Amar Sonar Bangla

Editorial: December 2012
Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

If it had not been for the horrific fire in the garment factory near Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, that killed more than 100 workers, many would have wondered why Hardnews chose to do a cover story on our ninth anniversary on our neighbour. In fact, the gruesome death of so many workers—mostly women— working hard to improve their lot and that of their country poses a problem for us as it takes the shine away from our special reports that show Bangladesh is no longer a ‘basket case’. Instead, it has turned into an amazing success story of not just economic survival, but growth too, at a time when stouter economies with seemingly robust ‘fundamentals’ have been collapsing all around. The country has consistently maintained a growth rate of 5 per cent or more all these years despite problems of governance and rampant corruption. Once trade gallops with its giant neighbour, India, and with the rest of South Asia, and river water treaties are inked after surmounting political hurdles, then there could be greater meaning to its national song of Amar Sonar Bangla…

Hope floats due to the ability of Bangladesh to survive after being ravaged by natural calamities bigger than the likes of Katrina or Sandy that have been glamourised and given an anthromorphic spin by the media. Perhaps, handling calamities and rising above personal tragedies comes easy for Bangladeshis.

In 1971, in a midnight swoop on March 26-27, the Pakistani army moved into the Dhaka university campus and committed inhuman atrocities. Thousands of people were killed. Professors, students and other members of the intelligentsia were targetted. Hindus were ethnically cleansed. Women, perhaps, bore the brunt of this aggression that was given an ideological justification enforcing as a perverted view of Islam over the Awami League’s embrace of secularism. Figures pertaining to those who died or of women who were raped are a subject of intellectual scrutiny and speculation, but the truth is that many of the perpetrators have never really been brought to justice even after 40 years of independence. Prominent leaders belonging to Islamic groups like the Jamaat survived the convulsions after independence by sidling up to those who thought that salvation for Bangladesh lay in jettisoning secularism and forging an Islamic identity. The assassination of the father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, by these forces, changed the course of Bangladesh’s history.

Since the return of the Awami League to power in 2008, a serious effort is being made to take the country towards the vision of Mujib Sheikh, which means protecting its plural character and fighting religious extremism. This has meant bringing to book some of those who had opposed the country’s independence and actively collaborated with the Pakistani oppressors. Expectedly, questions are being raised about the long delay in the trial and the way it has been conducted. Some observers see the trial as a political machination of the ruling party to tame the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which has been sustained by the support of religious groups like the Jamaat. Common wisdom in Dhaka suggests that the trial would be fast-tracked and the guilty punished before the 2013 elections to help the Awami League consolidate its hold.

India is also reaching out to the BNP, as the recent fruitful visit of Begum Khaleda Zia to Delhi suggests. It marks a paradigm shift and sends a strong message that productive and friendly ties will lead to a win-win scenario for both countries. Indeed, India’s Delhi-based elite, including the media, needs to realise that we have neighbours other than Pakistan and there is merit in investing in Bangladesh. It is time this beautiful country crafts its great potential and turns all its dreams into reality. 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2012