Bangladesh was created in 1971 through cumulative efforts of ordinary people. The importance of 1947 or even the resistance against the British imperialists on our liberation war cannot be ignored. However, as a nation, do we realise and admit these crucial phases of history, both intellectually and academically? Muhammad Kamruzzaman raises these questions after he visited the empty library room of Birkonya Pritilota Sanskritik Bhavan and argues that power quarters are deliberately presenting a version of the history to the future generation only to make them intellectually unaware of their long legacy of resistance.
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.
— James Joyce in Araby
THE epigraph is the very last sentence uttered by the narrator, an anonymous young boy, of James Joyce’s ‘Araby,’ who throughout the whole short story has been quite opposite of this angry young man alike expression: he has been happy, fascinated and romantic as well about visiting the bazaar, Araby; but the moment he experiences the spatio-existentiality of the bazaar, he returns to his sense and becomes furious immediately.
Likewise, the day I had started from Dhaka to visit Birkonya Pritilota Sanskritik Bhavan, situated at Dhalghat, Patiya, Chattogram, I was equally happy and thrilled too because I was going to learn about Pritilota Wadder ‘the first woman to have martyred herself in the struggle for freedom against the British regime’. But, on December 18, 2019, all of my fascination flew away as soon as I, my friend and guide, Mijanur Rahman had finished the small tour of that well-designed six-storeyed building named as Birkonya Pritilota Sanskritik Bhavan.
According to Pankaj Chakraborty, the founding president of Birkonya Pritilota Trust, BDT 43 million has been the total cost of the project that includes the building consisting of 12 rooms, 30 sewing machines for making women self-reliant, 50 computers for learners and freelancers, a few musical instruments in an empty room called ‘library’, and a beautiful statue of Pritilota Wadder who sacrificed herself with the hope that ‘women would not consider themselves as weak, because they are determined not to stay behind and, along with men, would actively participate in the struggle’.
Everything was fine, but the library, the big empty closed room, made me upset because I went there with an intention that I would find something inspiring that would definitely help me to go further.
However, in 1971, we, as a nation, fought against Pakistan and that revolt can be termed as a revolt against an internal colonisation. The question is from where did we gather the courage to fight against them?
Of course, the language movement of 1952 and the events that led us to the partition of India in 1947 helped us to fight against a very coloniser-alike power, Pakistan. But the problem is, since 1971, the governing class, in the name of democracy, tried to construct the already constructed-history.
For example, my schooling had started in 2001 and all I had got to know is, in my books, about lieutenant general Ziaur Rahman (Bir Uttom) and that he announced the declaration of the independence of Bangladesh but later, in 2009, the story became a new one — the central figure has been Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman since then.
Certainly, the founding president of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was lovingly given the title of Bangabandhu, had played a vital role in the making of Bangladesh happen. History has always been a collective affair, but the singular and narrow focus of our history has eliminated collective sacrifice, collective work from the history. It also erased or deemphasised the history before 1971. It has become a nation without a history before 1971.
The existence of Pritilota in our media and culture is not mention worthy. Unfortunately, our national curriculum has very little space for her and others as well. Does it mean that we don’t consider them significant for our survival as a nation, or do we have doubt on the significance of the influence of their sacrifice?
I would say, this is very consciously constructed situation otherwise there would have been no financing from the ministry of cultural affairs to buy 50 computers and 30 sewing machines for Birkonya Pritilota Sanskritik Bhavan. The government has money to buy goods that would make man and women self-reliant but what about books –– the discursive resistance –– that would make us, as a nation, strong against oppression and extremism, and, finally, lead us towards a secular state that has been one of the basic fundamentals associated with the dream of Bangladesh and its existence.
I would say the construction of the Birkonya Pritilota Sanskritik Bhavan with an empty library and two different rooms full of computers and sewing machines clears the hidden intention of the rulers that they want a nation to affairs, culturally poor and intellectually incapable. And a historically blanked, culturally poor and intellectually incapable nation is the best one to rule because, undoubtedly, an intellectually crippled nation would have no power and intention to revolt against a very coloniser-alike group of people.
What Pakistan did on December 14, 1971 is also being practised but the process has changed: Pakistan killed the physical existence of the intellectuals and now, systematically, the state is resisting all the possible ways to make a nation capable of questioning the constructed reality of existence. Comparatively, I would say, the second one is the most insidious one because, in 1971, Pakistan killed the intellectuals but not the process of making and becoming one.
Finally, to be conscious of a Bangali identity, in Stuart Hall’s word, identity as being, the one that one is ‘hiding inside many other,’ a collective true self that common people share as history, is the most significant one for us.
We have to recreate the existence of our glorious past through representation in order to create a new possibility for the present moment to have a better identity that would evolve with time and question to destabilise an on-going and very well-constructed conspiracy, in the name of development, of crippling our national consciousness. ●
Muhammad Kamruzzaman is a student of Jahangirnagar University.
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