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    In search of roots in Bangladesh, discovered leaves

    Dr Avishek Biswas

    ANN/DAILY STAR – Maniruddin Chowdhury and Ratan Bhowmick were close friends. During the turbulence of 1970, Ratan moved to India with his family.

    Maniruddin, meanwhile, fought in the Liberation war of Bangladesh. Ratan’s family lived in Uttarpara of West Bengal. After many years, Maniruddin went to Uttarpara, sat on the verandah of Ratan’s house, and wanted to see his ‘mashima’ (aunt). Ratan’s sister said that their mother had died.

    This made Maniruddin weep uncontrollably. Maniruddin and Ratan’s mother shared a mother-son like relationship. Ratan’s nephew Shekhar Bhowmick narrated this story when he came to know about my proposed tour to Bangladesh.

    Despite our shared history and culture, we are divided by a border. Bangladesh is a foreign country on paper, despite the fact that I have often travelled here on the wings of stories heard in my childhood. The lullaby tales of my East Bengali grandparents were not just imagined stories. They were tales of communal riots and harmony, unbridled hatred and love. I had grown up with the mental landscapes of Jashore, Noakhali, Cumilla, Dhaka and many such places of today’s Bangladesh. My first in-person trip to these places took me to my roots. And in search of my roots, I discovered so many unseen leaves.

    I was somewhat disgruntled with what happened in Bangladesh during Durga Puja last year. This was certainly not what Bangabandhu’s Bangladesh was meant to be. This certainly didn’t look like the country which sang in 1971 – ‘Bir Bangali Austro Dhoro, Bangladesh Shadhin koro…’. Last year’s violence looked alien for Bangladesh, which formed a constitution in 1972 on the principles of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism. Last year looked alien for a Bangladesh where valiant women like Ashalota Sen, Begum Sufia Kamal, Sanjeeda Khatun, Nilima Ibrahim and Motia Chowdhury didn’t hesitate to put their lives in peril for a secular nation. However, after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh had witnessed some tumultuous political regimes intermittently. Whether it is the military-civil regime under Ziaur Rahman from 1975 to 1981 or the post-poll violence on minority Hindus in 2001, Mujib’s dream has been attacked time and again.

    A week-long stay in Bangladesh has enriched me as a researcher because it has taught me to explore beyond mere data. This trip has shown me that once a great soul and leader of a nation plants the seed of secularism, it will keep germinating time and again. As I travelled through districts like Dhaka, Noakhali, Gopalganj, Chattogram and Barishal, I have often seen glimmers of hope. I have seen hope in the form of young Muslim college students visiting Ramana Kalibari of Dhaka. I have seen hope when local Awami League councilor assured the Dhakeshwari Puja Committee of a Durga Puja free from the shadows of 2021 violence.

    What surprised me most during the entire trip is how a little village of Barishal has remembered the dalit leader and the first law minister of Pakistan, Jogendranath Mondal. Jogendranath resigned from office in 1950 because of the repression of minorities in Pakistan. But his village still remembers him. The villagers have formed a committee in memory of Jogen Mondal. The committee, mostly comprised of Muslim members, still believes in the teachings of Jogendranath and hopes to nurture Hindu-Muslim unity. My visit to Orakandi in Gopalganj has shown me another Bangladesh where thousands visit during Baruni Mela.

    But, miles to go before Bangladesh feels content. I have also felt a sense of fundamentalism hovering around the secular air of the country. The evil forces that killed Bangabandhu along with most of his family members on that ominous night in 1975 is still trying to raise its head. The country has to take up the unfinished task of ensuring a homeland for Hindus where they feel safe, irrespective of the politics. Today’s Bangladesh wants to spread the message, ‘Dharma jaar jaar, utshab shobar”. And only by spreading this message, Bangladesh can fearlessly resonate Tagore’s song, Amar shonar Bangla, ami tomaye bhalobasi, which was selected by the government-in-exile in 1971.

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