Shat Bhai Champa Jaga re Jaga re

Farhad Mazhar

(Translation by Enakshi Nandi)

[Editorial note: The following translation is excerpted from a long essay entitled “Shat Bhai Champa Jaga re Jaga re” by Farhad Mazhar. It was anthologized in a book titled “Yasmin: Biplobhinotar kale akti raktapater Shironam” edited by Altaf Parvez and published by Shammilita Nari Shamaj (1996: 95-97). The featured image shows youth in Rajshahi protesting sexual harassment and rape in 2020. Photographer unknown].

[…] The concept of “nation” is often defined by the English term “body politic”. There was a time when the monarch was the embodiment of sovereign power in an empire. In other words, the body of the king was symbolic of the body of the nation; the king was the kingdom. When modern nation-states came into being, the symbolism of sovereign power encoded in the body of the monarch gradually shifted to the body of the social system, or society itself. In other words, if society is a collection of people, then the sovereignty of society means the sovereignty of the people. When the people’s sovereign desire finds expression or embodiment in a physical form, it is known as a body politic or a nation.

This is one way to describe body politic. There are various other strands of thought circulating in the theoretical depths of political science. However, it is very significant that the term “body politic” retains its central reference to the body. We also began with a reference to the body. We shall begin the second part with reference to the body too. In the second section, we will talk about the resurrection of the social body or the rise of the sovereign power of the people. I began by recounting my experience with my body in prison. I traveled ten miles with Yasmin, and then to Dinajpur. Trying to understand how the act of sheltering a nameless, unknown girl led to the awakening of a sovereign people. What is this awakening? How did a dead Yasmin’s body resurrect as a society’s body? The body whose rape and murder was counted by this awakened society as its own rape, as the murder of a part of its own body. To bear witness to its newly awakened identity, it did not hesitate to hand over seven bodies to the police without remorse for the sake of one dead body. This awakening of society as one body – these are the glorious moments we remember and attempt to understand.      

The dead Yasmin has re-awakened in Dinajpur. The question is whether we will be able to give a fully realized form to this physicality, this body of this lively society. Will we be able to build a society where the nation does not rape? Will we be able to establish a democracy where the bureaucracy and the administration do not unleash their autocratic power to constantly rape the people? Where they cannot jail whoever they want on the basis of the Special Power Act? Or where they cannot issue fake press notes to cover up their crimes of murder and rape.  

One thing is very clear from this awakening in Dinajpur. The anti-people bureaucracy and administration is in conflict with the public. The fake press note is the biggest proof of the fact that Yasmin was not just raped and murdered by the three policemen in the van. The entire administration, the entire bureaucracy, the Home Secretary, and the Home Minister are all complicit in this rape and murder. The anti-people bureaucracy and administration have been placed on public trial by the common people of Dinajpur. Along with them, the Home Minister, the Home Secretary, and the officials at the Home Ministry are also guilty. The public will have to pass a verdict on all of them. This battle to defeat the autocratic, rapacious, terrorist, and anti-people bureaucracy and administration, and establish the sovereign power of the public has only revealed a sliver of the light of their strength. Now the question is, the light that has been ignited in Dinajpur, can we ignite it in Dhaka? Yasmin has reached Dinajpur, but will we be able to bring her to Dhaka? This is my question now.

Trying to answer this question has given rise to many doubts in my mind. We are aware of the strength of the public. But this strength is a spontaneous one. The incident at Dinajpur will remain an isolated one if we do not know to what end this strength should and can be directed. The spontaneous strength of the public can achieve a positive result if there is a positive roadmap in society. That roadmap need not necessarily be perfect. It need not even be etched out in detail. Because people do not follow rules. But for the nation that we want to be a part of, we must at least have some understanding of the ethical foundations of its form and structure before our eyes. For instance, what must the Constitution of a nation we are proud to be citizens of, look like? If such basics are not clear then at least society must have a clear idea of what the existing dangers are. It is through the process of assessing dangers, understanding, and resolving them that the ethical foundations of society are laid. However, it is also not as simple as all that, where everyone will be able to recognize the nature of the danger on their own. Without honing the intellect of society, encouraging debates and discussions amongst thinking people, nurturing an unflinching honesty that can identify the dangers present, and, above all, ensuring freedom of thought, we will not be able to proceed an inch. That means, identifying dangers is also a social concern, not just an individual one. If we can understand the dangers then it is also possible to resolve them; only then shall we be able to move on from the present state to a positive one. Through this social process, the ethical foundations of the future society we want to develop for our children will also be laid. The psychologist Sigmund Freud said something very important about human dreams. Which is, people only dream those dreams, the problems which they are capable of solving. Many sociologists have used this idea in the context of society and said that society can clearly understand for itself those problems that it is capable of resolving by itself.

The fact that the rift, conflict, and enmity between society and the bureaucracy and administration has taken an extreme form is clear. It is not true, however, that this is the first time this truth has made itself apparent. We have been conscious of our social obligations even after the bloody Independence War in 1971 when we took up the initiative to build this society. However, the nation was so structured that the bureaucracy and administration became parasites on the people and sucked up all of their nourishing milk – a fact that is more or less known to political scientists. Even during the reign of Pakistan in Bangladesh, we have seen what the alliance of the military and bureaucracy can look like.  

Author Farhad Mazhar

Farhad Mazhar (born 9 August 1947) is a Bangladeshi poet, philosopher, writer, columnist, pharmacist, social and human rights activist, and environmentalist. He is one of the founders and the managing director of UBINIG.

Enakshi Nandi

Dr. Enakshi Nandi has earned her Ph.D. from the Centre for Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Her Ph.D. is on the grammar and use of Ulti, a secret language spoken by the koti-hijra (transgender) community in West Bengal, India. Her areas of interest include sociolinguistics, language documentation, and queer linguistics. 

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