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Is our generation ready for future challenges?

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Illustration: Manan Morshed

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Illustration: Manan Morshed

History is replete with tales of struggles against oppressors, and to a neutral observer, Bangladesh’s momentous victory over Pakistan in 1971 can be viewed without particular inclination. For war veterans, however, the feelings, memories, and embodiment of the spirit of the struggle in their own actions tell a story that those who did not see the war would never understand. After celebrating the 50th anniversary of our independence last year, we also have to face a dark truth: the future of our country will soon see a changing of the guard. As in a relay race, the baton will pass to a generation distant in time and memory of Bangladesh’s struggle against the Pakistani usurpers. This is a generation that has only heard stories, read or seen disparate representations of the great war. Our generation must therefore engage in introspection and ask itself: what does the spirit of the war of liberation mean to us in the exercise of our functions? And how can we nurture it within ourselves to help Bangladesh become the Sonar Bangla envisioned by Father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – a dream that has inspired hundreds of thousands to fight until the end. died for the freedom of the country?

The question of the changing of the guard takes on added importance for Bangladesh, as its socio-economic and political journey has been shaped by our leaders in government and society at large, who have mostly witnessed and/or active participants in our struggle to become masters of our own destiny. They saw how our hopes were transformed, how we struggled to overcome the unforgiving legacy of a devastated and war-torn country, and how we got to where we are. This close “eyewitness” experience has seeped into their motivation to push for welfare-based policymaking in a way the current generation will find difficult to emulate. The emotional distance between future politicians, decision makers and compatriots is likely to increase. This could lead to a certain dehumanization of social protection policies and reduce their windfall effect on the poor and vulnerable. The psychological will of a leader of the country to improve the lives of the people of the country is an important cog in the wheel of the development process. If policy makers lose touch with the pulse of the people, policies will be misplaced and the results will be unexpected and disastrous.

Americans personified “the American Dream”, which is a national ethic of the United States – the set of ideals (democracy, rights, freedom, opportunity and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success , as well as an upward social mobility, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. However, how do we define the “spirit of liberation war”? Beyond the goals envisioned by Bangabandhu, the spirit of liberation war has no measurable definition of an ideal. This lack of clarity will be problematic for future generations, who have known the history of the war through limited exposure to stories, films or books.

Bangabandhu’s historic speech on March 7, 1971 was the culmination of emotions and insights gained from a sense of being one with one’s own compatriots. Together, Bangabandhu’s leadership and the determination and sacrifice of the ordinary people who answered his call ensured that we won a war that was almost impossible to win. This unity also contributed to Bangladesh’s meteoric rise to become a country in socio-economic development, even surpassing in many respects India and Pakistan, which had obtained their liberation much earlier, in 1947. Bangladesh has more successful in improving life expectancy (72 years compared to 69 years in India and 67 years in Pakistan) and Gender Gap Index (ranked 65th while India ranks 140th and Pakistan 153rd), to name a few some examples. Recently, Bangladesh has also overtaken India in terms of GDP per capita, as reported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These numbers speak volumes about the enormity of our accomplishments in a much shorter period of time than our South Asian neighbors, having inherited a land ravaged by war and plundered by the Pakistani army.

Our generation, as well as our successors, have much to learn from the veterans who led the country’s socio-economic progress. The spirit of liberation war must be translated into tangible goals, rooted in empathy for the people and unwavering respect for our past.

I conclude with a sobering observation: dark forces do not disappear easily. They persist, and when one group of oppressors is defeated, another is already lurking behind to fill the void. Bangabandhu, the larger than life figure, the towering man who orchestrated the movement for our freedom, fell under the machinations of these dark forces. Thus, we, and future generations, must be careful guarantors of our freedom. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every generation needs a new revolution. Our elders had theirs. What will our revolution be? Can we go on and carry the spirit within ourselves?

Mahir A Rahman is a research associate at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS).