The Financial Express

Intellectuals' strength, their dishonesty  

Shihab Sarkar   | Published: February 10, 2020 22:21:01 | Updated: February 10, 2020 22:24:32

Intellectuals' strength, their dishonesty   

The nation is set to celebrate in next year the golden jubilee of its independence achieved in 1971. It has passed through lots of phases of jubilation, spasmodic time and impasses; to find it later engaged in the long-overdue socio-economic march. Unfortunately, few in the nation have bothered to take a deep look at its intellectual mess-up.

For a middle-income aspirant country like Bangladesh, intellectual health and continuous progress of thoughts are a sine qua non. They are a national imperative, thanks to the fact of this land being rich with its legacy of intellectual activism. This tradition dates back to the 1940s-'50s, when the impact of this intellectual movement to liberate besieged thoughts, in fact a free thinking movement, could also be felt strongly. In Bengali the movement was called 'Buddhimuktir Andolon'. It had formally continued from 1926 to 1938, the Dhaka University being its centre.

The watershed movement was, in fact, a renaissance of sorts. It called for rationality against obscurantism and blind allegiance to dogmas, especially in the Bengali Muslim society. In the beginning, the movement was spearheaded by the young intellectuals and writers in Dhaka. Its founding members included Kazi Abdul Wadud, Abul Fazal, Muhammad Shahidullah, Qazi Motahar Hossain, poet Abdul Quadir et al. To our ill luck, most of the senior vanguards of this intellectual upsurge have long been dead. The number of publications on the movement has also been scanty.

What later appeared to be a great national oversight was the movement's indirect contribution to the early politico-cultural developments in East Bengal. The most notable of them was the Language Movements of 1948 and 1952, the later witnessing the completion of the cycle of the all-out movement for Bangla language. According to a section of researchers, the latent nationalistic spirit behind the 1954 United Front election in East Bengal was also shaped by this intellectual movement. In course of time, the vestiges of this movement had petered out.

The intellectual communities that emerged in independent Bangladesh apparently failed to chart out any definite path. There were several pockets comprising the time's well-known 'progressive' academics, teachers, journalists, scholars, writers, political theorists, and youths with an intellectual bent. Ironically, unlike the 'Buddhimuktir Andolon', most of these intellectual groups were focused on contemporary short-term political issues. None of them bothered to focus on the social and ideological issues. Had these groups been engaged in explaining to the educated masses the need for nationalism-spurred dynamism in the country's formative period, the country could have averted many a political calamity in the later years.

A few, however, could realise the critical role they were to play to help the nation stand on its feet. The others remained busy with seeing their longer-term 'pro-people' political objectives materialise. Amid a series of bloodied political changes, the intellectuals in general remained inactive for a long stretch of time. When they re-emerged, the nation was enjoying the benefits of the renewed journey of democracy. Much of its credit goes to students.

No nation can grow without a vibrant intelligentsia. Apart from the developed countries, many emerging nations, too, have their own groups of intellectuals. The intelligentsia in these countries also faces problems. At times they have to cope with browbeating and veiled threats from their governments. The intellectuals not subscribing to government views on certain national issues find their voice stifled at one stage. In many cases, a confrontational stance ensues on the part of both sides. In the modern times, it's a common scenario in many Third World countries. There is, however, an irony. Not all intellectuals remain strongly committed to their dissenting views. They are often seen being offered different types of benefits by the rulers. It results in their playing dubious and confusing roles during the nations' critical times.

Intellectual dishonesty is a common scourge in the poorer countries, especially which are ruled by autocrats. The rulers do not lose opportunities to purchase the members of the intelligentsia. It's because the intellectuals do not use arms when engaged in a fight with the regimes. But their writings, including statements online, are far more powerful than the traditional weapons. Modern history has seen the downfall of autocratic rulers thanks to anti-regime prolonged fights mainly spearheaded by intellectuals.

Bangladesh has also seen the power of its writers, journalists, essayists and others during its pre-independence street moments -- and, of course, during the 1971 Liberation War. Unlike many developing countries, Bangladesh has been blessed with unwavering and strong intellectual groups in different periods. Besides direct political issues, these groups also took up social anomalies and persecutions as their subjects of protest. As seen elsewhere in the world, the dissident intellectuals in the country are often seen joining the activists dealing with myriad topics. Those range from human rights to women's emancipation; child oppression to environmental protection. These joint movements, however, run the risk of one being overlapped with the other. In this confused state, provocateurs look for opportunities to infiltrate the otherwise well-meaning movements. At times, die-hard anti-government elements are allegedly engaged in machinations to misdirect a non-political movement into a senseless agitation.

Intellectuals in the truly advanced countries cannot be purchased, nor is the intelligentsia gullible to be blessed with different types of government patronage. In extreme situations, the voices of conscience undergo persecutions, unnecessary restrictions and surveillance.

In a lot of middle-income countries, the dissidents face house arrests, detention and, even, jail terms under repressive Acts. True intellectuals defy these hurdles. A dissident in India's Manipur state -- Irom Sharmila went on a hunger strike for 16 years, ending her protest in 2016. Two Myanmar journalists did not budge after their condemnation of Rohingya persecution perpetrated by the country's military-backed government. They had to remain detained until they were released after intervention by the country's court. To speak in a world perspective, opportunist intellectuals and intellectual dishonesty do great harm to a nation's healthy growth. The fast developing countries ought to be careful about these pseudo-patriots.



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