Sunday, November 12, 2006

An Elegy for Nur Hossain

Nineteen years after Nur Hossain, a young man of 26, laid down his life, how far have his dreams of a free secular democracy been materialised?

On the 10th November of 1987, Nur Hossain, an auto rickshaw driver and an activist of Awami League, went out to the street, his torso bared, with two lines written in Bangla on his chest and back-- Gonotontro Mukti Paak, Shoyrachar Nipat Jaak (Long live democracy, Down with tyranny). This single act of valour and self-less ness from the part of this young man has embodied the soul of the first democratic revolution in Independent Bangladesh.

Before that, before Nur painted the words on his body which military despot Ershad's Police found so blasphemous that they shot and killed him, Bangladesh has another hero in its political history who had actually joined a resistance against autocracy and military dictatorship-- Asad. Coming from a lower-middle class background, this schoolboy from the old part of Dhaka laid down his life during the mass upsurge of 1969 against Ayub Khan's regime, setting the tune and character of our great independence struggle. Both Asad and Nur died for a democratic and secular Bangladesh, a country that will be governed on the basis of economic equality and social justice.

Hossain's struggle--or statement so to speak--was not actually against a particular regime, it was a brave resistance against a brutal and corrupt economic system that had made the country a filthy playground for a class of nouveau arrivé bourgeois. One and a half decades after that nothing significant has changed.

The hue and tone of the exploiters are different now, for they have assumed a democratic shape. Nur's own party, with the alacrity of an anole, has shed Secularism and Socialism after an electoral setback in 1991; its leader once even wore a headscarf to woo Muslim voters. In every speech the leaders of both the major parties give their lay an allusion of Islam, ways to assert how each is a better Muslim than his or her rival. Socialism, or economic justice, on the other hand, remains a far cry. After the demise of the Soviet Union, subsequent governments have been trying to juxtapose a mangled version of the market economy, which fosters a get-rich-quick lifestyle among an entertainment-hungry and money-driven class.

Nur's martyrdom, however, has established a semblance of parliamentary democracy in this nation of 14 crore poor; but that, too, is taken into hostage by of a bunch of venal, egocentric, avaricious political leaders. Parliament has remained ineffective; all the other components of state are also mired in sheer corruption and unabated misrule; allegations are there that some judges are susceptible to sweeteners, police have always been corrupt, one must not take any credit for discovering it.

Both the parties, in fact, have betrayed the spirit of the mass upsurges of 1987 and 1990; Ershad, whose police shot and killed hundreds, corrupt and vile as he has been, sides with either BNP or AL, whenever he senses worry. Ershad's corrupt and oppressive cronies are not brought to book, many of them have joined the BNP and AL, some have become ministers, holding posts as important as law and justice.
So, it is a little wonder that the 19th anniversary of Nur Hossain's martyrdom has gone unnoticed. The persons who have become the beneficiaries of his sacrifice are now squabbling for power again, and the memories of Nur Hossain, Bangladesh's forgotten hero of democracy, face oblivion.