Healing and the Need for a Reconciliation Process in Bangladesh

BY

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Healing processes can take many forms. When someone gets injured or suffers from a disease then the internal mechanism of the body immediately responds to repair the damage or attack the illness. The time taken to heal or get better depends on the nature of the problem. Sometimes the internal mechanism fails to heal and the injured or sick person remains unhealed or even dies.

At other times the healing is only partial and the injured person or sick person achieves only partial improvements. On the other hand, outside interventions in terms of medicine, whether modern Western drug based or alternative Eastern, or a combination of both, can speed up the healing and recuperation process. Further, some injuries or sickness require, at times, the attention of top practitioners of medicine for diagnosis and medical interventions. Otherwise, if less experienced and knowledgeable doctors treat patients that need the attention of top doctors, facilities and medicines, then the outcome can be disastrous: from not getting well at all to quick death.

For a long time, as far as I can remember, there has been a demand and call for justice in relation to war crimes allegedly committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War from many sectors in Bangladesh society. However, in recent years, the demand has grown and the voice of those demanding has become louder and louder.

While justice is a prerequisite, there is a growing realisation that we need to address the other side of the coin: we need a healing process that will allow us to go forward from the consequences of the terrible 1971 war. This is likely to become a call and demand and also likely to become louder as more people want to find a way out of the strangulation faced currently by our society. This is an asphyxiation caused by divisions, polarisation and violence linked to 1971.

Paradoxically, although the Awami League and the supporters of the hanging of alleged war criminals, do not talk about a healing process at the moment, they are likely to be more responsive to the idea and need for a healing process once they hang the people they want to eliminate and achieve their objectives of weakening the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

Obstacles to a Healing Process

Any healing process and reconciliation in Bangladesh is complicated by several key factors.

First, those who are the strongest and loudest proponents of hanging war criminals and making Bangladesh a ‘razakar free nation’ belong, on the whole, to the Bengali Nationalist and Secularist camp. In contrast, those who are against the current war crimes trial process are belong, in general, to the non-secular, pro-Islamic moderate or more hard-line Islamic camp. This means that the arguments for or against war crimes trial is not only about justice and ending impunity but has become intertwined with politics and ideological divisions in Bangladesh.

Second, most of the things that people have come to believe about who did what in Bangladesh before, during and after 1971, have been achieved by the use of arts and not science. People utilised their imagination, and not facts, to invent and exaggerate events of 1971 and worked on paintings, songs, poetry, drama and films to educate and mis-educate people about the war.

Both sides have used propaganda massively, but for a long time the secular/nationalist side had an advantage in terms of popular media, educational establishments and the intelligentsia in Bangladesh to propagate their views.  They have used their advantage to good effect. Imagined and real crimes of the Bangladesh Liberation War have been multiplied by infinity and all the blame for that have been placed on the shoulders of Jamaat, who they call razakars.

In contrast, the Jamaat have used their Islamic credentials to work with people at different levels to promote the idea that those who call them war criminals are falsifying 1971. They project them as Indian razakars, secularists, atheists, anti-Islamic and so on. However, now with the use of the internet, no side seems to have an advantage in terms of reaching people from different walks of life. We are in a new ball game altogether, perhaps the two camps have reached parity and some kind of stalemate in terms of propaganda generation and the public reach of their respective propagandas.

Third, as a result of how the Liberation War has been documented and explained there is no credible and generally acceptable view of what exactly happened, why they happened, and the extent of what happened: who did what and who were the victims, etc. This means that there is no real objectively arrived at baseline from where the different actions of people can be judged in a measured and contextual way. Healing processes requires a degree of consensus about what happened to start with and then people involved on different sides explaining and justifying or apologising for what they did or supported and what they could not oppose, etc.

Fourth, there are no individuals and groups in Bangladesh or Bangladeshi Diaspora at the moment who have high moral authority, are seen above the fray, wise and non- partisan, and have the respect and confidence of most people. This means that we lack leadership like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – wise, highly moral, experienced leadership and respect widely – who can guide us through a healing process. This serious shortcoming means that it is going to be near impossible to bring individuals and groups at levels that matter together to explore how to go forward with a healing process. As time passes and more victims are added as a result of the continuous conflict arising from the unresolved 1971 war collaboration and crimes issues, the healing process becomes more difficult. This is because polarised positions become more hardened with new blood spilt and new victims and perpetrators created.

Healing and Hanging

Above are some of the factors that stand against the possibility of setting up a healing process that would have the involvement of the main antagonists, whose wholehearted participation is necessary in achieving the desired ending of polarisation in our country.

However, these seemingly unbreakable barriers should not deter good people from trying. The first step is to introduce the idea of the need for healing and generate debates. The process will enable people to explore how other countries brought an end to divisive issues and why some countries failed and are suffering as a result, such as Bangladesh. No one analysis or voice will have the answer but engaging in debate will make us collectively better equipped to deal with the issue.

In the current climate it is difficult to see how one can bring together people from the great divide in Bangladesh to sit together and talk in a civilised and respectful manner to resolve issues and problems. They do however participate in TV talk shows, where most of the discussion ends in vitriolic, heated and more polarised positions.

However, if a group of people or individuals become deeply inspired by the idea of a healing process then they should think very deeply and develop strong and highly logical arguments in favour of healing. They should then go forward with their ideas and arguments and set up small group discussion between people from opposing camps and get them to discuss face-to-face with each other’s world views, pains, strong feelings and the rationale behind their respective perspectives. They should start writing and generating media discussion.

In the passage of time, this process should allow people in Bangladesh, and its Diaspora around the world to learn about similar initiatives around the world. In time, it could bring people closer and the call for healing may become more potent than the demand for hanging. The most important step in this regard is to generate simple, rational and powerful case for healing, as part of a justice process. Then the power of the logic of healing will have corrosive effects on the power of hanging and revenge. There is no top down possibilities for a healing process for Bangladesh, similar to what Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu initiated in South Africa. It needs new potential heroes entering the field and starting from the bottom and building up slowly.

The propaganda generation and the dissemination stalemate or parity between the two camps may actually open up an opportunity for new ideas to come to the fore. When two sides in a battle realise that it is futile to continue, they look for a way out. However, this may still take a while as the battling sides may not see or agree that they have reached parity or stalemate, but are still engaged in battles to knock each other out and gain a decisive advantaged.

While the opposing camps battle it out, the healing process proponents should become ready with their powerful ideas to enter the field when the opportunity arises and seize the moment to bring lasting change for a more peaceful and united Bangladesh.

Source: The Khichuri