‘Come, let us snatch our freedom’

Teachers protest at not being able to hold discussion on new curriculumAshraful Alam

‘Is Bangladesh speaking

The words you were to speak?’


Poet Asad Chowdhury wrote these words. The poem ended with the lines:

‘The smell of gunpowder

Permeates the world

Overpowering the fragrance of flowers

Slogans unfurled.

Is Bangladesh speaking

The words you were to speak?’


I am writing this piece on 14 December 2023, Martyred Intellectuals Day. In 1971 the Pakistan army and the Al Badr clique drew up a list, targeted and killed Bangladesh’s best writers, journalists, physicians, engineers and persons of various professions. On the night of 25 March 1971 they went to the Dhaka University teachers’ quarters, shoved open the doors, picked up selected teachers, took them away and killed them.

In December 1971 a microbus slathered in mud went from house to house, summoning certain intellectuals, blindfolding them, tying their hands behind their backs. They were left lying, blindfolded, hands tied behind their backs, dead bodies strewn around the marshy overgrowth in Mirpur and Rayer Bazar. They were cruelly tortured before being killed.

Every time we think of the matter, try to understand, imagine, our conscience is assailed with pain. How can this be possible? Why did the Pakistani army and the Al Badr draw up these lists and carry out such a brutal killing? Why were these intellectuals targeted in particular? To render Bangladesh bereft of merit? To silence protest and dissension for once and for all? To silence the nation’s conscience? These intellectuals wanted to break the state named Pakistan, they were in support of Bangladesh independence, they were non-communal, they followed dissenting views, they dreamt of a beautiful world of equality.

It is the task of intellectuals to rebel, to rebel in thought, in conscience. They are intellectuals because they can speak against the conventions of society. From Socrates to Galileo, they spoke of new things, of truth that the society, the authorities, the state could not accept.

On the back page of Prothom Alo on 14 December 2023 we read a report – “New curriculum: Dhaka University disallows teachers’ discussion”. On 13 December a Prothom Alo online report read that the University Teachers Network, an organisation of teachers from various universities, had organised an open discussion on the new curriculum. The organisers got allocation of the RC Majumdar auditorium of Dhaka University’s Lecture Theater building for the purpose. The event was scheduled to start at 2:30 in the afternoon. The organisers were arriving at the venue when at 2:00pm the arts faculty dean called them over mobile phone to inform them that the permission to use the auditorium had been cancelled.

When the dean Abdul Bashir was asked why the permission was cancelled at the last minute, he told Prothom Alo that there were certain rules and regulations about using the auditorium. So while permission had been granted to discuss the curriculum, they (the dean) were apprised that there was chance of the government and the state being castigated. That was why the organisers were respectfully turned down.

The quote from Asad Chowdhury’s poem would be appropriate here:

‘Is Bangladesh speaking

The words you were to speak?’

I am not speaking for or against the new education policy. I am not an expert on the issue. Writing a couple of poems, five novels, three television plays, does not qualify one as an expert to speak on an issue like the education curriculum. However, we do have a tendency to air our opinions on topics not in our field of expertise.

Anyway, the fact remains that a new curriculum has been drawn up in the country and is being implemented in the Class Six and Seven. This has stirred quite a hornet’s nest. There is quite a lot of criticism against the curriculum on social media. Then again, there is no dearth of supporters. A certain person who has been dedicated to children’s education all life, called me to say, “The new curriculum is good. We need to understand it.” I wanted to understand it. If I study it, analyse and scrutinise it, and come to a conclusion for or against it, I can surely publish that.

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Can the teachers’ organisation ‘University Teachers Network’ not be able to hold a discussion on the ‘National Curriculum 2021: Why we are worried’ in a meeting room of their educational institution? Can we not know why they are worried? Can they not speak out?

I feel like calling out to each and every one and saying, I many not agree with your opinion, but I will defend to death your right to express your opinion.

On behalf of those who cancelled the permission, the dean said that they had learnt that the government and the state would be demeaned at the meeting. No democratic society can silence anyone’s voice simply assuming something would be said, before it has even been said. If whatever is said, is a violation of the law, one can resort to the law at anytime for recompense. But one cannot muffle voices in apprehension of what might be said. It is the right of every citizen to be able to criticise the government in any democratic country. Freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, are all fundamental human rights.

The organisation that arranged this discussion meeting hadn’t done so to praise the government, as is clear from the title of the event. They wanted to explain why they were concerned. They have the right to do so and each and every citizen of Bangladesh has the right to know why they are concerned. A curriculum has been introduced in the country and we want to know what certain teachers have to say about it. We want discussion and debate. After hearing all points of view, we can enrich ourselves, can accept what is best, can make amends if necessary.

What could be a more appropriate venue for such debate than the university? Dhaka University is the best venue to practice debate. This is the university stained with the blood of Dr Gobindachandra Deb, Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, and so many teachers, students, officials and employees! On the night of 25 March 1971, the Pakistan army raided the homes of Professor Anwar Pasha and Profession Rashedul Hasan. The professors had hidden under the bed and were saved then. But They could not escape from the hands of Al Badr in December that year. They knew they were on the list, they could have fled. They did not flee. They remained and embraced death as heroes. On 14 December 2023 Manzoorul Islam wrote on the front page of Prothom Alo, “They had the courage to look the authorities in the eye and inspired the students with the same courage. That was why they incurred the displeasure of the authorities.”

The news that persons of dissenting ideas could not hold a seminar on the curriculum in Dhaka University struck me like a thunderbolt. I feel like calling out to each and every one and saying, I many not agree with your opinion, but I will defend to death your right to express your opinion.

Let me quite from Syed Shamsul Haque’s poem ‘Nandi’:

‘Come, let’s snatch our freedom,

The freedom to speak,

The freedom to place letter after letter

To create words.

The freedom to write the hymns of life

The freedom to utter

Meaningful words of enlightenment.’


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