Effulgent legacy of Ekushey and tainted democracy

Irrefutably unique in the annals of mankind, the campaign for due recognition of our mother tongue Bangla—popularly known as the Ekushey Language Movement 1952—was the prelude to the struggle for the independence of Bangladesh inasmuch as the Ekushey was the spark that ignited the fervent zeal amongst the masses who took up arms against the military junta of Pakistan. Thus began the Liberation War in 1971; our soldiers and freedom fighters fought gallantly to vanquish the enemy troops who surrendered, and this country won victory.
On the 21st of February 1952 multitudes of intrepid students were marching through the streets for the noble cause of the demand for recognition of their beloved mother tongue, whereupon Abul Barkat (1927-1952), a Dhaka University student, was shot dead by police on the campus. Instead of sparking panic, the blood-splattered body of the martyr ignited renewed zeal among the masses throughout the length and breadth of what is now Bangladesh. On the following day martyred Salam, Jabbar, Rafiq and some others dyed the streets red with their blood which eternally spelled the perpetuity of the Bangla Bhasha, recorded in our national history as the “Immortal Ekushey”.
The love and reverence of the people for the martyrs are symbolised in the Shaheed Minar, the monument commemorating our brethren who made that supreme sacrifice. Ekushey conjures up the images of our resplendent, glorious heritage built by our scholars and statesmen. A year ahead of the Great Divide of the Indian subcontinent the eminent bibliophile and polyglot Dr Muhammad Shahidullah was the first to write a comprehensive article in 1946 arguing in favour of Bangla as the sate language of upcoming Pakistan. The linguist sage very cogently argued that the overwhelming majority of the people here spoke Bengali, while the people of Pakistan spoke Punjabi, Baluch, Sindhi and Poshtu—and not Urdu.
The then East Bengal Muslim League (EBML) was a robust political party whose membership rolls exceeded half a million in 1944. With Kamruddin Ahmed as its convenor, the progressive leftist members of the EBML formed in June 1947 a party called Gono Azadi League which affirmed that the Bangla will be the State Language. As its founder general secretary he made this forum instrumental in pioneering the demand for recognition of Bangla as the state language. Amidst processions, picketing and slogans, in 1948 leaders such as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Shawkat Ali, Kazi Golam Mahboob, Shamsul Huq, Oli Ahad, Abdul Wahed and others were arrested. Student leaders, including Abdul Matin and Abdul Malek Ukil took part in the procession and picketing.
Way back in 1948 the Tamaddun Majlish (TM), led by academic Dewan Mohammad Azraf and Abul Quasem, a Physics professor at Dhaka University, spearheaded the cause of Bangla. The TM published its Bangla weekly paper the “Sainik” and issued a booklet entitled “Pakistaner Rashtra Bhasha: Bangla na Urdu?” (Pakistan’s State Language: Bangla or Urdu?). Lawmaker Sri Dhiendranath Datta proposed in Parliament in Karachi that Bangla be a State language of Pakistan.
Thus the lamp continued to gleam its luminescence till the fateful day, 21 February 1952. Eminent writer and editor of the Bengali daily Azad, Abul Kalam Shamsuddin relinquished his position of Member of the Legislative Assembly. President of the Assam Muslim League since the early 1940s, Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani—the founder President of the then Awami League—was then the undisputed leader of what is now Bangladesh. The memories of Moulana Bhashani’s offering of ‘Munajat’ (supplication to Allah soliciting His blessing) at the simple function inaugurating in 1955 the first Shaheed Minar—the monument pn Dhaka dedicated to the Ekushey martyrs—are still fresh in the minds of those who were born in the mid-forties of the past century.
Having such an effulgent legacy of democratic values behind—the edifice of which was built 67 years ago—Bangladesh, after long 48 years of its independence, is facing pungent criticisms at home and abroad because of the state of its questionable governance practice and human rights record.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) observed in 2018 that the authorities failed to hold security forces responsible for serious human rights violations including secret detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings. [hrw.org/ world- report/2018/ country-chapters/ Bangladesh] “Bangladesh security forces—particularly the Detective Branch of the police, Bangladesh Border Guards (BGB), the Directorate General Forces Inspectorate (DGFI), and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)—have a long history of enjoying impunity for serious violations including arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings, a pattern that did not abate in 2017”, HRW said.
Law enforcement authorities continued to arrest opposition activists and militant suspects, holding them in secret detention for long periods before producing some in court. Several others, according to security forces, were killed in “gunfights,” leading to concerns over extrajudicial killings. At the time of writing, scores remained victims of enforced disappearances, the HRW added.
Of late a bipartisan group of six influential US Congressmen has voiced concern over the status of democracy in Bangladesh and called upon the Trump administration to address “threats to democracy” in Bangladesh, says a news report. In a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on 12 February the members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee also highlighted reports of election fraud, rigging and voter suppression over the December 30 polls and urged the Department of State to “take action.”
Meanwhile the United Nations too called for probe into Bangladesh elections on 4 January 2019. Reuters reported that the United Nations called for an independent and impartial investigation into the Dec. 30 election in Bangladesh in which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won amid accusations of violence and voting irregularities. Opponents rejected the election result but Hasina and her Awami League have denied any impropriety. New York-based Human Rights Watch said on 4 January the run-up to the vote was characterized by “violence and intimidation against the opposition … and the misuse of laws to limit free speech.”
It will, therefore, be wise for the incumbents to constitute a judicial inquiry commission headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge and consistent with its recommendations do the needful without delay.

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