The country of Bengal is a land where, owing to the climate’s favouring the base, the dust of dissension is always rising – so said the Mughal court chronicler Abul Fazl in the 16th century. Four hundred years later, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has been a country where the dust of dissension has repeatedly risen among the men armed to guard the republic. The allegedly thwarted coup in January is but the latest in a long list of coups / mutinies / revolutions / military interventions going all the way back to the country’s very foundation in 1971.
The country’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed with most of his family in a brutal coup in 1975. Within a decade of the country’s 1971 Liberation War against Pakistan, much of the political and military leadership of the war were either killed or politically delegitimized by successive coups. And the coups of the 1970s reverberate even today, as Humayun Ahmed (a popular novelist) found out recently — Mr Ahmed’s latest novel, set in 1975, has been effectively banned because his depiction of history doesn’t suit the version favoured by Bangladesh’s current political dispensation. The politicised quest for what Naeem Mohaiemen calls shothik itihash (correct history) stifles the freedom of speech and thought, and sets back academia and creativity.
Of course, what actually happened in the 1970s, and beyond, should be subject to serious debate. History isn’t, after all, mere recount of dates and facts. History should be about understanding what happened and why they happened. Needless to say, one’s understanding depends on one’s own political biases.
Over the folder, I summarise major mutinies/coups/rebellions of the past four decades, and the narrative reflects my own biases and ideological prisms – just as one’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, so is one’s mutiny someone else’s revolution. For the interested reader, a reading list is provided at the end.
I missed the liveblogging of the final verdict on the 15 August trial. Perhaps just as well, because this has given me the time to gather my thoughts. It goes without saying that I unambiguously and unreservedly welcome the verdict. This post is going to touch on some points that I feel have not been covered well in the discussions in the blogosphere, print media, or in television. Not being in Dhaka, I am in no position to reflect the public mood. But I claim that be a good thing because it allows me raise contrarian points and uncomfortable questions.
My main points are these.
1. Many have said ‘this is not about vengeance, it’s about justice’. What is the theory of justice here? How does that relate to death penalty?
2. I offer my personal views, where vengeance is a part of justice. But more importantly, we need our leading thinkers to spell out their concepts of justice for the People’s Republic.
3. ‘The nation gets a sense of closure after 34 years’ — goes a very common refrain. I think this notion is profoundly wrong.
4. Real closure may come when the generations whose hands are bloodied are gone, but only if we actiely make the right choices. We made a right choice with this trial, and that’s the real significance here, not some confused notion of justice or closure.
These contrarian views may hurt people’s feelings, for which I apologise. But these are important issues that we must reflect on, and this sombre morning is as good a time as any.