For a young nation, celebration of the golden jubilee of its independence with several feathers in its cap is a mighty statement. The Banglalees have proved their worth to be euphoric on this seminal occasion. Fifty years ago, the people decided to part with the Pakistanis who exploited them cruelly and subjected them to one of history's worst carnages by imposing a brutal war. Nine months of war decided its fate in favour of a sovereign and independent nation.
While the nation celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence on a subdued note because of the pandemic, it also remembers the sacrifice, the pain and trauma suffered by generations. It has now so many achievements to its credit unlike the country from which it chose to come out and follow a destiny of its own. Now the question it must ask itself if emancipation of its people has also been on the right course to strike a balance between individual liberty and national progress. This makes it incumbent on the nation to revisit history and arrive at an informed decision about the journey ahead. Only then can it successfully put itself to the litmus test of liberty.
If independence or liberty as an abstract idea is limitless in its range and scope, its direct implication varies from person to person, from one community to another and from nation to nation. A product of the Age of Enlightenment, the concept of liberty, equality and fraternity was the governing motive of the French Revolution. By nature the human species is gregarious but then it is also highly individualistic. Individualism does not necessarily mean selfishness but unfortunately in a highly competitive environment it becomes the prime motive and human civilisations have mostly perished one after another because of the excessive drive of parochialism.
Enlightenment never reached the point from where a truly egalitarian society could be established. Yet the Age of Enlightenment opened the possibility of exploring the uncharted frontiers of human knowledge in every direction possible. Thus was possible the birth of Renaissance man and woman who would catapult the world from orthodoxy and superstitions to modernity by a mighty shove.
While all this was happening in Europe, the rest of the world was caught napping. The old civilisations of Asia, Africa and America were bypassed; rather the raw and adventurous spirit of the new world pushed it to subjugate those parts of the world which were once centuries ahead of Europe. Thus the European enlightenment failed to set the human spirit free; rather it was employed as a tool to capture colonies across other continents.
Ironically, Europe turned to be the hotbed of political conflict on this issue of colonial aspirations and maintenance of supremacy, leading to two World Wars within only 21 years. Even more ironically, the colonies had to be surrendered to their peoples soon after the end of the World War II. This is why liberty or independence does not carry the same meaning to the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, least of all to the original inhabitants of North and Central America and Australia, who were simply exterminated. North America and Australia have been so depopulated to make an inroad for Europen settlers that the original inhabitants are nowhere to challenge their invaders.
It is exactly in this context, this small country's achievement of independence first from the British and then from the Pakistanis is unique. In Europe, the fight was against monarchy then during the great wars, particularly the latter one, against despotism, racial supremacy and bourgeoisie. On this land, the Bangalee people had to fight a most oppressive and cruel military oligarchy to earn their liberty. The legacy continued even in independent Bangladesh.
By this time, though, neo-liberalism, not to mention even ultra-liberalism, has replaced the old orders. But has all this hullaballoo helped establish a new order of economic, social and cultural liberty? Education has been used as a means to advancing self interests and exploiting the underprivileged. Apart from the Nordic peoples, others have miserably failed to address social inequality. Liberalism's mantra was to bury hereditary aristocracy. Now its new versions have also given rise to social divisions, classes and racial and gender disparities.
Caught in the vortex of market economy, Bangladesh has been following the same model and quite naturally the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. In an exploitative system, therefore, there is a dangerous proliferation of frauds. In recent times mind-boggling cases of defrauding innocent and unsuspecting people have become so ubiquitous that fraternity and social contract have become a casualty.
It is exactly where the educated but dishonest, intriguing, unpatriotic and bribe-taking upper crust of society has retrogressed the country's gains. This country deserved better because it has been hallowed by tons of blood of the martyrs. It takes pride in its founding father who dreamt of a country free from exploitation, based on principle of equality, democratic values, secularism and socialism. The nation is miles away from realising those goals set at the time of the country's birth. On the occasion of the golden jubilee of independence, the vow should be to eliminate discriminations and disparities of all forms to establish a really balanced and equitable society.