Who carries their torch?
The killing of the Bengali intellectuals during 1971 is, in some sense, far more premeditated than the notorious Holocaust. Although the Holocaust claimed twice as many lives compared to our Liberation war, the murderous Nazi did not pick and kill hundreds of top-notch intellectuals in such a short time span as did the bloodthirsty Pakistan occupation army and their local collaborators the Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams. Why did they murder the best brains in the country?
Although a few could escape by pure chance, the mission was the elimination of all the intellectuals from Bangladesh with a view to cripple the country with ignorance and eternal backwardness. The assassinated intellectuals were the highly educated academics, writers, physicians, engineers, lawyers, journalists, and other eminent personalities of the country who helped liberate the nation from prolonged Pakistani subjugation.
The martyred intellectuals were a very great wealth of talents. The French Enlightenment figures, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and John Locke kindled popular interest in the three basic principles of French Revolution Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Similarly, our intellectuals ignited masses of people in the spirit of freedom which resulted in gaining independence through a liberation war. They were the voice of conscience in all the scenes of the independence struggle.
They were no less than Socrates, killed by vested interests for showing his people the right way or Galileo, condemned to life imprisonment for his so-called heretical beliefs or Bruno, burnt alive at the stake for telling the truth. Our intellectuals, too, were butchered by the neo-colonial forces for showing us the road to liberation and inspiring us to fight for our freedom of thought and expression. They were fully successful in instilling their own thoughts and ideas in the people who had been blinded to the real needs of their country for ages.
But what kind of legacies do our present-day intellectuals carry from our history? It is hard to believe that they are left with any legacy from the martyred intellectuals who had laid down their lives for their country. On the contrary, most of today's intellectuals have chosen a different path. They may fall roughly into three groups. The first group consists of the self-centred intellectuals who are only concerned with their own wants and needs, and never think about other people's good. They are mostly varsity academics and work part-time with different private institutions, NGOs, multinational companies, and projects to earn a fortune. Most of their time is spent juggling between their workplaces, and no spare time is left to think about their country and its people.
The second-group of intellectuals are highly politicised. They are the intellectual vanguards of their party, and see everything around them with a partisan eye. They are social climbers, and their sole aim is personal aggrandizement. They wait their turn in order to grab the chance of holding high office. They suck up to people in authority for achieving goals. They toe the party line so strongly that they often give highly lopsided views on even undisputed facts and common public interests ignoring objective truth. The events of our art, culture, literature and history are also split by these one-eyed intellectuals. Years of polarisation have sapped them of their integrity and moral standards.
The third group comprises of the seeming nonpartisan intellectuals who love being called 'civil society'. Most of them are the hired hands of international hierarchies working in their native country. It is a part of their job to pick holes in political affairs. They give voice to different national crises in such a grave manner as if the country has completely gone to the dogs, and there is no escape from it. The implication written all over their faces is that the nation would have its best governance only at the hands of these civil society guys. Although they put on an air of neutrality, they must be working willy-nilly to realise Colonial mandate. One may reasonably smell a hidden agenda behind their activities.
These three groups of intellectuals have nothing common in them other then ignoring true love for the country. Be that as it may, one must ask what the responsibilities of today's intellectuals are. Noam Chomsky has said, "It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies." Antonio Gramsci, a theorist on intellectual exercise argued: "Intellectuals view themselves as autonomous from the ruling class." Jean Paul Sartre considered intellectuals as the moral conscience of their age, and the observer of the political and social situation of the moment, and urged them to speak out freely in accordance with their consciences.
Do our intellectuals speak the truth and expose lies? Are they able to do things and make decisions of their own accord? Do they have a voice of conscience? The bulk of our present intellectuals in Bangladesh are far away from these basic tenets of true intellectuals.
There are, however, some good intellectuals who, amid the razzmatazz of the fake intellectuals' activities, are working steadily to voice the thoughts and needs of mass people. It is they who cherish the true ideals of the martyred intellectuals from the bottom of their heart. If good triumphs over evil in the end, all the three groups of pseudo-intellectuals must be overshadowed by these few, for they are carrying the torch for the martyred intellectuals.
The writer teaches English Literature at Kushtia Islamic University