These days, on February 14, Valentines Day is celebrated in Bangladesh with great fanfare. The students and teen/ post teen generation as well as the older ones use their energy; ingenuity in doing thing to convince their loved ones.
Exactly 25 years ago on the 14 the February, I was about to finish my high school in Dhaka. I had no clue what Valentine day was. Then during the rest of student life in colleges throughout the 80s, I still did not know or do much with Valentines Day.
However 14th February remained a special day for us, the students and young people in the 80s. When the military establishment illegally captured state power on 24th March 1982, on this day, 14 the February the following year i.e. 1983, students lodged a large scale protest against the military occupation of governance. Five students – Zafar, Dipali Saha, Jainal, Mozammel and Ayub – were killed in the police firing, leading to the formation of Chhatra Sangram Parishad (students’ action council), the first politically organised platform against the military junta. The following year, on the same day during a student procession marking the event, the military rulers ran a truck on the peaceful procession instantly crushing Selim and Delwar to death.
Over the next six years, many more lives were lost. We invoked the names of Dipali Shaha, Mozamel, Selim, Delwar millions of times. Students were followed by trade unions followed by professionals and they gloriously defied the military rule. Politicians joined hands and later the civil service stepped in. Military had no options but to surrender and retreat back to the cantonment.
With restoration of democracy, along with many other things, we also forgot those who shed their lives for the democracy. And we badly mangled up militarycracy with a person Ershad. Ten years after fall of Ershad, he came back with a significantly limited capacity of a small political party leader. This time his power was not the military establishment. Ironically the people of his region were his principle force.
It is not clear whether it was done intentionally or mistakenly; Ershad’s minimal importance in Bangladesh politics was blown out of proportion and was shown as the ultimate failure of the revolution of December 1990 and of democracy. Those cliques, who have been vocal in making the story of Ershad’s joining of different political fronts as the major blunder of Bangladesh democracy and ultimate reversal of 1990 revolution, did intentionally hide the facts that Ershad in 2007 represented regional people power, not the military establishment. And when the ideological difference is minor, changing sides is not so unusual in democracy.
Not too long after media uproar over Ershad drama, stage was set for full blown military takeover and on 1/11/2007, military establishment regained crown they lost on December 1990. In 1982, the facade was Ershad, this time it was Fakhruddin and a bunch of retired bureaucrats and technocrats.
Unlike last military establishment, this new generation of military establishment is much smarter. This time the word martial law has never been pronounced, although the country faced worst kind of steam roller since its inception. This time no single character was allowed to turn into a villain. The main facade Fakhruddin worked hard to keep showing his political and administrative impotence; once a while if some advisor got out of control they have been instantly kicked out. And unlike 1982, this new generation won’t bother shooting at students. They will rather assassinate the mind, not the body. This government has excelled in picking up top tier political leaders, businessmen, intellectuals, teachers, students, journalists—torture them to inflict the worst possible emotional trauma and physical pain.
And during this 14 th February, nobody will recall Zafar, Ayub, Selim and others. Thanks to media promotion, young people and students will wear special dresses, draw graffiti on the face and celebrate beginning of Falgun or Poush or the Valentines Day. Although certain entity in Bangladesh think themselves as the great upholders of our historical accuracy and glory, history of peoples’ war against military establishment in 80s did never gain the elite status like that of 71 or 52 history. And surely some very strong quarter do not want our young generation to know about the sacrifices of these seven or those 24 in Chittagong or Zehad or Nur Hossain or Milon or many more. And probably that’s why Channel I etc will rather observe Pohela Falgun or Valentine day than remember Shahid Selim, delwar, Dipali Shaha, Zafar, Mozammel, Ayub or Joynal.