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Friday, May 29, 2020

Bangladesh remembers

But India ignores a national memory and a neighbour’s gratitude

Written by Arundhati Ghose | Published: April 4, 2012 12:10:00 am

But India ignores a national memory and a neighbour’s gratitude

At a glittering ceremony on the 41st Independence Day of Bangladesh on March 26 this year,held at the Bangladesh International Conference Centre in Dhaka,the president and prime minister of Bangladesh publicly thanked those foreigners who had supported them in the brutal year of 1971.

Not unexpectedly,a large majority were from India,but there were also writers and journalists from around the world — wives,daughters and granddaughters of diplomats and statesmen who had questioned the policies of their own governments and who had sought to rouse the international community from its indifference to the inhuman slaughter of millions,aid organisations which had sought to alleviate the sufferings of millions of refugees who had fled the crackdown — all were remembered and individually thanked by the highest in the land. Easily dominating the presence of the awardees were Indian ministers and their representatives,chief ministers of the past (of West Bengal) and of the present,from Meghalaya and Tripura,a representative of India’s well-beloved field marshall,and the redoubtable,90-year-old General “Jake” Jacob,who was lustily cheered as he saluted the crowds from the podium,representatives of senior political and almost legendary figures — Sardar Swaran Singh,P.N. Haksar and D.P. Dhar — who had played so major a role in the liberation of the country (Indira Gandhi’s award had been received by Sonia Gandhi last year),songwriters,poets,aid givers and sundry individuals associated with the tumultuous events of 1971. Most moving,a separate citation was made “to the people of India”,received by the Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh and to the “Mitra Bahini”,received by the Indian minister of state for defence.

How often does a nation remember,and remember to thank publicly and with ceremony,another nation,its government and its citizens,for support given to it for its liberation and at its independence? The warmth and graciousness of the Bangladesh remembrance (somewhat dimmed by the rather ungracious absence of the opposition party of that country — a lack of grace not uncommon in the subcontinent) is probably without a parallel. Yet,despite the historicity of the occasion,despite the enormous enthusiasm and sacrifice of this country at the time,for those who remember,at least,there was barely a whisper this time in our public consciousness,busy as we were with tearing ourselves apart on a host of present day issues. Dates of birth,corruption,government paralysis,coalition shenanigans,UN votes,more corruption,who was present at a “conclave” or a neighbouring country’s national day. Matters of great import,no doubt,but not to even acknowledge the thanks for,albeit past,support from another large neighbour,emerging,democratically,from a traumatic beginning? In our own transitional turmoil,we seem to have become self-obsessed,negatively,flagellating ourselves for growing,turbulently and casting aside memories of national importance,even when they are gracefully placed before us.

It is true,it was more than four decades ago — but surely within living memory. Imagine a country in which reasonably fair elections throw up a victorious party; imagine that party being denied the fruits of its success,and consequently calling for independence. Imagine,the leader of the party being arrested by the masters of the losing party,and a reign of terror not often seen let loose on the people who had supported the victors. It happens,and happened 41 years ago in what was then Pakistan. Today,the international community discovers the “right to protect”,yesterday (40 years ago) the slaughter of a people,an ethnic cleansing and millions of refugees fleeing to what they had known as hostile territory did not stir a geopolitical whisker. That “hostile” territory,India,was not the India of 2012 — not an emerging market with some capability to handle the economic burdens of so many uninvited but hapless guests — but she received the millions,and helped as she could,the survivors of the butchered and the travails of the beleaguered. The nationwide enthusiasm and outpouring of support in India for the people of Bangladesh — erstwhile East Pakistan,not known as a friendly neighbour — has not,to the best of my knowledge,been repeated since. The rest,as they say,is history,as West Pakistan,emboldened by the support of two major powers,conveniently gave India the “casus belli” to militarily intervene on the side of the struggling Mukti Bahini. Hundreds of Indian soldiers lost their lives on foreign territory,fighting for freedom and justice for the people of Bangladesh.

Last week,while commemorating and paying homage to the millions of Bangladeshis who had lost their lives that year and reminding the world of the atrocities committed against them when they were alone and vulnerable,they remembered too the support of individuals and organisations,but above all,they paid homage to the “people of India” and to the “Mitra Bahini”. Even if we do not remember in the cacophony of everyday politics,perhaps we need to acknowledge,with gratitude,the contribution Bangladesh has made to our collective memory.

The writer,a former diplomat,was India’s ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament

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