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Inaugural issue 5 : Prospect of Bangla literature

Nobel literary works cannot be concessional

Salimullah  Khan

Salimullah Khan

Tue, 30 Jan 24

After Third episode
Bangladesh has emerged through an unprecedented mass movement and people's war. The country has now crossed 52 years since Independence, counting one, two, three. We celebrated the golden jubilee of Independence in stately splendor. But how far has Bangladesh progressed as a country in these 52 years? Bangladesh has come a long way in art, culture, literature, intellectual practice, and intellectualism. Rahat Minhaz, Assistant Professor of Mass Communication and Journalism Department of Jagannath University, had a detailed conversation with eminent intellectual and thinker Salimullah Khan on these issues. The critical parts of that conversation appear here in sequence. Episode 4 today:

Rahat Minhaz: There was a time when intellectualism in Bangladesh was connected with politics in the context of various movements that had taken place and changes happened in society and the state. But what is the current situation?
Salimullah Khan:
Dhaka University was established in 1921, and Bangladesh was established in 1971. If you compare those fifty years and the fifty years after the creation of Bangladesh, you will understand.

Rahat Minhaz: How do you evaluate the role of intellectuals in Bangladesh's society, movements, and intellectuals' contribution to building the country? What was their contribution in 1971 – I would like to know your take on this.
Salimullah Khan:
Let's start before 1971. After the establishment of Dhaka University in 1921 till 1971, we had one primary demand, desire, if you will, that the education system should be universal. What is the meaning of founding Dhaka University? The children of this region will get the opportunity to earn higher education. Then, gradually, progress was made over 50 years, and one of the results was the Independence of Bangladesh. The current leadership of Bangladesh, all of them directly or indirectly, emerged from Dhaka University and, at a later stage, from Rajshahi University, Chittagong University, and Jahangirnagar University. These four public universities and medical and engineering institutions were the breeding ground for our leadership. We had a big commitment that the mother tongue would be the medium of education.

Bengali should be recognized in all government jobs in Pakistan. It should be the national language. But look, what has happened to the Bengali language after the Independence of Bangladesh? We can call it snatching away the ladder after asking one to climb the tree. Think honestly. I don't need to say that. This is an example of our state of intellectuality. We have not established the Bengali language as a medium of education. Instead, we are making various arrangements to see it off in higher education and primary and secondary education. Even where there are kindergartens, you have completed it as a norm to teach in English medium. How did this deterioration happen? I did not see any protests from intellectuals.

Rahat Minhaz: At this stage, I want to know who the intellectuals are in your view.
Salimullah Khan:
Who is an intellectual? Teachers are a big part of intellectuals. What is the status of teachers in society? Start considering the marriage market and say it yourself. Suppose a bridegroom comes to the marriage market and says he is a teacher; tell me where he stands as an ideal candidate for matrimony. This is the perspective of society. What are teachers doing? We are teaching hodgepodge by mixing English and Bengali. At the beginning of the interview, you said that books are being published in abundance in Bangladesh. But all the books of higher education in Bangladesh are not in Bengali. If you look at book publishing as an industry, our industry is in shambles. How many crores of books are sold annually? Maybe 70 to 100 crores of taka, but compared to the amount being laundered abroad presently, 100 crore is nothing. Is this not a shame? Our entire book industry depends on a February fair. It sells books worth only 100 crore takas.

Presumably, the industry's annual turnover is around 1000 crore takas. How does this amount look in real terms? Currently, when our budget is hundreds of thousands of takas, does a book market of 100, 200, or 500 crore takas matter? What is the reason for this? From where can our book market grow? Of course, it centers on the education system. What can we say there? There were high-quality literary magazines during the Pakistan period. Now, there are some bureaucratic newspapers. You know about Kali O Kalam. Bangla Academy publishes a magazine called Uttoradhikar, but you won't understand it unless you see its adverts. If a country's book magazine comes out, people will rush to buy the magazine. At least students will read, but no such magazines come out these days.

Rahat Minhaz: But why do we not have good writing and literature?
Salimullah Khan:
As a writer, if you want to attract people's attention, be it a political slogan or pornography. But can we call it literature? Where is the great literature that I talked about? I think I read every word of what Hasan Azizul Haque had written. I don't see more than a mediocre writer in him. He was a good teacher. He was articulate. I am saying this because if you compromise in your life with lies, you cannot write great literature.

Rahat Minhaz: I would like your opinion on intellectuality and 1971. This is the same question I asked before.
Salimullah Khan:
1971 made intellectuals famous. I don't know if the intellectuals made the '71. But '71 produced intellectuals. I am not denying the contribution of intellectuals. Those who were students at Dhaka University in 1921 were the intellectuals; they were the teachers and the ones who brought '71. But we got a separate Martyrs Intellectual Day because the Pakistanis and their collaborators killed intellectuals in significant numbers during the liberation war. But those who were martyred in 1952, what is their status today? What did you name them? They are called Bahasa Soinik. Don't we understand it? Isn't it like female writers? Writers are all writers, but why do you say women or female poets? That means you are condescending. Simply put, you patted them on their back and said, even though she is a woman, she is a poet! This was the norm because girls were not ahead in education. We used to call them martyrs from 1952 to 1971, but now the Bangla Academy has christened them as Language Warrior. Rafiq, Jabbar, Barakat, Salam - appended by Bhasha Shahid. Who let you do it?

Rahat Minhaz: If we come to the definition of intellectuality, sir.
Salimullah Khan
: Intellectuals speak the truth and fight for it. I don't see that in Bangladesh now. Tell me if you visit it. The number of intellectuals as a profession has increased. The number of university teachers in the country has increased. There are now 150 universities in the country, but literature is inferior. I proved that the condition of our Bengali language is worse. Our education is terrible. We still haven't made primary education universal. They claim everyone is admitted. But, then, it drops out within five years. There is no sincerity to find out why they drop out. The NGOs who work in this field are doing more injustice. They say that intellectuals are violating the Constitution. We all said that education should be universal and single-stream. We have said during the Pakistan era everything. The goal was to abolish madrasa education and integrate it with conventional school education. This is a secret, but now you are differentiating further by introducing an English medium of education.

Instead of two branches, you are now making ten. For this reason, we always see that after the middle class got power and united with the state- before it was a foreign state- they either betrayed or were disloyal to society. For this, a high price will have to be paid. There is a saying in English: there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone feeds and pays the bills. Where are we paying the price? Bangladesh has completed 52 years of Independence. You ask whether we have been able to send 100 percent of children to primary school or not. There is a mess with the account. I will not argue whether our literacy rate is 74 or 76 percent. But why not one hundred percent? Why not spend six percent of our total national income on education? Why will only two cents be spent?

Corruption is happening everywhere; I leave it at that. That is, education is our priority or not? Is health our priority or not? Public service is not our priority. There is progress in such a big city like Dhaka, which we call visible signs. But if you go to the streets of Dhaka city, it does not seem like a city in any developed country. We can go abroad for various reasons. Communication has increased. These are signs of improvement. The speed of your airplane has accelerated. You can travel around the world in 24 hours. But if you compare the road conditions of other countries and our country. But then you will argue that we are a developing country.

Rahat Minhaz: But economically, we are also moving forward.
Salimullah Khan:
Now, let's talk something funny. Bangladesh is now boasting it will be a middle-income country by 2026. Then, within a few years, we will be an upper-middle-income country. It is better to say these, but with so many impoverished and without employment opportunities, there is no use in being a high-middle income country. Excluding upper-middle-income countries, the US is also a developing country if you consider it. According to their statistics, fifteen percent of Americans live below the poverty line. They come from different races. They are Black, Asian, and Mexican. Which means who will question the progress we are going through in a capitalist society and the problems it causes? Those who ask questions are called intellectuals.

(To be continued)

Also Read
Episode 1
Intellectuals proceeding with fragmented ideas of history a major problem
Episode 2
No more politics, only diplomacy dominates our country
Episode 3
We are now in a dark age in the literature of Bangladesh In Arabic, it is called Ayame Jahiliya

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