A new pilgrimage

Bangladesh Bhaban at Santiniketan

By Sheikh Hasina
  • Published 25.05.18

"You are greater than your deeds,/ That's why the chariot of your life/ Leaves your deeds behind/ time and again."

Santiniketan is a unique institution built by Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore. This institution, on the one hand, gives us the opportunity to practise our mother tongue, Bangla, and on the other, opens the door to a knowledge of world literature. Tagore is associated with every moment of our lives. Where do we not feel his radiance - whether in our smiles or tears, in our pain and agony, joy and merriment, nature and creation? We immerse ourselves in that glow of light and find the language, words, songs and poems to express ourselves. Santiniketan provides a boundless opportunity to the literature-lovers.

It is beyond my words to express the joy and happiness of having Bangladesh Bhaban on the premises of the Santiniketan of Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate. I would like to convey my gratitude to the Visva-Bharati authorities, the West Bengal government, the government of India and over all, the friendly people of India for providing this opportunity to establish the Bhaban.

It would have been excellent had the Bhaban been established much earlier. However, it is better late than never. I'm happy that I could make some - however meagre - contribution to its establishment.

Rabindranath prevails in the heart of each and every Bangalee. Let me say in brief how Kabiguru influenced my father's and my own life.

The founding Father of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was a great fan of Kabiguru. You know, very often, he had to remain interned during the Pakistan era. He was usually kept in a solitary cell. Books were his only companions in the solitude during imprisonment. The books he carried had to include the collections of Rabindranath. He was so profoundly influenced by Rabindranath that much before our independence, Bangabandhu selected the song, " Amar sonar Bangla, ami tomay bhalobashi", as the national anthem of Bangladesh.

Abba memorized many writings of Rabindranath. At home or while travelling to Tungipara by steamer, he, sometimes, used to recite from Kabiguru's poems and he was a regular listener of Rabindrasangeet. His favourite few lines were: ''On the way to the ascent whose message rings out,/ 'Have no fear, come, have no fear -/ He who gives his life to its last breath/ Never dies, he never dies'."

Mostly owing to our home atmosphere and partly owing to the fact that I was a student of Bangla literature, I myself have remained engrossed in Rabindranath all through my life. There was a time when I was an avid reader. Of course, Kabiguru's books got priority in my selection. Even today, I try to read his poems and listen to his songs whenever I get the time. Rabindranath's literary works bring a pure tranquillity of mind, removing all sorts of sadness and tribulations.

The Father of the Nation was assassinated along with 18 family members on August 15, 1975.

We, the two sisters, were in Germany on that fateful night. We were barred from returning home. The former Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, brought us to Delhi and gave us shelter.

Those were really hard days for us. None of the family members were alive. But I didn't have even the right to offer prayers at my parents' graves. At that bad time, the Indian government and the people stood beside us. I always recall that with great gratitude. I also did not forget the huge sacrifice that India had made during our war of liberation in 1971. Giving shelter to about 10 million displaced people and providing training to our freedom fighters and equipping them with arms was a daunting task for India. Above all, over 2,000 Indian soldiers laid down their lives for the cause of our independence. People of Bangladesh would never forget these huge sacrifices India made.

There remains some strife between Bangladesh and India. It is natural to have such problems between neighbours, just as problems persist between siblings. But time and again, we have proved that any problem can be resolved if sincerity prevails.

We have signed the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty in 1996. A bill related to the Land Boundary Agreement was signed in 2015. It was passed in the Indian Parliament with the support of all members. A unique unity was demonstrated while passing the bill. Members of both the treasury and Opposition benches voted unanimously in favour of the bill. The former Indian president, Pranab Mukherjee, the prime minister, Narendra Modi, the external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj and the former Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, played an important role in approving the bill. I express my gratitude to all of them.

The day the bill was passed reminded me of the ordeal of the war of liberation in 1971. The Indian people stood beside us and made a huge sacrifice. We resolved the 68-year-old enclave problem by passing the bill and implementing the deal.

We, the two countries, set a rare example in the world during the event of exchanging enclaves. Nowhere has the exchange of enclaves taken place amid such festivity and in such a peaceful atmosphere.

People-to-people contact has been increased with the introduction of direct bus and rail services. Border haats sit regularly between the two countries. Goods are being transported through waterways between two neighbours.

We have to expand the contact further. Because our goal is common and that aims to boost people's socio-economic development.

Maintaining mutual respect and interest, we have to increase cooperation in all fields, especially in trade and commerce, technology, education and human resource development.

In Bangladesh, we have to create job opportunities for our youth. To attract investment, we have opened our doors for investment, giving all facilities for the investors.

We have given highest priority to people's socio-economic progress. Today's Bangladesh is different from Bangladesh a decade back. Today's Bangladesh is more self-confident, capable and courageous. We are constructing the Padma Bridge with our own funds. Our own satellite, Bangabandhu-1, is now in orbit. We are building a nuclear power plant. Just March last, Bangladesh achieved the eligibility to graduate from the least developed countries status by fulfilling all the three parameters.

Bangladesh is at the top in bringing gender equality and women empowerment in South Asia. At the secondary level, female-male student ratio stands at 53-47 which was 35-65 just 10 years back.

To know better the socio-economic transformation in Bangladesh, you have to travel to the villages. It would be hard to find any thatched house in rural Bangladesh. Remote villages are connected by paved roads. Ninety per cent of households are under electricity coverage. A digital centre has been set up in each union while one community clinic established per 6,000 people to render healthcare services. Thirty different types of medicines are being provided from these community clinics free of cost. Mechanization touches our agriculture.

We - a vast number of people of Bangladesh, West Bengal, Tripura, some other parts of India - speak in a common language, Bangla. Our culture and livelihoods are similar. The international boundary kept us divided. But our Rabindranath, Nazrul, Sukanta, Jibanananda, Lalon are not divided. We take refuge in them in our joys and pains, happiness and sorrows, woes or rebellions. They reside in the hearts of each and every Bangalee whether from Bangladesh or India. Similarly, the boundary has failed to stop the flow of waters descending from the Himalayas. People of both countries bathe in the waters of the Ganges-Padma, the Brahmaputra-Jamuna, the Kushiyara-Meghna, the Teesta and others. Our plains are refurbished with the waters of the common rivers.

Bangalees are one and identical although surroundings have kept us separated. Sometimes trifling interests create walls in our minds and we are guided along wrong paths. We have to uproot these walls. Darkness should not accumulate in our minds.

Bigger success can only be achieved when we can overcome small conflicts or interests in the path of enlightenment. I would refer to Kabiguru again: "Keep faith day and night, O my mind, it will have to happen./ If you have pledged, your pledge will be kept,/ O my mind, it will have to happen."

We have resolved to work for the people and our intent will surely be fulfilled. For this, we have to intensify the cultural connectivity alongside economic cooperation. The Bangladesh Bhaban, established at Santiniketan today, I hope, will play an important role in boosting links between the two peoples. The library and the museum at the Bhaban will contain books related to the history of our independence struggle, literature and heritage, and other documents. Let the Bhaban become a pilgrimage spot for the knowledge-hungry people of two countries - that's my expectation.