THE LIBERATION WAR IS NOT OVER
By SERAJUL ISLAM CHOWDHURY
Social inequalities and exploitation that existed in colonial times, persist down till today. Only a dedicated patriotic political force can bring about the social transformation required for true liberation.
There have been many changes in society down the years, but there really hasn’t been any change in the basic social structure. The changes have been in the super structure, not in the main structure. When we talk of changes in the super structure, we can point to economic development, the emergence of towns. The capital has expanded in size, buildings have cropped up all over and employment has been generated. We have increased our exports, there is the readymade garment sector, the building sector, roads have improved. And so on. In the field of education, there was been significant growth, particularly where girls are concerned. There has been tangible participation of women in the economic sector and the various professional fields. In fact, the entire garment industry is dependent on women.
Among all these changes, changes have also taken place in people’s cultural lives, their cultural outlook. There is the palpable presence of globalization.
However, what I want to point out is that there hasn’t been any change in the basic social structure. It is just the same as it had been during the British rule and Pakistan times. The inequality, exploitation and insecurity still prevail. The changes have been on the surface.
The British left and we were independent. This became Pakistan. Pakistan left and we became independent again. This has merely been a transfer of power. The British left, transferring their power to Pakistan. The Pakistanis left, transferring power to us. Even though the 1947 independence from the British was through riots and the 1971 independence from Pakistan was through the Liberation War, these were transfers of power.
The British transferred power to the Pakistani bourgeoisie, the civil and military bureaucrats and the landed gentry. They exploited East Pakistan and then there was a conflict between them and the rising bourgeoisie of East Pakistan. Previously, during the British rule, the struggle was between the Hindu established middle class and the Muslim rising middle class. Then again there was a conflict between the established and exploitative Pakistani ruling class, and the rising middle class of East Bengal.During all these conflicts, the people’s expectations had been the same. They wanted change in the social system. The state protects the interests of society and so there needed to be a change of state in there interests of social change. There was to be change in society, where people would achieve economic freedom, equality in social life, equality in rights and privileges, where elected representatives would rule. The bottom line was that the inequalities between the rich and the poor would be removed.
These inequalities existed during the British rule. Class distinction prevailed. This was not removed with the emergence of Pakistan. The contradictions and antagonism between the rising middle class and the Pakistani ruling class ultimately led to an irreconcilable conflict. The people joined this with expectations of a social revolution.At the upper level the middle class expected that their power and privilege would increase. The people had expected that they would be emancipated through a social revolution. During the British rule too there had been expectations of a social revolution. The same expectations of a social revolution existed during Pakistan Times.
The state principles that emerged through the Liberation War of 1971 had not been worked out before. The movement had begun for self-determination; an independent state hadn’t been thought of then. It had been thought that power would come to East Pakistan; it hadn’t initially been thought that East Pakistan would be an independent state. This wasn’t even included in the six points. The six points were based on the Lahore Resolution where there would be two states – West Pakistan and East Pakistan.
However, after the 1969 movement and the 1970 election, the movement was no longer restricted to the six points. It all came down to one point and that was liberation. Liberation has much broader connotations than independence. It means social revolution. If we look at the state principles which were determined in the Constitution, we will see that there was nationalism. This was Bengali nationalism, discarding Pakistani nationalism. Secondly, there was secularism. There was democracy, socialism. They were all agenda of social revolution. The objective was social revolution.
The middle class were supportive of this, feeling this was what they wanted too. The collective dream as embodied in the principles of the state, the aspirations of the people, was social revolution. But that social revolution did not take place. After Bangladesh became independent, personal dreams become more important. The ruling class which emerged came forward in different names — Awami League, BNP, Jatiya Party, sometimes Martial Law. These are all of the same class. They all focus in keeping power with their respective selves. The conflict among them is over division of power. This is the political conflict which prevails in our country. None of the major political parties took up the agenda of social revolution.
The agenda of social revolution has been forgotten over time. It has been forsaken. These were dropped from the state principles. Socialism has been dropped. There is no practice of democracy. Secularism had been dropped too. The old society still continues.
We see development super structure of Bangladesh. We speak of economic advancement. But within this, inequalities are widening. Inequalities are growing along with advancement. This basic problem of inequality is the class division which prevails on. This was there in the British times, in Pakistan times and is still here, but the gap between the rich and the poor has widened further.
In this wide gap between the rich and the poor, the poor cannot go anywhere near power. The state doesn’t belong to the public; the state belongs to the ruling class.
Within all of this, we see a tremendous development among women.
They have advanced in education, in professions, in the economy, in the army, everywhere. However, there freedom of movement hasn’t improved; their security hasn’t improved. Violence against women prevails in their work, in society and at a domestic level. The inequality between men and women hasn’t lessened. It may seem to have lessened to the apparent eye, but it still persists. Women are doubly deprived. They are deprived on one hand because of the class, and on another hand because they are women. Education was spread, but we had not expected these three systems of education. This was there during the British times and Pakistan times, but this division has widened more than ever before.
Education has many roles in society. One role is that education unites the nation. It unites the people. But in our educational system, education is creating social divisions. These three systems uphold a class division. There is English education for the rich; Bengali mainstream for the middle class; and madrassa for the poor. So as education spreads, the social gulf widens too.
Then, a sense of despair has increased among the people. They feel no change will ever take place. And this despair is being manifest in various symptoms. There is drug addiction. This is a manifestation of despair. There hasn’t been adequate generation of employment in proportion to the increase of population. The unemployed youth becomes a drug addict. Or he becomes a militant out of frustration and despair, seeing no hope other than perhaps reaping rewards in the after life.
So we are at a social point where there is no security, no hope ahead of us and where alienation has grown between people. This is alienation between the classes, the rich and poor, and also within the classes.
Today everyone thinks of themselves. That collective dream of liberation, of emancipation, has been shattered. Now there are personal dreams of personal advancement, personal prosperity. This is a capitalist ideology and a capitalist system. The system we are in was created during the British period, continued during the Pakistan period and is still in place. This is the bureaucratic capitalist system. Bureaucracy dominates. Even the politicians act like bureaucrats. Real power remains with the bureaucrats. It had been unimaginable that there would ever be military rule after the independence of Bangladesh, but it took place. There is civil-military bureaucracy that rules. We saw this during the last caretaker government.
The bureaucratic structure of state, capitalist economy and capitalist ideology prevails. Capitalist ideology propagates the idea of personal profit. A person will only been concerned about his personal profit. This goes against patriotism. The patriotic tendency that had developed, which reached a climax in 1971, has now declined.
Capitalism, with its ideology of personal gain, has won. We see the criteria of personal gain prevalent everywhere. Again, as a result of globalization, our markets are flooded with foreign commodities. We are exporting a small amount of pharmaceutical products. We export garments, though a lot of the materials come from outside. We export people. We cannot generate employment here. None of our governments could generate employment. Then the scams and chaos of the share market, the exploitation of the people, is capitalist exploitation. People with money dominate the capital market. And as people have no place for investment, they buy shares. No environment of investment has been created in the country. One reason is that bureaucracy doesn’t encourage this. Secondly, there is no proper development of infrastructure, electricity and transport. Thirdly, there is no social security. That is why investment hasn’t increased.
We have no developed any social awareness about our resources, how to protect our natural resources. The movement that was required to protect our natural resources hasn’t taken place because the ruling class is not patriotic. They are handing over our natural resources to foreign hands and thinking of their personal interests. The sea is a massive source of wealth for us. We have totally ignored our sea. We have neither explored not used the resources of our sea. We haven’t even been able to demarcate our seas boundaries. All this is typical of the ruling class. They are busy with their personal profits, not with national profit.
So we see the decline of patriotism in this society, along with social inequality. Patriotism in decreasing in direct proportion to the increase of social inequality. Those who are becoming rich are not patriotic. They see no future in this country and make all their investments abroad. Their children live abroad. The fact that they send their children abroad, that their children are growing up abroad, is symptomatic of their trust in the future of the country. They are the rich people of the ruling class. If they think the country has no future, then the country has no future.
What we need is a social change, social transformation and so patriotic people need to be united. They must be united for this social transformation. Intellectually advanced patriotic people must come forward. If they join hands with the common people, we will see a movement like we saw in ’71. Liberation hasn’t taken place in the true sense of the word; the Liberation War is not over. It is continuing in some form or the other. It must be strengthened, consolidated, widened, deepened by the patriotic people. This cannot be done by the ruling class. The patriotic elements within the ruling class will come forward if such a political force emerges in the country, a political force that will look after the interests of the country, that will protect the wealth of the country, that will generate employment, that will do away with the inequalities within the country. Such a political force can take us to the position of dignity and honor we had reached in 1971. If not, there will be a decline. Nothing remains static.
There is also need for a cultural movement to generate awareness. The cultural movement is in private hands; it needs to be a collective cultural movement. Media can play a role in this regard. It can create an awareness of social transformation.
SERAJUL ISLAM CHOWDHURY, Emeritus Professor, Dhaka University
July 27, 2011