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Salimullah Khan

Intellectuals proceeding with fragmented ideas of history a major problem

Salimullah  Khan

Salimullah Khan

Thu, 9 Nov 23

An unprecedented mass upsurge and a war for independence led to the creation of a state named Bangladesh. Little by little, the country has already passed 52 years of independence. The nation celebrated the golden jubilee of independence amid grandeur. However, in these 52 years, Bangladesh has come a long way as a nation. In art and culture, literature, intellectual discourse, and intellectual life, Bangladesh has made significant strides. In an interview with Assistant Professor at the Department of Communication and Journalism at Jagannath University Rahat Minhaz, Renowned intellectual and philosopher Salimullah Khan discussed on various aspects of the country's intellectual and cultural landscape. Here are the significant parts of the interview. 

Rahat Minhaz: I would like to know your assessment of how far intellectual practice, intellectual achievements, or intellectual life has progressed in Bangladesh over the past 52 years.
Salimullah Khan:
Before evaluating the progress or decline of intellectual advancement in this country, we need to clarify two points. Bangladesh's history is not confined to just 52 years; rather, these 52 years represent the history of the state. Currently, a major challenge for our intellectuals is the prevalent fragmented understanding of the country's history. In 52 years, Bangladesh has undoubtedly established itself as a nation, but as a people or a country, it has a much deeper and ancient history. In the past 52 years, one example can illustrate the progress we have made. This country was once under British rule, and before that, it was under the Mughal Empire. Without delving into the lengthy history, I can state that Bangladesh became a part of Pakistan in 1947, the moment the British Empire left this country. Even before that, we had discovered some treasures in the annals of history here. For example, there lived a gentleman named Nalinikanta Bhattashali in Bikrampur, the southern part of Dhaka. He built the Dhaka Museum, which is called Bangladesh National Museum today. He discovered at least 30 large piles in the area during the 1920s-1930s. This was a time when the Harappa-Mohenjo-daro civilization was uncovered in the western part of the Indian subcontinent. However, not much progress has been made in this field since then. Bikrampur was once the capital of a region in Bengal over a thousand years ago. Let me give you an example. Later, we have seen Mahasthangarh in Bogura, Paharpur, and the archaeological treasures of Mainamati-Lalmai in Cumilla; these are priceless assets in our history. If you want to delve into the intellectual depth of a country, you must explore its own history. These places have been opened up for the Tourism Corporation. People go to see them. However, to understand the significance of these, we need to delve into our history. Many big states were formed here. It was part of the Mauryan Empire, dating back to around three to four centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ, during the time of Emperor Ashoka. Approximately five to seven centuries later, what we refer to as the Gupta Empire arose. To understand what is called Kalidasa's time was part of Bangladesh.

Rahat Minhaz: Sir, many discoveries have been made even after independence. Many new things have come to the fore.
Salimullah Khan:
Yes, a new discovery took place after the independence of Bangladesh. That is Uari Bateswar. Where is Uari Bateswarta? Once upon a time Brahmaputra came to the junction where Meghna met. It has been seen that many ancient coins have been found there. A school teacher named Habibullah Pathan used to collect them first. After 2000, its excavations started especially with the initiative of some teachers at the Department of Archeology of Jahangirnagar University. So, what we see is that the history of Bangladesh is much older than we might perceive. For example, many coins were found there, which we did not find during Pala or Sena period. I am not saying that it proves anything more. From Lalmai Hill in Cumilla to Mainamati, all the wonderful sculptures of the Buddhist civilization have been unearthed in this 10-12 mile stretch, including Buddhist rock and stone statue. The artisans who created these and the accurate history behind the books written there are still unknown to us. Therefore, I would say that by solely focusing on the national history, we might miss out on a certain pride in comprehending the broader history of the entire country. It's a significant matter. For this, I would point out places like Mahasthangarh, Paharpur, Mainamati, Lalmai, and Wari-Bateshwar, among many others in Bangladesh.

Rahat Minhaz: Sir, there was a rich civilization in Dhaka or this region as well. We know about Bikrampur...
Salimullah Khan:
This, where Dhaka, Savar and Sonargaon—all together, was Bikrampur. It was the central hub. But the spread of civilization in this country extended further. In Dinajpur, multiple ancient forts are discovered. Panchagarh reveals fortifications. It implies that many years ago, there existed a state or societal structure here. Chattogram can be called a strange country. It’s the largest and oldest of all living cities in Bangladesh. Why? Dhaka's age is 400 years. Kolkata's age is 300 years. Chattogram is less than 1200 years old. How do we know this? Those who came from other countries of the world, like China, used to visit here, arriving through the Chattogram port. One such port was situated at Saptagram on the Hooghly estuary near Kolkata. As for us, we are in Chattogram. I am saying all this because Bangladesh is a very old country. Maybe it is not as ancient as Harappa-Mahenjodaro. It doesn't matter. However, its civilization is at least three thousand years old. It is good for us to understand this, that the people of this country were not always confined to one state.

Rahat Minhaz: And if we delve into the realm of intellectual discourse.
Salimullah Khan:
Look how fast the borders of the country change. When the British started conquering India during the British period, they started from three centres. One is Kolkata. One is Bombay and the other is Madras. This Kolkata was the capital of all India. In 1905, when the British divided this Bangladesh into two provinces, Assam and East Bengal, known as Bengal Partition. On the other hand, West Bengal along with Bihar and Orissa was made another province. In protest against this, six years later, the British, after facing resistance in the Partition of Bengal, relinquished Kolkata as the capital and moved it from Kolkata to Delhi. This has led to a misconception that Delhi has always been the eternal capital of Bangladesh. This is not true. Six years later the British moved the capital from Calcutta to Delhi in the Battle of Bengal due to protests against it. It made us think that the capital of Bangladesh seems to have been Delhi forever. This is not true. In the history of the last two and a half thousand years, Delhi was not more than five hundred years as the capital of all India. That's what I'm saying. That is, Bangladesh was not always under Delhi. If we start from the conquest of Bengal by Ikhtiyar Uddin Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji (Turkish), let's assume it began in the year 1200. From then until about 750 years later, it may have been associated with Delhi. After that, it was entirely independent for two centuries, from 1338 to 1538. Bangladesh remained independent until 1576. Then, under Akbar's rule, this region remained part of Delhi's empire for approximately 175 years. Even Siraj-ud-Daula and Alivardi Khan were also governors of Delhi. They were called Subedar. Later, the British took control. Therefore, I am saying, our history has undergone significant changes. Look at the borders. Initially, Gaur was the capital of Bangladesh, followed by West Bengal. There were places named Gaur, Pandua and Rajmahal. Bangladesh had a historical connection with Bihar at that time. If North Bengal and Bihar form a unit, then the capital would naturally be in the central location of Gaur. This Bangladesh was therefore once called Gaurbang. People playfully combined Rarh and Banga, referring to Rarh and Gaur. Banga was indeed this region, the area of Faridpur-Dhaka.

(It will continue sequentially: the next part will focus on the intellectual discourse and evaluation of Salimullah Khan.)

Interviewed by Rahat Minhaz, Assistant Professor at the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, Jagannath University, Dhaka.

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