The Spirit of ’71 and Our Youth Mindset

I was invited to speak in a discussion session of a section of the “Prjonmo Ekattor”, the generation of ’71 the other day. The session was convened to discuss the course of action warranted by the re- emergence of the defeated ideology and the ideologues of the war of our independence that brought about the emergence of this country of ours. Needless to say, we all are proud of being Bangladeshis and, cannot deny at the same time, having benefitted from this turn of history, both emotionally and materially. I don’t think some examples would be uncalled for in this context. I do not know if many of us would have risen in the socio- economic ladder as much as we have in a country colonised by Pakistan in the pre-independent Bangladesh. A civil servant would perhaps have to retire as a mid-level bureaucrat, a business executive as a mid-level manager, a business man as a petty merchant and an armed forces officer as a mid ranking officer. That we have risen to become is not because our luck favoured us for being independent but because we became the citizens of a de-colonised and free thinking country where we could assume the role of creators of our own destinies. It is said that in a colonised society it is not possible for even the cultural activities to flourish without intimidation and free of directives given by the colonialists in control of the state power. But free though we were, the custodians and the cohorts of the colonial spirit were still up and about to undo the values and ideals that we fought for and had thought were now unquestionably established in a free country. This conspiracy had started right after we achieved our freedom and became increasingly threatening as the days went by and the freedom fighters crossed over the middle-age to become senior citizens. This is a challenge to our independent entity and gives us the fear of being forced to join the group of distraught individuals, forever scared of the painful past they have lived through.   As I was listening to various speakers that day I could not but help thinking, almost simultaneously, were we involved in an exercise in futility? Were we really helpless? What with successive governments in the past being such avidly pro-Pakistani and anti-liberation in stance that even the history books prescribed to the school level students in our curriculum were tampered with! And, what is more, our children had no alternative to reading blatant lies in their text books! 

I have recently been mingling a lot with people belonging to much younger generation. This gives me an opportunity to know their mindset and how they look at issues so vital to our ‘being’. Some of them are indeed aware of the phenomenon of our liberation struggle and do not feel that a healthy nation was possible without a thorough knowledge of the history of our nation. This reaction naturally came to them when I asked them if they considered “past” was important for them. I’d specially mention two young and bright young people, a girl and a boy coming from diverse back grounds. One, the girl, studying engineering in a private English medium University and the other, the boy, studying to graduate in Islamic studies in the Dhaka University. Even their family back grounds were radically different. One thing common about them is the fact that both are prolific debaters and, therefore are capable of logical thinking. Both of them said, and with conviction that “past” were indeed important for any nation. Because, without the past it was not possible to have a viable present and a promising future. This they said in public in one of our popular cannels in the TV. In fact, they went on to say that ‘well we came in to being to be an independent nation through a protracted battle in the “past”. The basis of our nationhood was determined through an election that could now be called a referendum in the “past”. How could we not give our past the importance that it deserves? This amply demonstrates, as a sample, the mindset that, perhaps, most of our youngsters have. But there are exceptions. This also can be found if one does bit of a research with a large cross-section of our younger population. Many of these youngsters would say, and I am a witness to this, that they did not know much about our past. A further probing would reveal that they were not interested in it. If asked pointedly, pray why not? They would say that their parents and elders did not tell them anything and, more importantly, asked them to stay away from historical accounts of the birth of our nation. Interestingly, if they are told the gist of the history they’d say, but we did not know? Off hand in such an interaction I tell them that it was their responsibility to know. There were credible books available. They should read those books. But I must admit that much of what they know or do not know is because of their parents’ and guardians who have been expedient to make their wards stay away from history. I know that there are parents whose children were asked to avoid learning their mother tongue in the English medium schools’ final examinations and were told that it was no use wasting their time. They should aim only for the subjects that would stand them in good stead in the distant lands that they will settle down in. Well, these are the youngsters with whom we should engage in dialogues without further loss of time. Or else with the passing away of the generation that fought the war and the generation that was born in and soon after the war would be thrown, together with all the right values and ideals, in to an abyss.