Bangladesh at 50:
Land of Joy, Land of Tears

Fifty years ago, “Joy Bangla!” was a cry that rallied the people of what was then East Pakistan to break free through a war that birthed a new nation, Bangladesh. In English, these words mean “Victory to Bengal!”

This Dec. 16 marks the golden jubilee of the end of the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan, a vicious conflict whose consequences still resonate in Bangladesh. The Liberation War, as Bangladeshis call it, was fought on soil soaked in blood at the end of British colonial rule a quarter-century earlier, when Bengal was carved into two territories along communal lines to form the Indian state of West Bengal and the detached Pakistani province of East Pakistan. Since independence, despite periods of military rule and coup d’étâts, the South Asian nation has made significant economic strides and gains in education and health.

The words “Joy Bangla!” stemmed from a yearning among Bengalis to express themselves freely in their native language, retain control of their rich cultural heritage, and govern their own affairs. Now, 50 years on, Bangladesh is prospering, but a climate of fear of speaking too freely tinges that peace.

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At 50, Bangladesh Stands at a Crossroads
50 Years After Independence, History is a Risky Subject in Bangladesh

This aerial photograph shows a representation of the portrait of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, made with paddies on a 400-meter-long by 300-meter-wide field in Sherpur upazila, in Bogra, Bangladesh, March 4, 2021. Photo: AFP

In this file photo, Pakistani Gen. Niazi (second from left) signs the surrender document as the chief of India’s Eastern Command, Gen. Aurora (left) looks on, surrounded by other commanders in Dhaka, Dec. 16. 1971. (Associated Press)
A girl waits with others to pay respects at the 1971 independence war’s National Martyrs’ Memorial to celebrate the 50th Victory Day, which marks the end of a bitter nine-month war of independence from Pakistan, in Savar, Bangladesh, Dec. 16, 2021. (AFP)

A representation of the war of independence, Swadhinata Sangram by sculptor Shamim Sikdar, is seen at Dhaka University, Dec. 15, 2021. (BenarNews)

A Bangladeshi man carries his granddaughter holding their national flag inside the Museum of Independence during celebrations to mark 50 years of the wartime victory over Pakistan, Dec. 16, 2021. (AP)

The timelapse of satellite images from 1984 to 2020 shows the growth of Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka.

Illustration & timelapse: Vince Meadows
Editing: Kate Beddall, H. Léo Kim, Mahbub Leelen, Paul Nelson, Imran Vittachi
Web page design: Minh-Ha Le
Produced by BenarNews

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