Liberation Struggle of the People

Rounaq Jahan

16 December. Our Victory Day. Every year on this day we pay our respect to the memory of hundreds of thousands of unnamed people whose immeasurable sacrifices have gained us victory in the Liberation War of 1971. Our Liberation War was a people’s war. People from all walks of life, men and women, regardless of class or occupation, lost their lives, were tortured and rendered homeless in the genocide unleashed by the Pakistan government. Without any prior preparation, ordinary people instantly began the Liberation War. Some fought with arms, others assisted in different capacities. The goal was to liberate the country.  The greater goal was to liberate the people of this land who have for centuries been trapped in the net of repression and exploitation. We called our struggle the Liberation War. Our declaration of independence recognised the centrality of ordinary people’srole in the Liberation War and declared Bangladesh to be a people’s republic. Our constitution in 1972 affirmed that the people are the source of all power. The constitution guaranteed economic, political, social and cultural rights of the citizens.

Today, 51 years on, a relevant question is, how are the ordinary people faring in our people’s republic? How liberated do they feel? Over the past five decades, there has certainly been significant socioeconomic development. Poverty rates have decreased. There has been improvement in health, education, housing and communication systems. In the seventies our average life expectancy was only around 40 years, but today that stands at over 70. People’s living standards have improved considerably. But do people, even the deprived segments of the population, want only improved living standards? Do they not have other demands? Don’t the exploited people feel that they have the right to protest and struggle against repression and exploitation? Is freedom of expression demanded only by civil society? Don’t the poor and downtrodden masses also want freedom of expression?

After two consecutive questionable elections in the past decade, the people have lost all faith in our election system

Nearly 30 years ago our people launched a mass uprising and brought an end to military rule. Since then, they have been ruled by politicians. However, can the ordinary people actually feel that they are the source of power in the state? Or do they see that power has slipped away from their hands and is being monopolized by a small group of cronies? These groups, remaining close to the government –no matter which government it may be – avail of special benefits and break laws and rules. They amass immense wealth. And they use that wealth to become people’s representatives. Do the ordinary citizens feel that they can hold the people’s representatives accountable to them?

Forget about accountability, after two consecutive questionable elections in the past decade, the people have lost all faith in our election system. They are even unable to realize the basic right of the people in a democratic country – to elect a government through free fair, and peaceful elections. They face various obstacles if they want to exercise their rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. The people have to constantly deal with the arrogant dominance of VIPs and influential persons on the streets every day. People in power remind the citizens that they should be grateful to those in power for the development work of the country. There is no recognition that people’s demands for development and their demands for good governance, is their right which has been enshrined in the constitution.

Every year in this month of victory, we recall the glorious days of our Liberation War. This is important so that generations of people can understand the ideals which inspired ordinary people to join the Liberation War. Every generation must know, must be told, that the main heroes of this glorious Liberation War are the people of this country.

Victory Day is not just a day of celebrations. On this day we must be pledge bound to move forward the struggle for the emancipation of the people which remains unfinished. We must come up with new thinking, new strategies through which we can overcome our challenges and crises. We must eliminate the steadily growing economic and social inequality. We need to bring back a democratic environment in politics. We need to hold a free, fair and peaceful election, credible to all. Steps must be taken so that the victorious side does not grab all the powers and benefits and make the defeated opponents sorbohara. An environment conducive to free thought, and discussion and debate must be created. Above all, the people must be inspired all over again to believe that they will ultimately achieve victory in this struggle for liberation, just as we succeeded in doing during the Liberation War of 1971.