Festival del film Locarno

Under Construction_Shahana Goswami 02.tif copy

Open Doors

69 Festival del film Locarno is showcasing Under Construction in Open Doors Screenings section.

Under Construction

Bangladesh · 2015 · DCP · Color · 88′ ·  o.v. Bengali

Struggling to find herself in the sprawl of urban Bangladesh, Muslim theater actress Roya suffers from her husband’s wish for children and traditional life. Not interested in motherhood, she decides to reconstruct a famous and politically minded play for modern times, reclaiming her identity, her freedom and her sexuality in the process.

Link: http://www.pardolive.ch/pardo/program/film.html?fid=888700&eid=69

 

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Festival de film Locarno Open Doors Lab

Locarno open doors

Director/producer Rubaiyat Hossain is representing Khona Talkies in this year’s Open Doors Lab.

Link: http://www.pardolive.ch/pardo/professionals/open-doors/person.html?pid=852101&eid=69
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Labor of Love is Nothing Short of Meditation

dhaka tribune

 

 
Rubaiyat Hossain

‘Labors of Love’ or ‘Asha Jaoar Majhe,’ is an ode to the men and women caught in the capitalist industrial civilisation

4This lyrical and emotionally evocative film revolves around the lives of a couple: a man who works at a newspaper printing press and a woman working at a handbag factory. The partnership of their marriage is conveyed in total silence. The man and woman never speak in the film and neither do we ever come to learn their names. In being nameless or without individual identification, the couple represents millions of men and women caged in industrial civilization.

Labors of Love’ opens with a newscaster reporting on a sudden shutdown of a factory due to global recession which results in thousands of workers out of jobs. The screen is black as we hear the news. When the visuals fade in, they do so with music, raga ‘Tilak Kamod’ in Shehnai signifying a wedding. The camera moves over surfaces in close proximity, old rugged walls, examining closely the texture and colour. This is precisely what the film continues to deliver throughout its duration. It examines the textures of the lives of this married couple in excruciating detail. The use of sound and music along with prolonged shots create a unique rhythm to draw the audience into a world without speech.

The married couple doesn’t get to see each other as the husband works night shifts while the wife works during the day. However, they carry their partnership seamlessly and in perfect sync. In the beginning of the film we see the woman walking through the alley and then blending into the cacophony that is the crowds of Kolkata. The tired husband comes home, changes into pajamas, washes himself, puts the clothes out for drying that his wife had washed, and eats his rice and fish curry left by his wife. After a small nap, the man is out in the world again, cashing his humble monthly salary check of eight thousand rupee at the bank. He goes to the fish market and buys a fish. At home, he puts the fish in the fridge and goes to bed. While at the handbag factory, enveloped in industrial noise, the wife is seen supervising daily inventory. A beautiful shot in this sequence delivers her caged state as a worker: the shot begins with a serpent like chain holding the old fashioned elevator, as the chain coils the elevator slowly comes up revealing through iron bars the tired face of the woman standing next to huge packaging boxes.

The man wakes to the sound of his alarm. He again washes himself, dresses in the clothes left ironed and folded by his wife, takes his food prepared in a tiffin box and leaves the key at a special place for his wife to find. While dressing, he finds a hole in his pants, and so hangs it on the bedpost before leaving. After reaching the empty apartment, the woman changes, washes herself and eats her meal before putting away the kitchen ration her husband had bought from the market.

Another meaningful visual strikes when we see the grains: rice, lentil, spices, and mustard being poured into containers. We see the grain in vivid detail, in extreme close ups; we follow its endless falling motion. And it is for these very grains that this man and woman work so hard. It is for this humble meal of rice and curry that they spend literally every waking hour of their days working.

What makes the film so special is the attention to details. We witness the daily routine of this man and woman down to the most personal and private details. The struggle for them to fall asleep and wake at an ungodly hour is masterfully done through the portrayal of the body language and facial expression of the actors. By simply looking at the husband and wife sharing identical snacks, tiffin and meals, gives off the impression that they are a couple. They carry out each one of their domestic chores in perfect harmony without having to even verbally communicate. When one comes home, the traces of the other are evident from the burning incense growing small. One picks out the burnt incense and starts a fresh one, continuing the daily ritual in a circular motion. The shot of the man and woman’s wet footprints on the floor is another such element that draw them together. What’s most remarkable is that, the camera lingers on the footprints as they eventually dry up. The camera, still in extreme closeness, also lingers up on the water slowly drying on the frying pan and on the golden mustard oil being poured in its place. The camera takes us very close to the soap bubbles in the bucket where clothes are left to soak, as we hear the popping sound of the bubbles, we are taken into the micro detail and reality of this household.

Throughout the entire film I kept waiting for the moment the man and woman would speak to each other, but it never came. When they finally meet, the scenario is conveyed in a trance devoid of speech. At the end this lack of words is what makes it possible to take an introspective and meditative journey into the visual reality created by Aditya Vikram Sengupta in ‘Labor of Love.

There is no music score done originally for the film. In its place Sengupta uses an array of stock music, the most haunting of which is the use of an old romantic Bengali song ‘Tumi je amar, ogo tumi je amar,’ as the husband is preparing to leave for work while the wife is getting ready to come home. The heightened romanticism of the song is bound to send chills down the Bengali audience’s emotional backbone as the couple continues to miss each other, not just one day, but everyday. The sound design of the film is nothing short of mastery. The macro sound of the monster city: the tram, the mammoth printing machines, packaging machines, the noise of the fish market, the crowd, the newscasters voice, the workers protest on the streets are juxtaposed with the subtle micro sounds of the household: the ceiling fan, the soap bubbles, the girl next door practicing music every morning, the water evaporating on the frying pan, fish frying, floor sweeping. Together these sounds bring the world of this unnamed man and woman alive for us to hear in a cinematic reality devoid of speech.

In a world of cinema where the canvas is usually overflowing this kind of stillness is a rare find. Watching ‘Labor of Love’ is nothing short of meditation.

Awards and Festivals:

  • Indira Gandhi Award for Best Film and Best Audiography at 62nd National Film Awards (India)
  • Best Director of a Debut Film at 71st Venice International Film Festival
  • Best Director at Marrakech International Film Festival
  • Jury Special Mention Abu Dhabi Film Festival
  • Honorable Mention BFI London Film Festival 
Source Link: http://www.dhakatribune.com/weekend/2015/jun/04/labor-love-nothing-short-meditation#sthash.6ePHiq5b.dpuf
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Interview : on Under Construction

dhaka tribune

Weekend

Female Director, Female Gaze

Tausif Sanzum                 

What it means to be a female director in a male dominated industry

Rubaiyat Hossain

Rubaiyat Hossain

With her new film, Under Construction being selected in the main competition ‘The New Directors Showcase’ at the Seattle International Film Festival, Rubaiyat Hossain is gearing up for its theatrical release in Bangladesh on July 31, 2015.

In an interview with Weekend Tribune, this dynamic new director shares some insights into her fascinating life and work.

Tell us about your new movie
My new movie recently got cleared by the Censor Board and it is up for release on July 31. It is about a middle class urban Muslim woman’s journey. It’s about her day to day life being a theatre actor. The reason I call it Under Construction is because the background of the film is Dhaka city and if you look at the city, you cannot find a single spot where a building is not being constructed – so the city, as such, is being constructed – it’s in a transitional phase. The urban citizen is also in the making and so is the modern Bengali woman.

And by saying a larger theme, I mean it is about trying to question tradition because she is a theatre actress doing Rokto Korobi on stage for a very long time. She wants to re-interpret the play. Can someone re-interpret something as traditional as Rabindranath Tagore? Are you supposed to do that? What happens when you do that? It is also about questioning womanhood as we know it and how she is actually trying to push the boundary in an effort to find herself.

With your earlier film also being women-centric, how is this movie different?
This film doesn’t have a heated political background like the one of 1971. It is a contemporary story and it’s about your everyday life.

With your earlier film also being women-centric, how is this movie different?
This film doesn’t have a heated political background like the one of 1971. It is a contemporary story and it’s about your everyday life.

Some people might say that you had it easy because of your affluent background. What do you have to say about the challenges of being a woman director in Dhallywood?
I think it is difficult for anybody to make films. A lot of people who are making movies are getting funding from somebody else. If you want to make a film it doesn’t happen for free. You have to either have your own money or have somebody give it to you. Either way it’s the same thing. You can say that I have more creative freedom because I don’t have to go to an outside producer. However, in terms of technicality and in working with the crew, it’s totally vague. And also in terms of working in an industry that is predominantly male dominated, the struggle is the same.

At any given time, look at the landscape of female directors even in places like Bollywood or Hollywood, how many female directors are out there? And how many of them are actually telling women stories. I think Reema Kagti tried to tell a female story in Taalash but still she needed an Aamir Khan in it to sell the movie. I had to go to films where I had to teach myself to make short films and documentaries before I could be in a position to make a feature film. Having said that, it was easier in my second film because my camera person, two of my assistant directors were women, which made it easier for me. But still, most of the rest of the crew are all males.

When did the directing bug bite you?
I have always been a very visual person. I remember when I was young and liked a novel, I would make a casting list. As I grew older I started watching Satyajit Rai movies, and that’s when I began to realised just how meaningful films could be really be. I started reading his books on films and watched all his films. Throughout my undergrad studies, when I majored in Women Studies, I took some film production courses. After I finished my undergrads I went to New York Film Academy for a Diploma in Film Direction. It was during this Diploma course when I realised that this is what I really want to do. I still went ahead did my Masters in South Asia studies. Right now I am planning to do a PhD in Cinema Studies from NYU. I am interested in academia and film making. I don’t want to be a completely commercial filmmaker. My engagement with films is more passionate.

So you never want to make a pop corn entertainer?
Never ….maybe I could but that would be de-constructive. I am very fascinated by Bollywood. I go to Mumbai a lot. I am very fascinated by the power that this kind of cinema has over people. I am interested to work on something like that, if I could make a film that would have real commercial elements, I would like to see how it affects the society. I am really interested to see how films reflect the society – how cinema can reflect, analyse a social phenomena.

A simple rickshaw puller, for example, has his own bag of problems. Why do you think he will spend his hard earned money to watch a movie based on hard hitting social messages instead of an escape-from-reality entertainer?
I think we often underestimate the audience. If the story is strong, the audience will relate. Yes, you can entertain them with a lot of bright colours, loud sounds and really good music, but I am sure if you can actually present a film that represents the actual life and trouble of, for example a rickshaw puller, then I think they will enjoy it more. When we watch a film and if we find a reflection of our life in it that makes us really happy as I can relate to that. You never can understand what kind of films audience will like unless and until you give them those options. If you are only giving them one type of films then that’s all they are going to watch.

What do you want to do with your production house, Khona Talkies?
With Khona Talkies we basically want to take baby steps. We want to produce some meaningful cinema. We have already produced one documentary which unearthed three individual voices of Birangonas. We have produced a short film which is completed and will come out soon. We plan on producing more documentaries and shorts films. We want to create a platform where we can raise issues which are otherwise not encouraged to be spoken of. We are going to start some films sessions where we are going to watch films and have discussions with people who are interested to engage with films as visual texts.

There is a recent trend for the media hype for a product out-selling the product itself. What is your take on this?
I think in today’s time and age it has become very important because if your film is going to be in theatres and if you don’t let people know then they are not going to come. But I think most of the promotions we do is online on Facebook, Youtube etc. However, I think one has to reach out not saying that my film is the best, come and watch it but at least saying my movie is in theater, come and watch it.

In the long run, do you want people to tag you as a ‘female director’ or just a ‘director’?
I think I always want to be identified as a woman. I think every person has one battle to fight and I have always picked my battle to be a woman, to find my space in the world and raise my voice as a woman creating the same space for other women. At the same time, when you make a film, you make a film. For example, in Under Construction there is a scene with this python and I am dead scared of snakes. But the moment we started shooting and I was looking through the camera, I was not scared anymore. At that moment it was not a snake but a part of my film. So when you make a film, you are just making a film and that goes beyond gender roles. But I always want to be conscious of myself as a woman.

So you feel that be it commercial or art house movies, women are shown in a very sexual way?
There is certain amount of objectification. As a director it is your own journey to find your form of representation. I wrote an article called, female director, female gaze which dealt with how a female director represents a female character. Do they sexualise the character or do they completely desexualise her? I think that’s a process of which the language will be made clearer as more female make films.

Source Link: http://www.dhakatribune.com/weekend/2015/may/07/female-director-female-gaze#sthash.bXV1Y2Ey.dpuf

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Not a he, nor a she, but an individual, in life and in death

dhaka tribune

June 11, 2013 | Op-Ed | Rubaiyat Hossain

Rituparno Ghosh’s sudden death has hit a massive emotional chord with the queer population

The funeral for Rituparno Ghosh

The funeral for Rituparno Ghosh

When Rituporno Ghosh passed away, I got the news from a queer friend of mine who lives in Kolkata. The guy was crying when he gave me the news. In the following days I have seen my queer friends in Dhaka, especially males, reacting very strongly to the death. The sudden death of Ghosh at the fairly young age of 49, seemed to have hit a massive emotional chord with the queer population in Dhaka, or at least the small intimate circle I am familiar with. I also felt that Ghosh’s passing was more than the passing of an award-winning popular director, rather it was passing of someone very close to heart, someone who was part of this intimate queer group, someone who went through the pain, humiliation and imposed silence of the queer identity as a regular dose of poisonous social reality.

“You know he actually committed suicide, he overdosed on sleeping pills, after all, how long can one live in such pain?” a queer male friend exclaimed. We sat in a small circle, talking about the social isolation Ghosh must have felt in his everyday reality — the marginalisation, the lack of social space for disclosure, the constant battle with ones parents and loved ones, the humiliation, the loneliness, the social reality that makes it impossible for a queer individual to pursue long term relationships, marriage and family. The death of Ghosh opened up a space where the silenced of the silenced, the queer community of Bangladesh, was able to speak up, at least in private spaces, outside the spectrum of heteronormativity.

Whether or not Ghosh committed suicide and whether or not the West Bengal government hushed it up, is not significant from where I stand. The fact that remains significant is that, the silenced community was able to relate to Ghosh’s life and Ghosh’s death. The social restrictions on practicing queer identity and desire were surpassed while talking about Ghosh’s reality, Ghosh’s films — Ghosh became an imagined identity, an identity one could not speak about as Muslim Bengali men, but an identity they could see reflected in Ghosh’s life, death and cinema. “We don’t live in the country of Elton Johon, Shubho!” the protagonist undergoing a sex change operation in Ghosh’s last film Chitrangada, proclaimed.

No we do not live in Elton John’s country, Kolkata is no New York, Berlin or Paris. Kolkata is still largely a patriarchal society where queer identity is marginalised, the patriarchal misogynist currency of desire largely dominates the film/media industry. Ghosh survived in that culture, and was able to express identity as chosen by an individual, not imposed by norms; and this is precisely why the silenced queer males and females looked at Ghosh’s life and film as the only mirror where they saw themselves reflected. The death of Ghosh was a death of that mirror. The death of Ghosh was the culmination of violence of the narrow social prescription on queer individuals.

Another friend of mine, a heterosexual male, a Film Institute of Pune graduate confessed, “we did make fun of him a lot, humiliated him about his ways.” Another friend of mine, heterosexual and male, once told me that all Rituporno Ghosh films were actually Ritupornography. The slight nudity and often sexual element of Ghosh’s film was termed “pornography” whereas there are numerous other Bengali/Indian films that show much more flesh, and that too for the purpose of box office sales. I believe, Ghosh’s sexual content was criticised by them because Ghosh posed an elaborate critic of Bengali patriarchy and its manipulation of female sexuality in films like Antarmahal , Dahaan , Chokher Bali, etc.

Whereas Tagore’s Chokher Bali depicted Binodini as a fallen woman who eventually comes back to her senses and denounces material life, Ghosh took the depiction a step further and established agency in Binodini. Binodini in Ghosh’s Chokher Bali is presented to us as a complete individual who cherishes love, friendship, sex, revolution, travel, drinking tea and home making all at the same time. When this film came out I was an MA student in south Asia studies in Philadelphia. That semester I had a course on Indian Cinema and Society with an acclaimed visiting professor from India who is also a filmmaker. When I expressed overwhelming satisfaction with Ghosh’s representation of Binodini, the professor replied: “Rituporno’s Chokher Bali is all décor, nothing more.” The reason why, while I internalise the passing of one of my favorite contemporary directors making films in Bengali language and culture, I piece together personal anecdotes, is to depict the general reaction of heteronormative film culture towards Rituporno Ghosh.

Rituporno Ghosh only started expressing his queer identity after the death of his parents. It is obvious that the parents could never accept Ghosh’s identity, Ghosh had to wait till their death to make films like Memories in March, Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish, and Arekti Premer Golpo, where the proclamation of queer identity was possible. The question remains why would Ghosh have to move on just when the journey into stripping off the performance of gendered identity, and the quest for understanding, and living individual desire were coming into play? Was it narrow social space? Was it truly a heart attack? Was it depression? Was it loneliness? Was it the umbilical cord of Bengali culture, a cord that haunted Ghosh’s cinema in his mesmerising reinterpretation of Tagore tunes, a cord that was never cut? Would Ghosh have lived longer, lived more happily if he actually lived in Elton John’s country as the protagonist of his last feature film, a character played by Ghosh, had said.

Whether or not Ghosh’s death was natural or suicide, is irrelevant, what is relevant is the mourning of my queer friends who truly believe that it was a suicide, and it was a result of Ghosh’s socially marginalised position in society because of his queer identity. “After all, how long can one suffer like this?” one of my friends vented. The event of Ghosh’s death too, was imagined as a suicide, this belief was rooted in the personal pain of these queer individuals living in Dhaka city where silence must be worn not like a mask, but like a skin. Mourning Ghosh and talking about Ghosh I felt myself unable to use the term “he” or “she” to denote Rituporno Ghosh. The person who lived to create a life, and self, outside the cage of gendered norms remains as an individual in cinema, in life and more so in death. Rituporno Ghosh with the films, with the lived experience of decoding the gendered body, proved that gender is a mere performance, it is what we do at particular times, rather than a universal notion of who we are.

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I am not a hanger for your ideology

dhaka tribune

June 01, 2013 | Op-Ed | Rubaiyat Hossain

Why have women’s bodies become a political battleground?

Their attire should be based on their personal beliefs, not what a man chooses to mandate for them

Their attire should be based on their personal beliefs, not what a man chooses to mandate for them

I had faced the threat once before. It was in 2001. Delwar Hussain Sayedee’s tape titled “Nari O Porda” (Women and the Veil) was selling everywhere.

Bangladesh was going through a process of Islamisation. The horror of imagining Bangladesh turning into a state where I would be forced to confine myself in veils was lurking around the corner.

Then followed the years when America’s ongoing war on terror unleashed chaos in the Muslim world, the word Islam became synonymous with terrorism; progressive France put an embargo on wearing veils to school.

These are the years when I grew closer to my identity as a Muslim woman, wearing the veil didn’t seem like such a farfetched idea, after all, political Islam had kicked in for the progressive Muslim; wearing a hijab was even considered the “in thing” to do. One could wear a hijab and eloquently, theoretically, politically convince you that, after all, it is a choice.

The hijab has acquired a new meaning apart from symbolising backwardness, barbarity, lack of freedom — it has now morphed into a mark of political identity, its wearing a mark of resistance against the imperial West.

Nonetheless, the problematic issue remains: the hijab doesn’t hang in a vacuum; it needs a woman’s body to make its appearance, to proclaim identity, to preach ideology.

Over and over again, it is the woman’s body that becomes the battleground, the ground upon which the winning side will display its ideology.

A few days before Hefazat’s Dhaka siege, I spotted two boys dressed in Madrasa attire staring at my bare arms as if all of a sudden my genitalia had appeared there. Wearing a sleeveless top seemed just as nude as that. Later I recalled the repulsion I saw in their eyes. They looked at my arms as something terribly vulgar, a pound of flesh that should have been covered up, a pound of flesh they are restricted from seeing, let alone touching.

It is not only women’s bodies, but men’s bodies, and their desires that are threatened by the Islamist forces in Bangladesh.

Repression is their mantra, adding more repression to the already conservative Bengali culture can only aim to create a society where sexuality is considered vulgar, women — the object of desire is rendered impure and unclean, segregation is indispensable for maintaining social equilibrium.

As Hefazat proclaimed, women will walk to work safely clad in their layers of burqa, even when it is a 100 degrees outside. Women will abide by Sharia law, and who will interpret Sharia law and Quranic injunctions for them?

None other, but the leader of our home grown Islamist politics, the successors of the rural mullahs, those men who have authored their fatwas over women’s bodies, thrown stones at her, because she was fallen, because she was raped.

On the late afternoon of the Dhaka siege, I got a call from one of my ex-students who told me about her encounter with four men who stopped her rickshaw around Jatrabari.

These men in their beards, white kurtas and religious caps told her not to roam alone without a male “guardian,” they told her to cover herself like a good Muslim woman, then they pulled down the rickshaw hood and sent the young woman off. Sitting with her head hanging low, wishing she had a bigger scarf, terribly scared, she asked: “Is it real? Can they really going to force us to wear veils, here in Bangladesh?” I had no answer for her.

Bangladesh has reached a political milieu where the promises of a secular homeland are clearly dwindling.

The country is now divided into two: the infidels and the believers. I am no infidel, but I refuse to adhere to the brand of Islam proclaimed by Hefazat.

I do not care if they represent the masses, neither am I ready to give them any mileage as some home grown anti-imperial political force. Thank you, but no thank you, I do not need a hijab, or a veil, or a burqa.

I want to stand outside soaking my skin in the sun because I am a free human being. I do not care if you are going to argue back that the concept of freedom is constructed, and it is essentially a Western construct.

I am not on the side of any particular political camp, I am neither on the left nor the right. I am just not interested to become a hanger for any particular political ideology.

I do not need to be spoon-fed either freedom or dignity. I do not stand for or against the empire, or nationalism and nation-states for that matter, because by the virtue of their constructs these institutions have failed to deliver me anything but the pigeonhole reality of symbolism, stereotype and sexual slavery.

I am on my own side, on the side of “women,” committing the sin of imagining “Bangladeshi women” as a homogenous group – a group that has proved to be resilient against all odds; earning the country its highest export income and a prestigious Nobel prize, sitting for exams even after fingers have been hacked off, continuing their education even after being blinded by husbands, mere children taking to the streets to demand justice against sexual assault by school teachers, and the list goes on.

It is the resilience of Bangladeshi women that stands as a beacon of hope in a nation that is blindfolded by its political leaders.

Bangladeshi women know better than to let their bodies be hijacked by varying forces of this deluded nation that is still piecing together and trying to come to peace with its national identity, a journey grievously incomplete forty two years after independence.

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The fractured Bangladeshi nation

dhaka tribune

May 24, 2013 | Op-Ed | Rubaiyat Hossain

The national rhetoric must evolve and learn from history

Cartoon-OPED_0

Today we stand fractured as a nation. The umbrella of homogenous national identity is ruptured. We are divided in the way we recall our history, recollect our dreams, and reconstruct the birth moment of our country.

There is only one Bangladesh, but its citizens comprise diverse political and ideological camps. To make the matter more complex, each political-ideological camp whether it is the centre, the extreme left or the extreme right, all believe in polarised binaries. It is no wonder that the counter force to the Shahbagh movement, Hefazat-e-Islam, is demanding the same exact punishment that Shahbagh demanded — a noose.

Today you are either an Awami League or Bangladesh Nationalist Party supporter, today you are either “secular-athiest-pro liberation force conscious of its ethnicity as Bengalis” or “Islamic-fundamentalist-religious-anti liberation force conscious of its identity as Muslims first and Bengalis afterward.” What if you don’t want to belong to either of these camps? Well, tough luck!

Looking at the declining number of Bangladesh’s Hindu population and the atrocities carried out in the CHT, it is evident that the secular badge of honour of our cultural elites is more a sham than the real thing. This observation would surely earn one the title of a “neo-razakar.”

The weakest part of the Shahbagh movement has been its intolerance, its obsession with capital punishment, its tendency to witch hunt anyone who evokes any ifs or buts. What Shahbagh demanded was to take time back, but it is not possible once the clock has clicked away for 42 years. Bitter as bile, we must be able to admit and comprehend what we have become. Bangladesh is not a plain slate like in 1971.

Our political past is mired with military coups, military government morphing into democratically elected political parties, not once but twice: under Ziaur Rahman and Hussain Muhammed Ershad, leaving Awami League as the only party with a legitimate political history. The political ideologies upheld by the democratic parties formed by these two military personnel gave space for those who had drifted away from Awami League or differed from Awami League’s position. The defeated forces of 1971 after being restored to Bangladeshi politics followed by the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had also grown as a prominent political force under the banner of Jamaat-e-Islam.

When Awami League initiated the process to bring war criminals to justice, the majority of the country seemed to have applauded the trial. We all agreed: it has been a long overdue verdict, justice should have been served a long time ago, now is the time to amend past mistakes, we will exterminate the war criminals, we will wipe the slate clean, and we will go back in some imaginary time machine to 1972, and restore our original constitution.

The generation that roared at Shahbagh, for the most part, had been born after 1971. They are not the dreamers of a “Shonar Bangla,” but rather the citizens of a harsh Bangladesh where every dream seems to have fallen through the cracks of an inadequate nation-building process. For this disillusioned generation, 1971 appears as a moment of utopia, a moment of possibility, a moment when a new beginning was possible. Thus, they create an illusion of returning back to the moment, imagining that it is possible to wipe the slate clean of the betrayals, blood and utter stupid politics that followed in the years after independence.

Shahbagh is no 1971 and murdered blogger Rajib Haider no Asad. The too-quick emotional fireworks of the youth has been championed by politicians. Soon after Shahbagh became a hub of public support, the government infiltrated the movement by putting Awami League’s cultural wing and Awami League’s student leaders at the forefront with Shahbagh blogger leaders. Jamaat-Shibir took a very calculative and measured step in allegedly murdering a person who was at the fringes of the Shahbagh movement, a person who wrote disturbing posts about Islam and the Prophet in the private confine of his computer and personal blogs.

After Rajib’s murder while leaders shed tears and named him “Asad,” termed him a martyr, Jamaat played its biggest ploy of publishing the private blogs in public space, in newspapers for the entire country to read. Simultaneously they ran campaigns about the infidelity of the bearers of the Shahbagh movement. The duality of Bengali Muslim identity came in play. We started questioning our priorities, are we to protect our nation’s pride or the Prophet’s? It was indeed a tough call to make. So we fractured into many.

Shahbagh had shown us the spirit of the youth, their frustration and their urge to change, but it has also shown us how the spirit of the youth had been neatly championed by political parities; each manipulating the youth for their own, regardless of if it was madrasa kids or the secular kids of Dhaka University. In this chaos, the voice of the youth demanding a Bangladesh where they can grow, has been lost. Now we only hear roars demanding the noose from all sides.

It has been the unwillingness of the Shahbagh youth to comprehend the nuances surrounding the history of 1971 that led them to overlook the complicated question of identity. By calling ourselves “Bangalee we excluded the ethnic minorities, we called for rigid positions, we made little children chant “Faashi,” and finally we ignored the complicated fractured past of Bengali Muslims.

It is absurd to demand a hardline, black and white truth because our political past is anything but. If we are not able to measure up to our conflicting political past then we can’t hope to solve the problems at hand today.

When there are multiple positions and political currents emerging, then it is perhaps best to keep a keen eye open, to examine and understand who we are as Bangladeshis, who we have become over the past decades and who we want to be in the future without holding stubborn blindfolded positions.

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