Marium Bibi, Noor Hossain’s mother lost her son 24 years ago. In an interview with a local English daily, she had said: “It is hard for any mother to lose her son. But I have no sorrows…I am proud of Noor” (New Age, Nov 10 2005). Just after five years, on the 23rd of November, 2010, right before the launch of the 105 minutes of documentary on Noor Hossain, her son, Marium Bibi regretted in an interview with the same daily: ‘‘I still don’t see anything for which my son died.”
How do we look at Noor today? Has Noor Hossain become an event, a photo opportunity for our leaders to lay wreaths in the Shahid Noor Hossain Chattar at the Zero Point, Gulistan or in Mirpur where he rests, perhaps in confusion and not so much in peace?
Noor Hossain of Narinda was 26 years old, who had not attended school beyond grade eight, who had barely learnt to be a driver… when he took the bullet on the 10th of November, 1987 while he was participating as a Jubo League activist in a procession of 15-party alliance led by Awami League against HM Ershad’s regime.
Not one nation is ever set free by one voice, one protest and one death. But history marks the turning points in bold and in red and makes space for us to learn from. 10th November, 1987 is one such turn in democracy that had a cathartic impact on the political scenario, way back in 1987 and led to the ouster of the ruler-cum-dictator, H. M. Ershad in 1990. It would be blasphemous to say or write that no other leader has practiced what Ershad had preached. It would be equally misleading to declare that apart from Ershad, rest of our history is imbibed with democratic ideals and aspirations; it would be a lie to state that only Ershad stole billions whereas the rest of our leaders remain untarnished by corruption scandals. Fortunately, for those of us who write, the keyboard has a mind of its own and it does stop us from having lopsided views.
But yes, Noor, who had nothing but freedom to gain from ousting Ershad, ran through the streets fearlessly in 1987. Unfortunately ever since that time, there have been more than one Noor Hossain spotted on the road, hunted down for rebellion while screaming for democracy. But, yes…at least one Noor Hossain with an uncompromising body marked in bold white letters, crying for ‘Gonotontro’ and shunning ‘Shoirotontro’ has been duly honoured in the pages of our history. Noor Hossain was one believer who was shot right at the zero point in Gulistan in the city of Dhaka. Little did the killers realise that there were cameras all around and those snap shots of Gonotontro mukti paak on his back and Shairachar nipat jaak on his front would officially stamp Noor Hossain as a martyr forever?
A few months back, at a celebration of The Daily Star, a local English daily at Bangladesh China Friendship centre, the editor of the daily was chronologically presenting the evolution of democracy of our times. When it came to the Ershadian era, the continuous slides kept on playing one event after the other, reflecting how democracy had been slaughtered during that particular period. On the first row of the audience sat HM Ershad with an expression of an apparent sincere intent to freshly comprehend the past. After the ceremony was over, a few of us left the venue in shame while he proceeded to the dining hall to socialise. Some of us were astounded and asked each other whether it was power that turned our leaders to grow extra layers of immunity through which no hurt or blow could permeate? The correct answer, we concluded that evening lay in the maddening obstinacy of power.
On the 6th of December 1990, HM Ershad was forced to step down. True, the anti-Ershad movement could not have peaked without Shahid Noor Hossain’s slogan: “Shoirachar Nipat Jaak, Gonotontro Mukti Paak” (Down with autocracy, let democracy be freed) inscribed in white paint on Noor’s chest and back. Since then the Zero Point has become ‘Shaheed Noor Hossain Chattar’ while Noor Hossain rests in Mirpur where on the 10th of November every year, we routinely place wreaths, wear black badges and deliver pro-democracy speeches.
This is one auspicious day when both the BNP and the AL come together in one voice and condemn the violators of democracy. Yet this is a day where we, as a race, suffer from a collective dementia forgetting that the crisis of democracy did not start and end with only Ershad. Assassinations, coup-d’états beginning from 1975 have been attempted to legitimatise the military regimes to retain power while many so-called “liberal forms” adopted during those times that also won censure of the mass.
Today, while we remember Noor Hossain as a symbol of freedom from the paranoia of authoritarianism, today while we identify freedom with his photograph that led to mass upsurge in 1990, let us not forget that in spite of the two alliances coming together on this one undisputed issue, HM Ershad still happens to be a comfortable ally of the ruling party and needless to say, will remain as one in the chessboard of any of our future elections.
While we the common people must also realise that our political parties will always resort to their ill-meaning political practice to gratify their own interests, our political parties and leaders too, must also reconcile with the fact that the mass sees through the corrupted lenses of balanced deception and that at the end, there maybe many more Noor Hossains within us who would be happily laying down their lives for the sake of democracy in our land.
This is a time to recall our poet, Shamsur Rahman’s first book of poetry, “Prothom Gaan Ditiyo Mrittur Agey” (Tr. First Song Before the Second Death) in 1960 which spoke of the political turbulence; this is a time to pay tribute to his poem “Asader Shirt” which was written with respect to the mass uprising of 1969 led by Maulana Bhasani; this is a time to recognise that his poems published in “Bondi Shibir Theke” (Tr. From Confinement in Enemy Territory) written during the war in 1971 and published in 1972 cried for freedom. During the movement against Ershad, Shamsur Rahman published his book “Buk Tar Bangladesher Hridoy” dedicating it to the great sacrifice of Noor Hossain. Today, I cannot but quote a few lines from that book:
O Freedom, raise your head like Titan,
give a sky shattering shout,
tear off the chain around
Roar, Freedom, roar mightily”!
(Roar, O Freedom: translated by Kabir Chowdhury)
As commoners, we should not ever be surprised to see HM Ershad in Shahid Noor Hossain Chattar laying wreaths in the future. Jatiya Party may just spring up with an agenda of reforms and regrets. We as a nation must remember that we love to hate and hate to love the same things at different times, as per our convenience. With time, the faces of our heroes and villains change. Our leaders and followers switch masks to suit their own times. In these political games of self-serving greed to secure safe balances in the parliament for one and staying out of the prison for the other, we, the people must remember that Shahid Noor Hossain Dibosh will only give our leaders opportunities to mark wrath and misrule of the others while calmly forgetting their own.
That is what is specifically wrong with our history. We use too many erasures and attempt re-typing our own version. Little do we realise that our todays will also be a part of other tomorrows where many of us may go down the alley as traitors, violators, and aggressors. We, the people also need to fearlessly tell our leaders that mere election and parliament appearances don’t free the mass; in many cases, they only empower lust, initiate alienation and ultimately lead to ousters.
Rubana Huq, Managing Director, Mohammadi Group.