Do independent thoughts and freedom of expression exist in Bangladesh? If not, why are you not taking initiative?
Independent thought and freedom of expression exists in Bangladesh but little. More than that, important thoughts and views also don’t prevail. Are there any great thoughts or views like that of the anti-autocrat movement of the 1980s? Having gone through bitter experiences, people have lost faith in politicians and intellectuals. Fads are created but the welfare of the state, but such fads are not movements that bring about welfare of the nation and people. Mobilising a mass movement is more difficult than ever before.
Having gone through bitter experiences, people have lost faith in politicians and intellectuals. Fads are created but the welfare of the state, but such fads are not movements that bring about welfare of the nation and people
What are the ways to overcome the degradation in political and social values?
A social reform movement is necessary. A new mass uprising is necessary. The road to such an uprising is not ready. It needs to be prepared to move forward. Little result will come in the conventional way. Civil society, organisations and NGOs have been working for 40 years and assessment of the impact is necessary. Assessing the outcome of their political roles is necessary. A movement to awaken of moral sense is necessary. Creating opportunity is necessary to bring discerning intellectuals to the fore. It is imperative to awake the sleeping people.
Does our intellectual paucity as a nation hurt you?
It hurts very deeply. Bangladesh has deviated from the traditional intellectual role created by Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bankimchandra Chatterjee, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Begum Rokeya, S Wajid Ali, Kazi Abdul Wadud and Motaher Hossain Chowdhury. Bangladesh is not carrying the values created by Surendranath Banerjee, Bipin Chandra Pal, Chittaranjan Das, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Democracy, socialism, nationalism and its supplementary internationalism have been made meaningless. It’s very upsetting. Good sense and victory must be revived.
Most of his views on politics go along with views of Awami League. But Awami League has thought his independent think harmful to the party. He also criticised the ruling Awami League. This hurt Awami League and the society also didn’t accept his views wholly
Is the ongoing political crisis in the country related to elections only or something else?
The ongoing political crisis in the country is very deep. The movement for free, fair and neutral election is bringing no result. Demands are being raised, movements are being launched for fair elections avoiding democracy, but without the call for socialism, nationalism and its supplementary internationalism, this will be counterproductive. Deep political thinking is necessary. Elevating the characteristics of political parties is necessary. The result of restricting political thoughts to fair election is not good. We have to go deep. Creating new courses of thought and work is necessary.
You said existing politics would not remove the crisis. Then what politics can?
Universal democracy or 100 per cent people’s democracy is necessary instead of liberal democracy representative government in proportion to parties, solving all solvable problems gradually and abolishing man-made inequality. And political parties have to work with people by adopting short and long term programme of socioeconomic and state development. I have said in one of my books that ideals of universal democracy will have to be invented. The inclination towards politics and political leadership has to be created among people from all walks of life. It is essential that political parties have the criteria and education for necessary for politics. Arraigning moral education and ethical practice within political parties is also necessary.
Who is responsible for the degeneration of education?
Whenever a government is in power that government, almost all political parties, officials of the education department, authorities of the universities and teachers of all levels are responsible for the degeneration of the education policy, education system and education. The responsibility of all of them is not equal. Those who are more powerful, have more responsibility. Improvement of education is not possible with the syllabus and textbooks in a bad shape. Imperialist powers have role too. The World Bank plays very important role. Vested quarters don’t want to provide education to people. They want to satisfy students, teachers and guardians by giving certificates only. Knowledge is power – imperialists, rulers and vested quarters understand this very well. They want to keep this power at their hand, don’t want to spread it to general public.
Dhaka University has made you Ahmed Sharif chair professor. How far is society prepared to accept the free thinking which Ahmed Sharif had exercised?
I am grateful to the university authorities for making me Ahmed Sharif chair professor. What professor Ahmed Sharif had talked about for the last 7-8 years of his life, has hurt the religious sentiment of general people. That seems to be a mistake to me. At that time, BBC Bangla gave instigation as per imperialist plans. Professor Ahmed Sharif was a humanist and democratic. He had trust in socialism. Above all, he was a Bengali nationalist as well as an internationalist. He thought, researched and expressed views on Bangla language, Bangla literature, the countries of Bangla language, especially Bangladesh, and everything beneficial to the people. Most of his views on politics go along with views of Awami League. But Awami League has thought his independent think harmful to the party. He also criticised the ruling Awami League. This hurt Awami League and the society also didn’t accept his views wholly. However, there are many people who follow the thoughts of Ahmed Sharif in Bangladesh and West Bengal. Ahmed Sharif will be remembered forever for his research and humanist thoughts in the country on Bangla language. Ahmed Sharif is one of the greatest Banglees of the twentieth century.
After Dipan was killed by militants, you had said you don’t want a trial. But the trial of Dipan killing has progressed.
I don’t want the trial of my son’ killing, I had said that very clearly. Dipan will never come back in any way – this hurt me. In line with my lifelong endeavours, I had also said that I don’t believe in revenge. I have been influenced by the thoughts of Satyagraha and non-violence of Mahatma Gandhi since the 1980s. Even though I said that I don’t want justice, it’s the government’s responsibility to conduct the trial. I handed over the body of Dipan to the police saying, the government must try killers of Dipan to establish the rule of law in the country. At that time, the term ‘culture of impunity’ was being articulated by thousands of voices for a thousand times. I had said that it should be seen why militancy rose in Bangladesh and several other countries. A lack of good sense prevails in all sectors. Rise and establishment in good sense is necessary. Good sense in leadership is needed. Extremists of the ruling party were dissatisfied by my remarks. Dipan killing happened on 31 October 2015. The verdict in the trial of this killing is going to be delivered. Police’s counter terrorism unit has played an active role. I am grateful to the police, the country and the authorities concerned for completing the trial proceedings. I think if the government didn’t come forward, the trial would not happen. However, trial isn’t complete yet. There is also the High Court and the Appellate Division ahead.
You have spoken about the weakness of the country’s education system. Do you think there is any way to unify the three streams of education?
The education policy and system of Bangladesh should be unified. Various thoughts and work will also prevail through the unified education system. Industry policy and education system has been so complicated over the past 40 years, its reformation becomes difficult. Difficult doesn’t mean impossible. The education policy and system is to be unified and it must be done. The education system simply won’t develop keeping all systems of the state in a mess. Politics will have to be corruption-free and developed as well as all other systems including education will also have to be improved.
* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo. This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna