‘Our cultural organisations are no less responsible’

Noted drama organiser, director and actor Mamunur RashidFile photo

What is the state of cultural practices in Bangladesh especially after 50 years of independence? Prothom Alo takes an interview of noted drama organiser, director and actor Mamunur Rashid as part of its attempt to understand the situation. Prothom Alo’s literature page editor Altaf Shahnewaz took the interview.

Q :

Cultural practices played an extremely effective role in the 1950-60 in the country. Except during the pandemic, the number of cultural programmes has increased a lot. But many people say a larger section of people have become alienated from cultural practice. What do you think?

There was a profound relation between Bangladesh’s culture and politics before the Liberation War. Victory was earned in the mass upsurge in 1969 and the Liberation War in 1971 as culture and politics moved together. Even in independent Bangladesh, there was an intrinsic relation between culture and politics when we ousted military dictator Ershad. Basically, deterioration in our cultural practices started since then. But now the situation has reached an alarming state. People’s alienation with cultural practices has increased significantly.

In general, we always live in confusion over our Bangali and Muslim identity. This confusion has aggravated as religion-based politics got state patronisation since the changeover in 1975. Now it is frightful. Even the incumbent government has been using religious fanatics in its petty interests. Now we see waaz mahfil being organised for 16 December, Victory Day. On the other hand, organising cultural programmes like Barsha Utsab, Basanta Utsab has been declining.

At the same time, we need to say that our cultural organisations are also no less responsible for alienation of people from the root of our culture. Religious fanatics were always active here but what are the cultural organisations are doing to expand the reach of Bangali culture?

Pahela Baishakh is a festival of the people. In that festival there were all sort of products available related people's agricultural lifestyle. Corporate companies and agencies have now taken over the festivals of the Bangla New Year. They have been dominating all our programmes gradually. In fact, our culture is now seized by the powerful. As a result, almost everything is formal and do not have any life. That’s why people’s bonding with culture has slackened.

Q :

A large number of cultural programmes were organised both at the government and at private initiatives celebrating the golden jubilee of independence and birth centenary of Bangabandhu. How much benefit could we reap from those?

To tell the truth, most of the programmes were not at the mass level. No doubt there was this Covid-19 pandemic situation. Still I would say the government organised the programmes by keeping everything under control through a committee. Cultural programmes in controlled conditions hardly can reach the people. Mass awareness is the basis of both the Liberation War and Bangabandhu, but where was the people’s participation in celebration of the two?

The evaluation of a towering leader like Bangabandhu should have been done extremely thoughtfully. Where did that happen? A huge number of books have been published haphazardly. Instead of this, if work could be done to take his writings to different levels, that would have been more effective. The younger generation could have learned about the greatest Bangali leader.

The government of India’s state of West Bengal had constructed a studio theatre hall for the drama groups celebrating the birth centenary of Rabindranath Tagore. If we could have done something like this on the golden jubilee of independence, the effect of that could have been more far-reaching, I think. This time, the expense was huge but we could not take the spirit of Liberation War and Bangabandhu to the people.

Q :

How could we make our culture meaningful, use it to materialise the dreams we had about the society and values? What should we do now?

Initiatives have to be taken to develop the essence of Bengali culture. The obstacles of religious fanaticism have to be overcome. Progressive political parties and the powers in favour of Liberation War must shun the tendency to use religion for the sake of votes.

Above all, culture has to be viewed from the people's point of view. For this the initiatives that need to be taken must come from within the people. In case of culture if anything is imposed from above is bound to be ineffective.

* The interview has been rewritten into English by Shameem Reza