As children we learnt that Eid was an occasion of joy and Eid-ul-Azha in particular was about sacrifice for the welfare of the people. In our Bangla class we would have to write essays on the greatness of sacrifice. We would write that the sacrifice was not just of the individual, but of the community, the society and, even at a higher level, of the state. In the new colonial state in which we lived at the time, the ‘sacrifice’ was for the few privileged people and families. For us was the dregs of exploitation.
My teacher was a thinker. Perhaps he would think about matters of the state. Also about people’s rights. And the greatness of sacrifice. But I never got to ask him about all that.
This write-up last Eid had brushed aside all ruminations and looked ahead. I had been inspired by some youth, some organisations and groups who had come forward to stand by the side of the hapless families. They had provided them with food, the children with new clothes, had arranged treatment for the ailing. This spirit of sacrifice seem to throw light on the path forward for people even in the dark times. But their resources were frugal next to the mammoth demands. Even their limited efforts eventually dwindled.
There is no end to the greatness of sacrifice, my teacher would say. The pandemic reminds us of that repeatedly
The essay on the greatness of sacrifice this time too had given a special meaning to our childhood lesson. The sacrifice is to be made not just by the individual alone, but by the community, the state.
Even if many idealistic youth and organisations stand by families in distress, it will not be enough to spread the joy of Eid completely, all around. This will require a mindset of sacrifice among people and organisations at all levels. Eid has come at the time of a pandemic that, if it becomes permanent, will render millions of people ultra poor, while the lower income groups will sink into poverty. The middle class will walk on a tight rope. The number of wealthy will grow and so will the growth figures. But the poverty that is not seen in any statistics, but that is all-destructive, that is shameful and despicable, is the poverty of the mind. That will rise alarmingly. Even education will bow its head to this indigence. It will snatch away the dignity of the nation.
The essay informed us that there are various categories of sacrifice. Sharing food with others, helping out others from one’s little savings, that is a great sacrifice. And then there are those who are at the forefront tackling the pandemic, the physicians, the nurses and health workers, members of law enforcement, marginal farmers, workers, they too are leaving behind a legacy of great sacrifice. But sacrifice also means giving up something dear to oneself. This can be put in another way too. If we give up habits that we enjoy, that inflate our bank accounts so that this brings comfort to the lives of others, such sacrifice has an impact that brings happiness manifold to a greater number of people.
This Eid if we make a commitment to ensure the farmer gets his due payment, that the workers get their wages and dues and a little bit extra, that we will not unnecessarily lay off workers, then this joy of Eid will spill over onto the next Eid too. If we cut down even on half of the corruption and looting that we carry out the year round, if the community takes up the cause of eliminating poverty, if for a year we can suspend the discrimination that had taken root in various institutions and organisations of the state, if the state becomes more poor-friendly and pays more attention to their needs, if their funds are open to the children and the marginalised, then next Eid there will be happiness all around. The indigence of the mind will be stemmed.
There is no end to the greatness of sacrifice, my teacher would say. The pandemic reminds us of that repeatedly.
People go home for Eid. They go in any way that they can. They are going home this time too. Being with the family is a matter of great happiness. Let everyone manage to go home safely. And let us also relentlessly make an effort to prevent the pandemic from spreading further.
Eid greetings to one and all.
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir