[Robin Milford, Bangladesh.]
My memories of December 16 go back to 1990. It was the time when HM Ershad had just stepped down and the first caretaker government, led by Justice Shahbuddin Ahmed, was in charge. The people of Bangladesh were beaming with new hopes, the hope for a democracy, the hope for a society devoid of any injustice and inequality forever, the same hopes that drove our liberation struggle but were not realized after we earned our freedom. The level of optimism was simply stupendous, enough to stir the minds of millions of school going children like myself.
On that day, I went to the Shaheed Minar along with my father, a freedom fighter. I saw thousands of people getting ready for a victory rally. There were colours all around, colours of the sarees and punjabis, colours of Bangladeshi flags waving all around. Drums began beating and the rally moved along. I don’t remember the route of the rally, all I remember is that I never got tired, for the rally was so much joyful and enjoyable.
In the following years, I went to Shaheed Minar a couple of times during the Bijoy Dibosh, but the exuberance and the optimism was missing. After a while, December 16 just became another holiday for me, I used to go to the Shaheed Minar in the afternoon and spend some time there, but nothing much to ruminate about.
However, one thing was common in every Bijoy Dibosh, my mother used to hoist the national flag on every occasion. In our apartment building, only a couple more families used to do that and it was not so prominent a practice among the middle/upper middle class families of Dhaka. In 2004, I noticed that many small shops and hotels decorated their shops with small paper made flags, but not too many big shops and hotels used to do that.
I went abroad for my studies in 2005. Therefore I missed being in Dhaka on December 16 in 2005 and 2006. So this time, after a gap of three years, I am yet again in Bangladesh to celebrate the great day of our victory against Pakistan.
From the beginning of December 2007, I noticed that many cars, buses and trucks are hoisting small red green flags of Bangladesh. As December 16 approached close, the frequency of encountering such a flagged vehicle increased rapidly. I myself bought a couple of flags for our cars. On late night of December 15, I noticed a number of young “Djuice generation” representatives raising a huge flag on their cars. In the morning of December 16, the majority of the cars in Dhaka were holding a national flag. I was surprised to see that the majority of buildings have also raised Bangladeshi flags. Many rickshaws were decorated with flags and many shops of Dhaka city, mostly small and medium ones, were holding flags as well.
I had to go to Comilla on this victory day and so we started early in the morning. In Dhaka city, there were many flags, but just after reaching the Shonir Akhra area, I got simply amazed! There were flags all over the area, on top of virtually every building, in front of every shop. The car moved along the Dhaka Chittagong highway. There were small villages on each side of the road. In almost all the villages, I saw decorations with paper flags. There were paper-string-flag replicas of our national “Smiriti Shoudha.”
As our car reached Comilla town, the frequency of flags went more intense. Cultural programmes were going on all over the Comilla town. When I reached our destination village, I found out cultural shows are being held by the village school. I heard that there were night long musical shows on the previous night. The festivity of our victory was felt even at such remote areas.
On my way back home, I felt proud to be a part of the nation which fought for its independence. I felt proud for our nation which holds the spirit of liberation after so many years. I felt proud for our spirit of liberation which is getting stronger day by day. Don’t worry comrades, no matter how insolent or impudent the war criminals and their henchmen might be, the spirited people of Bangladesh will neither forget the history, nor forgive the perpetrators of the heinous war crime which took place on this land in 1971.
Nevertheless, the hopes I saw in the face of thousands in 1990 was it there in 2007? All the years in between has mauled democracy (1991-96), criminalised it (1996-2001), corrupted it severely (2001-2006) and has ultimately killed it (2007 onwards). The rays of hope have faded away quick, this time it was the reiteration of our democratic principles and our hate towards the war criminals which prompted such a jubilant celebration of our victory, I gathered.
Guest blogger Robin Milford writes using a pseudonym and is an ICT executive.