Amid escalating number of cases of COVID-19, Bangladesh has celebrated the 50th anniversary of independence with 10-day long festivities. On this occasion, today’s youth from different professional and ideological backgrounds reflected on the last decades and talked about their expectation from the country with New Age Youth
Bangladesh is celebrating the 50th anniversary of independence but the young generation today has raised the question whether people in the country really become liberated after 50 years of the country’s independence.
In October 2018, immediately after the Digital Security Act was enacted, New Age Youth published a story where youths expressed their frustration with the law as it could affect their freedom of expression. Today, in 2021, on the eve of the golden jubilee celebration, the youths from different sectors mark how the DSA has wiped out the freedom of expression. Marking the 50th anniversary of independence, youths have also indicated that the spirit of 1971 — equality, social justice, and human dignity — is still a far cry.
Abdullah Al Muktadir
Poet and writer
WRITERS in this country have never enjoyed complete freedom in expressing their thoughts. In the five decades since 1971, writers were more or less subdued and exploited by the state, or I should rather say, by the political parties in power.
Bangladeshi literature is undoubtedly going through a dark age. Unfortunate but true, the writers themselves have contributed a lot to the scenario. Many previous generation writers — renowned, awarded, and popular — lack courage.
Young writers are confused and ‘comfortably numb’. The worst example is — the death of a writer in custody that has failed to stir our senses. It seems we are thinking the idea of ‘freedom of expression’ as obscure and less necessary. So the burning question is — does the present-day writers of this country feel the necessity to be free?
Unlike other modern states, ours’ shows very little concern for the co-existence of multiple narratives, free and vibrant expressions. Socio-cultural extremism — religious and political — has always been a threat to the creative writers and artists. The Digital Security Act 2018 has increased their vulnerability to a serious extent.
While celebrating the 50th anniversary of independence, we are more and more escaping from what we have learnt from our liberation war. Fear is never an enemy for writers. It is okay to be afraid as long as they can, at least metaphorically, express who or what frightens them.
General secretary of Bangladesh Garo Students’ Organisation
EVEN after 50 years of independence, the rights of the ethnic minority communities of plain lands have not been ensured and they are being exploited. These people are facing various problems, including, lack of education and healthcare facilities.
The government is depending on development narrative but instead of getting contextualised-development, ethnic minority communities are being evicted by the powerful. The forest department is destroying natural forests and building guest houses on our lands and on the old cemeteries of the ethnic minority communities. The ethnic minority communities of Madhupur are in fear of eviction.
During the coronavirus pandemic, in September last year, crops of Basanti Rema were destroyed. Shondha Rani Barman of Ghatail in Tangail was tied to a tree and brutally tortured. In Sylhet, the Khasi people were evicted from their lands and their houses were also vandalised. Land grabbing from the ethnic minority communities in North Bengal is also going on and women of these communities were raped and killed but justice was not served. The criminals who were involved in setting fire to the houses at Bagda farm area in Gaibandha and killing three minority people are not brought under justice till today.
From my observation, the state is silent about the rights of the ethnic minority communities of plain lands.
Staff reporter at GTV
BEING a young journalist building my career in TV journalism had several obstacles; especially, within that space where our senior journalists have already made the field difficult to work independently. They made such an affiliation with political parties that we have to face an immense level of pressure to ensure minimal equity of information.
The Digital Security Act, political influence, job security, and lack of professionalism are among the causes that make journalism difficult here. In Bangladesh, we never had an environment for journalistic objectivity and the DSA has shrunken the space. Journalists experienced that the act is used as a weapon against them and it also swallowed the ground for investigative journalism.
Businessmen on political consideration get licenses to operate media houses which in a way make the journalists to serve the interest of the power quarters ignoring the interests of the mass people. Moreover, job security and inadequate wage of journalists are other crucial issues for their survival and work quality.
If the mentioned issues are not addressed, journalistic professionalism and the freedom of the press could not be ensured. Passionate young journalists might join the media houses but will change their professions for such environment. The concept of independence has already faded in the country while it is celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence. But, I have dreams about the freedom of the press overcoming this authoritarian era. I would dream of a state where it will take the responsibility of protecting the dissenting opinions; even if that opinion goes against the image of the supreme authority.
Young farmer and agriculturalist
THE sufferings and struggles of the farmers are not something new in this country. They have not got the benefits of independence yet. They thought that the independence might be for all but it was for a few. Their fights for survival have not ended yet. Exploitation of their labour has not decreased in the last 50 years and they have become more marginalised.
Before the independence, the Zamindars and the British exploited the labour of the farmers but now, the corporations and the middlemen are exploiting them. Actually, the exploitation has changed its form but never stopped and their lives have not improved. It should be the farmers who will control the whole agricultural chain including the supply chain but the farmers are systematically kept away. As a result, the peasants have to depend on the company and the middlemen which is one of the main obstacles in getting fair prices of their crops and labour.
In an independent country, farmers need to become independent but they have to depend on several factors, such as the market, the ways of cultivation, seeds’ availability, the price of the seeds and so on. The farmers are made and kept dependent as they could not take decisions like, what to cultivate, how to cultivate, where to sell the crops and also the price of the crops.
From today’s development discourse one can say that the agriculture sector has developed much but in reality, the lives of the farmers have not improved, moreover, it has deteriorated.
President of the Students’ Federation of Bangladesh
THE country that became independent through resistance is now experiencing restrictions on political activities during the golden jubilee of independence. In the name of development and digital security, the government is marginalising the people. Leaders and activists of the opposition parties are being harassed and arrested on false charges. Moreover, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances are also on the scene.
In most of the movements in Bangladesh including independence, students had a glorious role throughout the history. But the colonial education system is still running and students and student-leaders are being arrested for demanding their rights.
Now, the ruling party is celebrating 50 years of independence keeping the mass people isolated. As a young student leader, I think, 50 years have passed since the independence but the democratic rights of the people have not been established and people are living under a fascist regime. The spirit of 1971 was equality, social justice, and human dignity but it is still a far cry after 50 years of independence.
Horendro Nath Singh
Coordinator of Madal
THOUGH Bangladesh is celebrating 50 years of independence but we are still deprived of the benefits of the independence. We do not have freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and even the right to choose our identity. For example, we like to identify ourselves as indigenous people but the government passed a law saying that indigenous will be known as ethnic minority community.
As an artist, I performed in local and international events here but could not get an adequate honorarium anywhere. We see many NGOs organise big events but they do not consider paying the performers handsomely. Sometimes we are remunerated with such a little amount that it becomes a matter of shame to share it among the artists.
Not only the remuneration, but there are layers of obstacles to practice art in this country. To organise any cultural event, we will need permission from the security forces. Without their permission, no event can be organised. Though in religious events, preachers hurt the feelings of another religion but no case has been filed against them. But cases are filed against the artists for their performances.
I was also attacked at Rajshahi University in my student days for a drama performance. We still see Baul artists are harassed or assaulted for their performances.
Finally, I would like to say that the artists who played a leading role in the war of independence, are neglected now. This is not a good sign for this country and after all, freedom is very important for artists.
Cartoonist, illustrator, and comic book artist
FIRST of all, my words will be from the perspective of a non-professional political cartoonist. I create and share political cartoons on social media out of passion.
Cartoonists have always experienced limited artistic freedom here in some form or other. One of the causes to point out is the stagnancy of the political situation in the country. Another reason is the Digital Security Act. But the limitation I face mostly is from my own — self-censorship. I believe this is the worst kind of limitation for which I am not allowing myself to create something with complete freedom.
But I also believe that cartoonists will always find a way to express themselves. We have some tricks; even if there are restrictions we have our wit, ideas and symbolism to publish the cartoons without breaking the imposed rules and laws but twisting them a bit. And I think when power quarters want to limit our voices that are the times we all need to make cartoons the most.
I will not say that I am in a constant fear of getting jailed or being tortured for my cartoons but I can feel an ambience of uneasiness which means that the environment of freedom could have been better after 50 years of independence.
Reng Young Mro
Student of Jahangirnagar University
WE ARE wondering that in these 50 years of independence what could have happened to the marginalised people and all the ethnic communities of Bangladesh. I think there is still a long way to go for the implementation of the principles that made the country independent.
The state is in the weakest position in establishing and protecting the rights of the Chittagong Hill Tracts people. State policymaking for the livelihood and rights of CHT people has been seen as exploitative. As a result, human rights violations such as eviction, land grabbing, communal violence, rape et cetera have become common in these years. Ethnic minority communities have become more marginalised in terms of basic rights. Ethnic lands have been grabbed in the name of eco-parks and tourism by companies and institutions. Many ethnic minority families left the country in silence for not being able to hold their grounds.
The CHT Peace Accord was signed in 1997 which was a political agreement to ensure the rights of CHT people. But in the last 24 years, the agreement has not been fully implemented showing the lack of good intention of the state to ensure our rights. The formation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission and implementation of the law to solve the land issues has seen no progress. As a result, lands are being grabbed in Chimbuk, Sajek, Naitang hills for tourism.
As a young member of the CHT ethnic community, we want a non-communal and plural country. Only if the state has well intention to solve the CHT issues, our rights can be ensured.
President of Sachetan Hijra Adhikar Songho
IN THIS society, we, the hijras, have no rights. We are ignored and neglected as human beings. Some people are spreading confusions, some are making benefits by presenting us as products but we are left behind as always.
People in this country have fought for language and independence but we are speechless and where is our freedom? In 2013 we were recognised as the third gender by the government but it remains on paper. Though it is said that every sector in this country has developed we are still outside of the safety net. The hijra children are deprived of their father’s property and doctors ignore us to provide treatment. We are harassed in academic institutions and we have no access to the prayer places. Where is our freedom when our family members become ashamed to recognise us?
The government and some non-governmental organisations have taken some initiatives for us but those are very inadequate. Though some hijras are rehabilitated but most of us are outside of the facilities.
If someone overcomes the barriers, people start talking about whether the person is hijra or transgender or intersexual. I think most of those people do not have clear ideas about hijra. Before talking about us, they should know us. But where are the intellectuals and civil society? Don’t they have anything to say for us?
As a member of the hijra community, I urge the government to do something fruitful for us and also urge some people not to use us to make their profit.
Research specialist at Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services
ONE aspect of the criminal justice system that is seldom discussed is the crucial role that public prosecutors play in ensuring the success of a criminal case. Yet there is very little by way of transparency as to how public prosecutors are appointed, and how, if at all, they are held account. I think it is also quite essential to discuss the 50th anniversary of our country in light of our expected graduation from the Least Developed Countries category and our earlier transition into a middle-income country. Therefore, I must also inquire about the pay scale of public prosecutors and judges (especially at the lower court level), and ask ourselves whether this scale is acceptable in a middle-income country.
We often pride ourselves on the ‘miraculous’ economic growth our country has seen, yet what portion of the hard-earned GDP is invested in the judicial sector? Many of our laws prescribe time limits within which cases have to be disposed of — yet these time limits usually remain imaginary because of the sheer backlog of cases overwhelming the entire court structure. We must reinvest a respectable proportion of the GDP into strengthening our judiciary, so, for instance, the number of judges and courts per capita of the population receives a much-needed increase.
We must also digitalise all court records so the progress of every case (or lack thereof) is readily accessible for the public to scrutinise and does not have to be the subject of investigative journalism. A digital Bangladesh should also strive to be a transparent Bangladesh.
Tarek Aziz Bappi
Student of the University of Dhaka
ON THE eve of the golden jubilee of Bangladesh, it is an utter regret that the right to quality education is yet to be ensured. The education sector is one of the most neglected sectors here though it is the backbone of the nation. It seems the regimes have intentionally broken the backbone. The state has failed to ensure the right to quality education. During the 50 years of independence, we barely got any education-friendly regime or authority that worked for ensuring quality education.
There is no healthy environment for education in public universities for the power quarters’ interventions and unhealthy political practices. Moreover, the increased number of private universities is making education a capitalist venture. In the higher secondary, secondary, and primary levels, quality teachers are not being recruited and even they are not being trained enough.
Lastly, the government’s failure and the mismanagement in the education sector have once again visible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsidies and also a robust plan to arrange online education for all is absent to rescue the education sector. The budget for the education sector is low as always. Overall, the country’s education system has become a mess. The authority’s intention in one sentence would be — they do not care about us.
Researcher, founder, and director of Kotha
A COUNTRY cannot achieve gender equality if it cannot ensure a violence free atmosphere for its citizens, especially women and gender diverse people. Over the last 50 years, we have seen that the state prioritises some issues related to gender equality when it is connected to other development or national goals — such as primary education for girls and access to family planning. Family planning was prioritised not from a women’s empowerment angle but to meet goals for population control.
However, on gender-based violence, the authorities’ role has been quite a weak one. Last year, we saw nationwide anti-rape protests in response to a case of gang rape by the people with political affiliation. Alongside demands to protect our families and society at large, there were specific demands made to the state. Instead of law reforms and structural changes suggested by rights activists and experts, the government brought back the death penalty for rape. This was a way to avoid taking accountability for the existing rape culture which in many ways is supported by the state.
The sense of impunity that criminals feel, especially those with political affiliation has directly meant more violence to women and gender diverse people. From the number of horrific cases reported in the first three months of 2021, we see that the introduction of the death penalty was not effective. If the state wants to save its citizens from gender-based violence, it needs to show the intention.
Lastly, the fight for gender equality does not and cannot exist in a vacuum. At the core of it — it is a fight for fundamental rights — of choice, of freedom, of mobility, of the ability to question the power. These elements are at the core of the feminist fights and are also at the core of the fight for democracy. Without a democratic state and a democratic environment, women and gender diverse people can’t question power, push for accountability and pursue justice.
FIFTY years ago filmmakers were more independent. At that time, the filmmakers felt the necessity of becoming independent in their mind and they were politically aware. As a result, they dared to mock the ruling class or the power quarters. But, after 50 years, most filmmakers become deliberately politically indifferent which is another form of politics. It makes the filmmakers’ mind submissive.
As a consequence, filmmakers forget their strength — the film and also forget to portray the harsh realities of society through their creative works. If filmmakers do not know to analyse a subject politically, we cannot expect a political or critical film to be made.
Now, let’s talk about the censor board. What is the point of this censor board in 2021? Though the porn sites are closed to access in the country but has porn consumption decreased? Instead, people learned how to by-pass. Once people learn to dodge, much more can happen now. Authorities could not impose restrictions at all. Now, it is time to go out from such restricted zones. Otherwise, we might miss the train.
Authorities can start a grading system for filtering and people will watch films according to the grades they want to watch. But why such restrictions? There was a censor board during the Pakistan period and it is still here today. So, did the filmmakers get the benefits of independence? Moreover, not only in the film industry but also in any form of art, freedom cannot exist if there are laws like the Digital Security Act and the misuses of the law.
Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team.