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