Democracy and Human Rights

From Bangabandhu to Sheikh Hasina

Waliur Rahman

17 March, 2021 12:00 AM printer

“Democracy is never a final achievement: It is a call to an untiring effort.” John F. Kennedy

When we talk about democracy and human rights in Bangladesh, we cannot but recall the determined effort of Bangabandhu Shiekh Mujibur Rahman in giving the basic freedoms to the people of Bengal. From the very first day he realised that within the existing system in Pakistan it would be impossible to ensure the basic rights of the people of East Bengal. In the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1955 and 1956, Bangabandhu underlined that the rights of the Bengalees were to be protected, their rights have to be defended in order to give a sense of belonging to the people of the majority province of Pakistan, i.e. East Bengal.

The events that followed in quick succession are but the demonstration of his firm belief that without democracy, meaning-one man one vote-the 'rights of the Bengalees cannot be guaranteed.' The creative leadership that Bangabandhu gave to the people of Bengal during the Language Movement of 52, Jukto Front election in 1954, the Declaration of the 6 point programme of 1966, the 11 point programme of the All Party Students Action Unity (APSU) and the Non-Cooperation movement of 1971 culminating in the glorious War of Liberation has to be seen in this context. The War of Liberation became inevitable because the comprador-military-bureaucratic combine refused the idea of granting minimal democratic rights to the people of East Pakistan.

When Bangabandhu declared independence on March 26, you will note the acute sense of history, in Lionel Trillings words, feeling' of a leader who took into account the interest of every Bengalee. He courted arrest because he knew fully well that the Pakistani Generals would not spare anyone in Dhaka if they could not find him. In this very act of courage he showed his concern for the rights of innocent men, women and children at the expense of his own safety and security. In the foreground of Mianwali jail while his grave was being readied by the grave diggers, he didn't hesitate to say that he would court death rather than betray his people, betray the inalienable rights-Human Rights of the people of Bengal. He knew fully well in his mind that it was only through struggle that Bengalees would be finally liberated-economically and politically.

Truly enough when Bangabandhu returned to Dhaka on Jan 10, 1972, his first pronouncements were about the reconstruction of the war ravaged country, building bridges and culverts, provision for food and shelter not only for the 10 million refugees returning from neighbouring India, but also for those millions who were displaced within the country.

Bangabandhu worked day and night to give the people their rights.

For the new born country he quickly went around to make sure that democracy in Bangladesh strikes firm roots: thus Bangladesh was admitted to all the UN agencies from 1972 to 1974 and finally the United Nations on September 17, 1974. He said, "This is the moment when we must reaffirm in unequivocal terms that there is an international responsibility to ensure that everyone everywhere should enjoy the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality as guaranteed to him by the Universal declaration of Human Rights ..........right to a standard of livings adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family." (Ref. Ten Years of Bangladesh in the United Nations (1974-1984))

Bangabandhu was brutally murdered along with his family on 15th August 1975 and with that assassination human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Bangladesh vanished in the dark of the evil night.

Zia, Ershad and Khaleda propelled the country to darkness while Sheikh Hasina brought about light in our life, gradually leading us to a life of glory.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set about to ensure that democracy strikes roots in the country permanently. With that end in view she has undertaken the following measures for both democracy and rights of the people of Bangladesh, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. She signed the 30 year old Ganges Water Treaty and the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord. While previous governments were more interested in making political issues out of the Ganges water problem, the Prime Minister approached the problem with pragmatism and sharp acumen and pulled through the Water deal, thereby solving the acute water shortage problem for the arid areas. The Chittagong Hill Tracts problem was also solved in the same manner.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has actually done more in the human rights arena ensuring rights for food, shelter and security education and legal and monetary aid for the elderly, the women and children in as short time as possible than any other governments before her. The Government enacted Women and Children Repression Act to eliminate violence against women and children.

While in power, Sheikh Hasina has opened up many sectors traditionally reserved for the public sector to the private sector, including health, banking, higher education, TV and even export processing and economic zones. There has also been significant development in the power sector.”

She has also been recognised as Mother of Humanity for providing shelter to the displaced Rohingyas.

The global economic downturn due to coronavirus has also had a negative impact on our economy. Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has dealt with this situation with great courage and continues to do so. He has been playing a unique role in overcoming the national crisis.

Recently, Bangladesh has received the final recommendation of the United Nations to move from the list of least developed countries to developing countries. We are now a role model for the world.

Bangladesh today has promoted secularism and religious freedom, democracy and fundamental human rights.

If Sheikh Mujib was the architect of a free sovereign country and left a clear-cut IDEA for the future, it is Shiekh Hasina who has given a concrete shape to that IDEA-in consolidating the democratic roots in the country. Sheikh Hasina’s leadership is essential for the country, the region and the world as well.


Waliur Rahman, a career diplomat, is the author of Forgotten War: Forgotten Genocide