected as an attempt to turn the clock back and express nostalgia for the days of Pakistan Zindabad?
Even after an elected government was restored in 1991, Zindabad remained the sanctioned slogan, and Joy Bangla remained banned. Do we need to wonder why? The post-1975 military rulers and the political parties that were shaped in the anvil of the military rule were not just unenthusiastic, but positively averse, to a slogan that invoked the spirit and ideology of liberation. How else can one explain the allergy to the words that inspired the liberation fighters and bolstered the morale of people?
General Ershad, who harboured poetic pretensions, indeed had an ear for the evocative resonance of Bangla words in his naming of residential colonies and buildings around Dhaka, while he was president. But he carefully avoided pairing the two words Joy Bangla and bestowing these any official significance during his rule.
This situation prevailed until 2008, except for an interregnum between 1996 and 2000, when the coalition led by Awami League was installed in the government.
I recall that in 1996, after the new government was elected, a national education conference was held in Dhaka where several renowned educationists from the region were invited. The then Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, inaugurated the conference. Indian educationist Anil Bordia, a former Secretary of Education of the Government of India, concluded his speech with the words Joy Bangla, in an expression of solidarity and friendship. The Bengali daily Inquilab made it a point to observe the next day that the Indian speaker had uttered the words Joy Bangla in his speech, which was reminiscent to the reporter of Jai Hind, victory to India.
Incidentally, Sharad Power, the Indian Union Minister and the President of the International Cricket Council, concluded his statement at the Cricket World Cup opening with the words Bangladesh Zindabad. Apparently, he was not briefed about the nuances in symbolism of the slogan.
I also recall that in a civil society gathering organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue prior to the planned general election in 2006, AMA Muhith, the current finance minister, concluded his comments with the words Joy Bangla. Some of the participants remarked that Mr Muhith made the discussion unnecessarily controversial by bringing in “Joy Bangla.” Unnecessarily controversial!
Should we not ask why exactly people of certain political persuasion were and remain averse today to the evocative words Joy Bangla the words that struck fear in the hearts of the enemy of liberation; words that provided a boost of adrenalin to the freedom fighters; the words that should continue to be an assertion of pride and identity for citizens of Bangladesh. What exactly are they afraid of?
Manzoor Ahmed writes on education and development.