Independence is the most glorious and prized possession of a nation for which people wage war and make supreme sacrifice to achieve it defeating the enemy forces, as did the freedom fighters of Bangladesh. In our case the Liberation War was at the outset fundamentally a democratic struggle to establish equal political, economic, social and civil rights of the masses.
As we reflect in retrospect on the 47th birthday of the nation, it is most deplorable that credible free and fair Parliamentary elections and democratic norms have been virtually banished. There is no possibility of credible free and fair Parliamentary election under the AL government, which fears that the AL has no chance of winning, if it is conducted/held under an interim nonpartisan administration.
The country has degenerated into a terrifying place for citizens in general (who do not acquiesce in or toe the ruling AL line) and the main opposition BNP leaders and workers in particular, because the AL government—-which has politicised the bureaucracy and law enforcement agencies—-is denying them any political space in the environment of State terrorism. Headlined “Five years of AL rule: 764 extrajudicial killings, 111 disappearances,” the human rights watchdog Odhikar in its annual report for 2013 said that frequent incidents of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances demonstrated deterioration of rights situation in the country. [Vide the daily New Age of April 17, 2014.]
The AL government has shut down Channel One TV, Diganta TV, banned leading Bengali opposition daily Amar Desh and imprisoned its editor Mahmudur Rahman for a long time. In long 5 years the Police and RAB have miserably failed to nab the killers of the journalist couple Sagor and Runi, who were murdered in their apartment in mysterious circumstances on 11 February 2012.
Amnesia manifests itself in memory lapse, but brazen historical amnesia has grave negative effect on the posterity. While joining the nation in offering homage to the freedom fighters, we disapprove of the blatant distortion of the history of our Liberation War which has been politicised, blatantly warping the events of the de facto zero hour through the declaration of Independence on behalf of Bangabandhu by Zia over the radio that was hailed by Sector Commanders and others involved in the war. Even the nation’s architect, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his lifetime never disputed the matter.
The AL leaders vehemently underestimate Zia’s act of valour at the onset of the Pakistani military junta’s Operation Searchlight genocide and the catastrophic war by trumping up skewed cock-and-bull story. No, it was not his spur–of–the–moment decision to revolt. In the evening of 21 March 1971, when Zia called on Brigadier M R Majumdar, then the senior most Bangalee army officer, they were on tenterhooks apprehending the worst. Major Zia told him,“It seems the situation is very grave. We will have to do something”. In reply Brig. Majumdar told Zia, “It will not be proper to do anything without Bangabandhu’s permission”. [Vide Prothom Alo, 22 March 2014].
On the eve of the Independence Day, it is pertinent to relate the emergence of revolutionary social-democrat Moulana Bhashani, the most dynamic, vigorous and venerated statesman of his time, who created the Awami League (AL) in June 1949—-the first opposition political party of Pakistan—-when even mild criticism of the ruling Muslim League was considered sacrilege. Execrably enough, the Awami League leaders are conveniently oblivious of the founding father of their party. While Sheikh Mujib gave his historic speech on 7 March, Bhashani, his superior and mentor, at a public meeting at Paltan maidan on 9 March 1971 articulated in unequivocal terms that “Bangladesh is a free and sovereign country from today—-Lakum dinukum walyadin. Pakistan is no longer a One State now. Mujib has come back home; O people, trust him.” [Vide ‘Ekattarer Dhaka’, Selina Hossain and Ekattarer Dosh Mash, Rabindranath Trivedi, as quoted in the daily Naya Diganta dated 9 March 2017.]
Further back, Sylhet could not be a part of Bangladesh without Bhashani who led a tenacious public opinion building campaign to motivate the populace of Sylhet in favour of joining the then East Pakistan with an iron fist in a velvet glove. As the President of Assam Muslim League (ML), Bhashani made it possible and the 1946 plebiscite on Sylhet was a resounding victory.
Always at the forefront of all progressive causes including the 1952 Bangla Language Movement, in 1957, the Maulana said goodbye [‘walaikum salam’] to Pakistan at Kagmari Conference signalling his intent to part ways because of difference of opinion. There he publicly censured Suhrawardy for his pro-American standpoint, quit the AL and launched another party—-the NAP.
Eminent journalist A B M Musa was an Awami League MP of the first Parliament in March 1973. In his memoir the veteran journalist ruefully laments that “if there were no Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani (1880 - 1976)”, a man of steel, “there would not be Awami League; Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (1892 - 1963) wouldn’t have migrated from Calcutta to Dhaka; and “there would not be Bangladesh under the able leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman”.
In the article, “Moulana O Tar Mijibur” published in his “Mujib Bhai” in 2012, Musa recounts the suffocating atmosphere after the arrest of Sheikh Mujib in the Agartala Conspiracy Case. “Sheikh Mujib said to journalist Ataus Samad to tell Bhashani to “launch movement for Mujib’s release.” The message was duly conveyed to the Moulana; and on the following day the Moulana set in motion a vigorous movement to free Mujib at a mammoth public meeting in Dhaka, which conspicuously bolstered the students’ movement. In no time the Agartala case was scuttled and Sheikh Mujib was released.
The rest is history: Genocide of unarmed masses perpetrated by the Pakistani military junta, the Liberation War and Independece won with the active cooperation of India.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain
The United States of America which did not support aspiration of the people of erstwhile East Pakistan for independence in 1971, accorded recognition of independent Bangladesh on 4 April of 1972 following withdrawal of Indian troops from the soil of Bangladesh. In his letter President Richard Nixon did not regret in supporting Pakistan. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in August 1972 bilateral relations have been developing in depth and dimension despite occasional twists and turns.
The Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came out with a statement following recognition by the United States by saying: “the recognition would open up a new chapter in the development of friendly cooperation and understanding between the United States and Bangladesh for mutual benefit of our two peoples” in spite of the fact that Nixon administration of the United States totally sided with Pakistan’s President Gen. Yahya Khan during nine months war of liberation.
Turn of events
The statement by the Bangladesh Prime Minister was unusual and in a way reflected the amount of importance he attached to the relations with United States. It was followed by a bilateral agreement signed in Dhaka on 30 May of 1972 between Bangladesh and the United States. The United States provided $90 million as a grant. This was the turning point for development of bilateral relations.
In spite of objection by hard core Awami Leaguer led by Mr. Tajuddin Ahmed, the unsung hero during war of liberation of Bangladesh in exile, the Prime Minister of independent Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman accepted foreign aid from the United States when Soviet Union did not come forward to assist the war ravaged Bangladesh having visited Moscow at the earliest opportunity from 1 –3 March of 1972 to express deep gratitude to the Russian people for their support.
Ironically, Soviet Union assisted freedom fighters along with India to liberate Bangladesh from clutches of Pakistan army but Moscow’s recognition did not come immediately. Soviet Union gave recognition on 25 January of 1972. Soviet Union of course helped Bangladesh in cleaning Chittagong port from mines and wrecked ships, apart from supply a couple of helicopters.
Bangladesh had been receiving food aid from United States under PL 480, which restricts the recipient county from trading with black-listed countries. Bangladesh, which was desperately in need of hard currency, used to export Jute and Jute goods to Cuba, which had been declared black-listed by the United States. The government of Bangladesh was advised in September of 1974 to cancel further export orders of Jute to Cuba in favour of US food aid.
Food aid & ’74 famine
In this context, Nobel laureate Professor Dr. Amartya Sen pointed out:
“only after Bangladesh gave in and sacrificed its trade with Cuba was the flow of American food resumed.” By that time, the food situation had gone from bad to worse, and the country was affected by a famine of a severe nature. Incidentally, Amartya Sen got Nobel Prize on economy on writing his thesis on famine in Bengal, including Bangladesh. Soviet helicopters were used during famine to supply food in distress districts.
Despite all these development, the government of Bangladesh attached importance to the visit of Dr. Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under US President Gerald Ford—who was the master-mind (under President Nixon in 1970-71) to help Pakistan. Bangladesh was assured of financial assistance by Ford administration to reconstruct the war-ravaged economy of the country. As of now US has provided food aid amounting to $ 4.3 billion to Bangladesh.
Following the changeover in political scenario in Bangladesh, the western countries, including the US showed increasing interest in developing relations with Bangladesh primarily because President Ziaur Rahman’s policy to distance from Pro-Soviet bloc and to introduce multi-party democracy.
The United States has been of great help to Bangladesh in terms of financial assistance in the field of infrastructures in health, education, and energy sectors. Gradually, the US has reduced its assistance. Bangladesh received $ 114 million in aid in 2016 down 89 percent from 2015. Over time, the US became Bangladesh’s largest trading partner. Ready to wear garment has fetched $ 24 billion in export last year though export of the same to US declined last year.
Rana Plaza, GSP facility etc
Companies from the United States have become the largest foreign investors in Bangladesh in energy and natural gas sector. In recent years Obama administration had partnered with Bangladesh addressing in issues of global food security, health care and climate change. In 2012, US established strategic partnership dialogue during the visit of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The Rana Plaza tragedy plus Tanzeen fashion fire have caused serious concern in the US about SafetyNet for work force in garment industry in Bangladesh. In 2007, American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) in a petition alleged a number of workers rights issues in export processing zones, the readymade garment sectors and seafood processing sector which compelled United States Trade Representative to suspend Generalized System of Preference (GSP) for Bangladesh. Till now the facility did not been restored.
Strikes which had begun at Ashulia garment factories on 12 December last year, following which arrest of thousands of workers have caused serious concern in the US Congress. Eleven members of Congress led by Congressman Janie Shakowsky reportedly wrote letter to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh on 23 February of 2017 to intervene to release the Union leaders and workers. RMG sector has become major source income for Bangladesh. Therefore, hardly any need to emphasis in improving working condition and wages of work forces in the Garment industry.
Being a least developed country (LDC), Bangladesh has been deprived of facility offered by Millennium Challenge Corporation program introduced by President George W. Bush in 2003. The countries are selected on the basis of the policies and programs that help the county achieve lasting poverty reduction, economic growth, just and democratic governance, economic freedom and investment in people and elimination of corruption.
HR abuse report
Bangladesh has been deprived from receiving a share of a cake from this millennium challenge corporation’s earmarked $ 2.3 billion because of high rate of corruption despite reduction of poverty and economic development. In its report for 2016 record of Human rights in Bangladesh, the State Department mentioned of extensive impunity of law enforcers misusing power, extrajudicial killings, illegal custody and continuation of abductions in Bangladesh as the Government refrained from taking strong measures against abuses and killings by law enforcement agencies, which the government denied.
Since presidential election in the United States in 2016 political climate has become chaotic and uncertain, government of Bangladesh should consider taking appropriate action for the interest of Bangladesh and its people.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, retired diplomat who writes from Virginia, USA
THE International Women’s Day 2017 was celebrated on March 8. The world of work is changing, with noteworthy implications for womankind. On one hand, technological advances and globalization bring unprecedented opportunities for those who can access them.
According to the the UN Women, the global champion for gender equality, only 50 per cent of working age women are represented in the labour force globally, compared to 76 per cent of men. What’s more, an overwhelming majority of women are in the informal economy, subsidizing care and domestic work, and concentrated in lower-paid, lower-skill occupations with little or no social protection. Achieving According to the UNWOMEN, only 50 per cent of working age women are represented in the labour force globally, compared to 76 per cent of men. Besides, an overwhelming majority of women are in the informal economy, subsidising care and domestic work, and concentrated in lower-paid, lower-skill occupations with little or no social protection. Achieving gender equality in the world of work is imperative for sustainable development. The United Nations calls upon all actors to Step It Up for Gender Equality towards a Planet 50-50 by 2030 by ensuring that the world of work works for all women.
The world of work is changing, with significant implications for women. On one hand, technological advances and globalization bring unprecedented opportunities for those who can access them. On the other hand, there is growing relaxed attitude to labour, income inequality and humanitarian crises.
To construct a different world
UN WOMEN’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on International Women’s Day in her message said, “We want to construct a different world of work for women. As they grow up, girls must be exposed to a broad range of careers, and encouraged to make choices that lead beyond the traditional service and care options to jobs in industry, art, public service, modern agriculture and science...”
According to the United Nations, the idea of the theme of this year’s women’s Day was to consider how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals, especially goal number 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; and number 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. The theme also focuses on new commitments under UN WOMEN’s Step It Up initiative, and other existing commitments on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.
Promoting the need for gender parity, it is equally important for parity between mental and physical health care of girls and women. The gaps that exist in perinatal mental health care would be unacceptable in any other area of maternal and child health, and must be addressed.
Regarding how to ensure women’s good health, to get expert opinion, while contacted, Dr. Shakira Nova, a physician, researcher, and public health specialist in Bangladesh said, “In terms ensuring women’s good health including reproductive health, food security and nutrition, women face and apply many unacceptable superstitions, misinformation due to ignorance, limited mobility and lack of access to correct information from the family members and other sources. Women have less participation in decision-making, and they are familiar with many detrimental practices including early marriage. Certainly it is one kind of cruelty against women and threat to public health.”
So, to ensure increased women labour force, their good health should be the 1st priority, because healthy women can ensure good productivity in their lives for the family and the nation. So, all the local, national and global stakeholders must take women’s health as a priority issue. We need to conduct research, address working areas, challenges, and opportunities to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In terms of women’s education, there are many areas to work on. For example, Masuda was a brilliant student since her childhood. She had a dream to be a self-dependent person. She wanted to be a woman entrepreneur through which she could be able to create employment for other women. She got admission at a reputed private university for BBA degree. But her dream came to an end as she was forced to get married by her family in the middle of her education. Within a few months, she became pregnant and was forced to drop out from her studies by her husband and in-laws. Like Masuda, a large number of girls in Bangladesh are facing this type of problem. Unfortunately many parents think that girls do not need to be educated; they opine that there is no need for women’s education as their lives are to be spent in kitchen by cooking and through rearing children within the house.
During the past forty years, after the independent of Bangladesh, there has been good progress in the sphere of female education, but the rate of higher education of women has not increased satisfactorily. At the same time the dropout rate continuous to be higher in the secondary level, which is around 40 percent. It is observed that this rate is much higher in rural areas. Parents in rural areas with limited ability are much likely to invest in sons than daughters. Other than child marriage, divorce, insolvency of parents, social insecurities like sexual harassment and eve teasing/ stalking are also responsible for dropout of girl students.
Women play a strong role to reach many targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Investing in girls’ or women’s education and higher education help them to be economically, politically and socially empowered. It makes significant changes to establish and ensure women’s equality, their rights to health, education, and to get decent work to survive with dignity. Women’s education is a must to be a developed nation. Equality for women will mean progress for all. It needs to be ensured that every girl or woman enjoys her right to health, education, and decent work in a safe and secure environment.