Torn between Mujib and Zia

Yvette Claire Rosser, author of a new monograph on Bangladeshi historiography, points out that while the Bangladeshi intelligentsia was united in resisting historical revisionism promoted by military regimes, it is much more yielding to political interpretations of the Bangladesh story.

During the years that the military was in control of the sources of power, from 1975-1990, the bureaucrats at the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) may have resisted autocracy, at least, as described to me in interviews in 1999, they held fond memories of resistance to intellectual hegemony. I was told that during military rule Bangladeshi scholars at the Bangladesh School Textbook Board, as the NCTB was known at that time, carefully deliberated over mandated changes–they didn’t necessarily leap to comply.

There is a long tradition of resistance to authoritarianism in Bangladesh, for instance, when martial law was declared by the Pakistani General Yahya Khan in 1969, the Bengali Chief Justice refused to swear in the martial law administrator and almost all the civil servants in Dhaka went on strike. Now, due to the vacillating nature of the political dispensation, half the employees at most institutions and half the bureaucrats in Bangladesh are divided along BNP versus Awami League lines.

Because of this, the contents of textbooks depend on which party is in power. Hopefully, it will just be a matter of time until the pendulum swings again and the famous “Bengali resistance mentality” will be resuscitated and dispassionate scholars will rise to resist and contest the unchecked politicization of historiography that now dominates the National Curriculum and Textbook Board in Dhaka. [ORF]