The Struggle of Memory Against Forgetting


As part of our O’Level curriculum, we read Ekattorer Jishu, Shahrier Kabir’s iconic short story about the 1971 Liberation War. In the end, as the narrative voice of the elderly priest trails off, he sees the freedom fighter, martyred for the cause of freedom. We experience, through the narrator’s pain and sadness, the individual sacrifice, multiplied across millions, that made the independence of Bangladesh possible.

The theme of individuals making outsized, sometimes the ultimate, sacrifice for the good of the collective, is a theme that echoes across human history. The history of Bengal is no stranger to the pain, sacrifice, and demise of individuals becoming etched in the collective will. After being murdered, the body of the last, independent Nawab of Bengal was tied to his favorite elephant and paraded through the streets of Murshidabad. The bodies of the sipahis who fought for freedom were left hanging from Bahadur Shah Park, a feast for both the literal crows and the figurative crows that feasted on the carcass of colonial Bengal. A century later, during the Liberation War, the very bravest of our freedom fighters would be bayoneted to death by the Pakistani Army, to die a slow and grueling death.

It is in this context that we need to understand the denial of medical treatment by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia. It’s not about the jail sentence. It’s not about the law. It’s not about getting bail. It’s about inflicting the maximum amount of pain possible on the personification of democratic Bangladesh. The malice and the cruelty are not accidental by-products; they are central features of the brand that Hasina is selling. In today’s Bangladesh, within the constraints of whatever are left of the institutions of the Bangladeshi state, what is being done to Khaleda Zis is the closest you can come to bayoneting someone dead.

Milan Kundera famously said that the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. Stand witness, people of Bangladesh. Whether you are enraged, whether you are horrified, whether you can find no defense to explain away the unacceptable – see what is being done to the leader of our democracy. And etch in your mind, for the rest of your lives, the high price that is being paid, in a CCU, to keep alive the faint, beating heartbeat of democracy in Bangladesh.