Importantly, when this study was launched, the researchers did not have data on Bangladesh's most controversial 2018 elections and so did not take that election into cognizance. The Washington Post observed that the eleventh parliamentary election results were like a North Korean election. Given that observation, if that election would have been taken into consideration, how many countries would rank below Bangladesh?
Look at Nepal, not Pakistan
Three criteria are taken into consideration for a country to graduate from the Least Developed Country (LDC) status. These are per capita income, human assets index, and economic and climate vulnerability index. The human assets index gives an idea of the condition of the common people of a country.
I thought of this because our liberation war has also been given the form of a 'holy war'. In the American society which is much freer than ours, at least no law has been drawn up to muffle any other narrative, as has been done in our country
The human assets index is based on six indicators including child mortality, maternal mortality, the number of children with stunted growth due to malnutrition, ratio in secondary school enrollment, rate of adult literacy, and gender ratio in secondary school enrollment. Nepal's human assets index score is 74.9, almost equal to Bangladesh's 75.3. Another important index is global hunger where Bangladesh and Nepal both rank at 76 with a score of 21.1. According to the World Bank figures, Nepal's average life expectancy in 2019 was almost the same as ours, just 1.5 years lower.
These achievements of Nepal may seem unbelievable to us when we see, according to UN figures, Nepal's per capita income is 1,027 dollars, just a bit more than half of Bangladesh's 1,827 dollars. The Nepal figures point out to us that even with extremely limited economic capacity, magic can be created simply by keeping the common people at the centre of state activities.
The 'real' price of our independence
I do not want to be complacent by comparing ourselves with Pakistan, even if Bangladesh was actually ahead of Pakistan in all areas. In order to understand my strong objection to the comparison with Pakistan, it is essential to understand the real price of our independence.
From childhood we have been taught that our independence was earned through the lives of 3 million people and the honour of 2 million women. We still have the despicable practice of trying to euphemistically term 'rape' as a 'loss of honour' or 'loss or dignity'. The important question is -- is that the only price we paid for independence? Or, do we even conceive of the price of these losses we simply reel off? How many people are 3 million people?
Off the topic
'Three Holy Wars', a lecture of the very important historian Howard Zinn, the author of the groundbreaking book, A People's History of the United States, is available on YouTube. He makes some significant statements about three important wars in America's history -- the independence war, the civil war and World War II. Before I continue with the topic of my column, here are a few words on a different aspect of the lecture.
Zinn called these wars 'holy wars' in a symbolic sense. He said just as no alternative narratives can be given to the history of religious wars, a certain 'sanctity' has been bestowed upon these three wars too. That is why the American people do not welcome any interpretations of these wars other than the prevalent narrative.
I thought of this because our liberation war has also been given the form of a 'holy war'. In the American society which is much freer than ours, at least no law has been drawn up to muffle any other narrative, as has been done in our country. Section 21 of the Digital Security Act obstructs any open deliberations on the history of the liberation war. No such clause exists in the information technology laws of Europe and America, not even in India.
Like Zinn, I too believe that no history is 'sacred'. So let alone enacting laws to suppress any different views of history, full independence should be given for different points of view concerning history, however absurd or strange compared to the existing narrative.
What is the 'price of independence'?
In the lecture, Howard Zinn raised another very important point. He said that the horrors of war are so extensive and so many, that we really cannot accurately grasp this. It is all reduced to numbers.
In Bangladesh we easily say that 3 million people were killed during our liberation war. Can we even conceive this number? If the average height of the dead people is estimated to be a minimum of just 5ft, then if placed side by side they would stretch out to 4,753km. That means if these dead persons were to be stretched out along the 900km from Teknaf to Tetulia, they would have to go back and forward five times.
At the 50-year anniversary of independence, I want to compare Bangladesh with the promises made to us, with the inconceivable price paid for independence
The number of rapes easily slips from our tongues. But do we think of the horror involved in the rape of 2 million women? Or whether these women were rehabilitated in society? How were their lives after that? What about the children of the raped women who became pregnant? We call them 'war babies'. How were their lives?
Frankly speaking, this article is not an attempt to grasp the magnitude of all this. When horrors take place in a war, we do try to discuss these matters to a certain extent. But we avoid many other important issues.
Some other very important 'prices'
People were not only killed, many were crippled permanently. They had to live with these disabilities for the rest of their lives. How were their lives? How are the lives of those still surviving?
Do we think about the families of those who died? Young people died while fighting in the war of liberation. And those killed in the genocide were mostly young men of that age. In most cases there were earning members of their families (in many instances, the only earning member of the family). Let us take a moment to think of the predicament faced by the families of these young men in their absence.
Ten million people were refugees in India. They walked for 50 to 60 miles, some even for 100 to 150 miles, to cross the border. It was during the monsoons that the most people crossed over the border. Just imagine how they trudged along through the downpour - the long lines of people walking through the mud and rain for mile after mile. Many of them must have been suffering from various ailments. And there was the all-pervading fear of being caught by the Pakistani forces. Can the horrors of that horrific exodus be conceived?
As I write, a scene of Zahir Raihan's documentary on the Liberation War, 'Stop Genocide', appears before my eyes -- a woman nearly 100 years old crawling through the mud towards India. Perhaps in the refugee camps there was no fear of facing a bullet of the Pakistani forces, but there were other anxieties -- of a shortage of food, shelter and medicine. There was the inclement weather. Many people died in those refugee camps. People lived in these conditions for months on end. Let's try to feel what they want through.
How were the people grieving for their loved ones assaulted and killed by the Pakistani soldiers, those receiving news from all around of people being shot dead, news of women being picked up and raped, how were the people faring in these circumstances? If we add to that the war-time shortage of food and medicines, can the horror of the situation be grasped?
War is an extreme emergency. War can't be declared through a referendum. So even when an elected representative declares war against any country, it is difficult to discern what percentage of the people actually want to take part in the war. Even if the majority of the people are against military action, war still is imposed and strongly influences all people in the society. The people of this country had to pay a high price. Do we actually understand the price we had to pay to win our independence?
What did we want in exchange of this inconceivable price?
What about the dreams that our predecessors showed us, the pledges that they made, in exchange of this inconceivable price as laid in our declaration of independence and in the preamble to the original constitution?
The 'rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, political, economic and social equality and justice' was to be secured for all citizens in the Bangladesh that had been created to ensure equality, human dignity and social justice by means of establishing democracy.
If we compare the present Bangladesh with the dreams shown to us, the pledges that were made, what can we say? Far from even being on the path towards those pledges made at the time of independence, are we not walking in the diametrically opposite direction?
Pakistan did not even pay an iota for their independence as we did for ours. They got their independence though talks over the table. So I am not at all prepared to preen over in how many indicators we are doing better than Pakistan, or what some people in Pakistan have said, as a basis of our achievement of independence. At the 50-year anniversary of independence, I want to compare Bangladesh with the promises made to us, with the inconceivable price paid for independence. If that is done, anyone will be gripped with an extreme sense of despair and anger.
* Dr. Zahed Ur Rahman is a teacher at the Independent University of Bangladesh
* This column appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir