Bangabandhu : A dreamer for the suffering people
Selina Hossain :
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, had just come back from the Pakistan prison on 10 January 1972. He went straight to Suhrawardy Uddyan from the Dhaka Airport. Hundreds of thousands of people were awaiting his return. He went up the podium. There he started his speech. At one stage he said, "You also know that I was ordered to be hanged. A grave was also dug for me beside my cell. I am a Muslim. I know a Muslim dies only once. That is why, I decided that I would not give in to them. Before going to the gallows, I would say : I am a Bangalee, my country is Bangadesh and BangIa is my language. Joy BangIa (May BangIa achieve victory). My colleagues requested me to leave the country before being arrested by the West Pakistani soldiers on the night of 25 March 1971. I then told them I would not leave my land throwing the seven and a half crore people into the mouth of danger. If I have to die, I will die here. BangIa is dearer to me than my life. Tajuddin and my other colleagues then burst into tears".
Such was his political, socio-economic and cultural feeling regarding his own national spirit and the mass people's identity. No modern state of the world can exist outside its own identity. Only a state that is subservient to the imperialistic powers chains up its self-identity. Bangabandhu was uncompromising about his national identity. In the very face of the Pakistan Government he said, "Don't call my land East Pakistan, call it East Bengal. If you want to call it East Pakistan, arrange a general election of the Bangalees". He clearly said in a meeting arranged on the occasion of Suhrawardy's death anniversary that the name of the country would be Bangladesh. Even before the achievement of the Independence he fixed the name of the country. In his speeches all over the country he always spoke about the common people's rights. He made people aware of the fundamental truth of living as human beings with dignity.
He was behind the bars during the Language Movement in 1952. He has written in his Unfinished Memoirs : " My cabin had a window facing the ward. I asked them to come after 1 o'clock at night... .. Nobody minded it because only a few would turn up at that time of the night. The police lay silent because they knew I would not escape. The intelligence officer dozed off at one comer. We talked on the corridor and I asked them to constitute an all-party Council for movement. ..... A conspiracy is again going on to suppress the demand for the Bangla Language. If no protest is raised now, the Muslim League will get their proposal for Urdu passed in the central Legislative Assembly. Mr. Nazimuddin has not only spoken for making Urdu the only State Language, but he has also put forward many new arguments. In that discussion there it was decided that 21 February would be observed as the State Language Day and in a meeting a Council for movement would be constituted. One member of the Student League would be the Convener of the State Language Movement Council. The public opinion should begin to be created from the very beginning of February. I further said that, "I would also start a hunger strike from 16 February demanding my own release".
He took the dignity of the mother language as a political right. The pride of the mother language is shattered if a nation is deprived of this right. Today the life sacrificing Day 21 February is the 'International Mother Language Day' in the world forum. The UNESCO has declared this Day to be observed all over the world. A modern state wants to see its achievement in the world heritage. Bangladesh has won that achievement. Bangabandhu's contribution to this achievement is worth remembering.
Secularism was one of the tenets of his life-philosophy. He took his position against communal ideology from his student life. This is a fundamental condition in the definition of any modern state. During the Kolkata communal riot in 1946, he engaged himself in distributing relief materials in the riot- torn areas. He stood by the distressed humanity. The eminent Indian economist Bhabatosh Datta was a teacher of Islamia College from 1943. In his book The 1960s he reminisced about the riot time and wrote : "We had a proof of how much the students of Islamia College had done for us during the bloody communal riot in 1946. The road from Baliganj to Islamia College was strewn with dangers. Our students helped us cross this road. They waited near Baliganj and took us to the College on the Wellesley Street. Again they helped us go back in the same way. Here I gratefully remember those Muslim students of Islamia College who helped us cross the dangerous area. One of those students was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman."
He risked his life during the 1964 Bangali-Bihari riot. His life was endangered during the terrible violence in Narayanganj. He was giving away the leaflets with the words : "Stand up to defend East Pakistan" published by him as a member of the Anti-Rriot Committee. Bangabandhu was the Convener of the Riot Protest Committee. For circulating the 'Stand up to defend East Pakistan leaflets he was arrested under the Pakistan Press and Publication Ordinance and Pakistan Penal Code. He was later granted bail.
In this way he bravely stood by people even at the risk of his life. He had imprinted in him the philosophy of humanity. This is why, in his contemplation about the distressed people the religion of humanity irrespective of religion, caste and creed got the priority. Bangabandhu believed in the empowerment of women. After the Independence, he gave the title 'Birangana' (the female heroes) to the oppressed women. A Board for the Rehabilitation of Women was formed under his leadership. This Board was constituted for the care and shelter of the oppressed women. In the post-War condition he faced this difficult problem with a cheerful heart. He tried his best to re-establish the social status of women.
On the other hand, he made an arrangement for the reserved seats of women in the National Parliament in 1973 in order to ensure the political empowerment of women. He gave ministerial duties to women in the Cabinet of the government of the independent Bangladesh. Muslim marriage and marriage registration law was made in1974.The question of men-women equality is mentioned in Chapter 17 of the Constitution. The dream of today's Bangladesh is not violence; it is a dream to go forward through the equality of men and women.
He thought about the common people right from his very early youth. He dreamed of doing something for them. The kind of far-sightedness that he demonstrated as a politician from the Forties to the Seventies was a direction for the Freedom of a country. There was no question of fallibility there. Secondly, the kind of love and sympathy he had for the common people as a politician was a deep truth of life. He can be compared only with himself. Two of his speeches may be mentioned here. The first one was made on 5 October 1972 on the occasion of approving the draft Constitution in the General Assembly. He explained there the four pillars of the Csonstitution, namely nationalism, democracy, socialism and secularism. He made the next speech in the National Parliament on 25 January 1975. In policy making and implementation he asked the administration to become servants of the common people. He said in his speech that government employees should change their mentality and consider themselves not as rulers but as servants.' He said, "Some people came to me and wanted protection from me. I told them, my people want protection from you, gentlemen". He was this type. He never spared the bureaucrats in his speeches.
To cite a little more from Bangabandhu's speech, "I came to learn that a cold storage had been built at Thakurgaon a year ago. But there was no electricity there. I gathered that it would take one year to send electricity there, because there was no pole. Poles, they said, had to be brought from abroad. I said to the minister, I don't bother about poles. We have bamboos for sure. Stand here, cut bamboos into poles with machetes. Within a month and a half or two this work should be done. Do it. I don't want to hear how you'll do it. Then I saw it was done. If they hadn't come to me, they wouldn't have got poles in a year and the work wouldn't have been done. Where did poles come from? Electricity was there and potatoes were stored. There is no place to store potatoes. Why do we have this mentality? Poles come from trees in Bangladesh. I want to supply every police station in Bangladesh with power".
If he had got help and cooperation for the implementation of the policies he made in state administration, he would certainly have been able to bring a smile to the suffering people's faces in the real sense of the term. .
The huge amount of work that he wanted to undertake in three and a half years was Herculean. He also wanted to go forward facing all challenges. But he could not score the final goal. He was dauntless in the face of all local and foreign conspiracies. He was never afraid of his own life. He even did not have the mental meanness to distrust the Bangali nation.
Rabindranath Tagore in his essay 'Sobhyotar Sonkot' (Crisis in Civilization) Wrote " .. Losing trust in people is a sin ....." Bangabandhu accepted this immortal saying of the Master Poet as an unchangeable truth. That is why, just for the cause of safety he never thought of leaving his own residence and living in the government residence surrounded by security guards. If he had done it, there would have been a distance between him and the common people. He paid the price of loving the suffering people with his own life.
Regarding the fundamental idea of a modern state, Bangabandhu was far-sighted and had a modern mind. He never explained the idea of a nation and country with a backward mentality. He had a very extended vision. One of his extraordinary utterances was : "As a human being, I think about the entire mankind. As I am a Bangalee, everything related to the Bangalees makes me think deeply. The source of this endless attachment is love, immortal love---- the love which makes my politics and existence meaningful".
There was a song in Bangabandhu's diary. He wrote it down as one of his favourite songs :
Love isn't love till you give it away
Love isn't love till it's free
The love in your heart
Wasn't put there to stay
Oh love isn't love till you give it away
You might think love is a treasure to keep
Feeling to cherish and hold
But love is a treasure for people to share
You keep it by letting it go
This was one of the remarkable traits of his life-philosophy. He instilled this extraordinary message of the song into his own philosophy : love is a treasure for people to share.
Translation : M. Jahurul Islam