Bangladesh Festival – Looking back, one year on
It’s been a year since the last Bangladesh festival – a fantastic exchange of ideas, a celebration of culture & Diversity and foundations of a few eternal friendships.
All things in the experience are worth a revisit, the dance, the fun, the music and the serious issues we managed to discuss and act on in-between. The song and dance will perhaps be consumed by the moment, but the issues linger. Of all the things we experienced in the festival, I’d like to touch on just two. Not because they were more important than others, but just because I as a person found them most thought-provoking.
Language Movement Day (Martyrs’ Day) walk
On the 21st of February we along with tens of thousands of Bangladeshis took to the streets of Dhaka to celebrate the language movement day, about 30 or 40 of BB members walked behind a specially crafted banner, taking turns to hold it, right up to and beyond the Shaheed Minar.
The Shaheed Minar, is the monument built to honor the martyrs of the Bangladeshi language movement. This monument, that day and those events commemorated, has a lot of history behind it and not all of it is entirely positive.
At the time though, I didn’t quite realize the significance of what we have done. But looking back now – that was quite a statement we made. Among the participants in the walk, there were of course Bangladeshis, Indians, Sri Lankans and more importantly – Pakistanis. Given the history this act symbolizes, that’s quite some statement. A statement, perhaps only a group like beyond borders could have delivered.
I do not want to get into the politics of the Bangladeshi Liberation movement, as I fully well know; living in Sri Lanka, unbiased information on these things is a rare commodity. But this is one of the things in the festival that got me thinking, especially given the similarities to the situation back home, the importance of language for people, among other things which I’m not comfortable discussing here. But being in Dhaka at that time, Bangladeshi nationalism was impossible to escape, and I know some of the events of particularly that day, made some of the Pakistani participants a tad bit uncomfortable.
This perhaps is one of the central challenges of multiculturalism, which stresses the need for space for individual and collective identities while also being able to appreciate diversity as well as being tolerant of differences.
Now, ‘Tolerance’ is something that we as members of BB have discussed at multitude of international forums and the general feeling tends to be that ‘tolerance’ is something negative and we should instead move on to true understanding. Principally I’d agree, but I guess there is still space for healthy tolerance to exist, especially when it comes to situations where you do not agree with what’s going on, instead of adopting a divergent approach, tolerating especially differences of opinions has its place.
Geneva Camp is the name given to a small area in Dhaka which is home to the Urdu-speaking community of Bangladesh, stranded during the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan. While scores of Urdu-speaking people have been transferred to Pakistan after the independence, many of these people didn’t get the opportunity, and now find themselves not accepted as citizens of Pakistan nor Bangladesh. To put it bluntly – they are stateless.
The small camp, (which more accurately can be described as a slum) is home to about 250,000 people who lead a deprived life, with 10 or 12 people living in spaces as small as 10 feet by 8. The electricity and some minimal services are provided by the government but for the most part the people in the community do not have access to public services such as education, they do not have the right to vote or contest for elections and basically do not have the right to institution. The residents cannot get jobs if they give their addresses as being from this camp; it’s the same with education thus restricting these people to an eternal cycle of poverty.
The majority of these people want to go to Pakistan; the central office of the camp had wall-paintings of General Musharaf, the president of Pakistan. But as they say, every dark cloud has a silver lining, and some welcome news is on the horizon. While most of the old generation still wants to go to Pakistan, the new generation has been born in Bangladesh and a recent court ruling has re-instituted their right to Bangladeshi citizenship.
The Association of Young Generation of Urdu Speaking Community, the youth organisation BB Bangladesh works with, is a major proponent of the idea that the community should try and make a decent living within Bangladesh instead of seeking to go to Pakistan. The organisation is headed by few spirited individual who were lucky enough to be educated well and now they are running programs to uplift the lives of young people in the community. Beyond Borders group in Dhaka is part of this initiative.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to keep tabs on the development of the situation but I was heartened to note that few young people from Geneva camp is now part of the Beyond Borders Core Group.
The plight of the Urdu-speaking people may have had Parallels back home, especially with the up-country Tamil people in Sri Lanka, but that’s not something that I can relate as easily, for when I was born, that wrong was put to right.
These are the things that have recently let me to believe that almost all conflicts everywhere in the world have similar roots. It could be fundamental issues of negligence of identities or feeling of alienation from reservoirs of power, among other things which aggravates and fuels conflict.
The festival, (as documented here in an earlier post) had lot more than these two events, but I’d hold these two experiences the most special.