I was merely a child in March, 1971. It was a year when more than three million people were killed in my birthland Bangladesh at the hands of the Pakistani army.
As the website genocidebangladesh.org puts it:
“The mass killings in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971 vie with the annihilation of the Soviet POWs, the holocaust against the Jews, and the genocide in Rwanda as the most concentrated act of genocide in the twentieth century. In an attempt to crush forces seeking independence for East Pakistan, the West Pakistani military regime unleashed a systematic campaign of mass murder which aimed at killing millions of Bengalis, and likely succeeded in doing so.
In national elections held in December 1970, the Awami League won an overwhelming victory across Bengali territory. On February 22, 1971 the generals in West Pakistan took a decision to crush the Awami League and its supporters. It was recognized from the first that a campaign of genocide would be necessary to eradicate the threat: “Kill three million of them,” said President Yahya Khan at the February conference, “and the rest will eat out of our hands.” (Robert Payne, Massacre , p. 50.) On March 25, 1971 the genocide was launched.”
My mother, along with my other family members, hid us in the basement under a staircase for nine months while my father ran from village to village for his life.
Somehow we managed to survive all that and began our lives as independent citizens of a new country with 1,000 years of cultural history and tradition.
After independence, Bangladesh experienced further calamities from natural disasters (cyclones, droughts, floods), poor administrative and economic management, and global food and oil crises. This led to a deadly famine in 1974. According to some estimates, more than one million people died of starvation in Bangladesh during the period from July 1974 to January 1975.
Things got so bad that even a high-ranking government officer like my father was having a hard time putting food on the table. My mother had to sell her jewelry to keep our small family together. Ultimately, my father was forced to find a job overseas.
Today (March, 2009), as our world suffers from a nearly unprecedented socio-economic and moral crisis, like millions of others, I sometimes complain. And each time my father reminds me of those days of my early childhood.
I have traveled many miles since then. What was once my home is now a sharp reminder of human suffering and hardship.
One can debate if anything positive ever came out of the dark days of 1971 or 1974. But as I grow older, I can for sure sense an inner strength that has been instilled within me. Sometimes from struggles come opportunities to learn and grow. Often, pain can be a great teacher.
Robin S. Sharma, the author of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari writes:
“Pressure can inspire you to achieve great ends. People generally achieve magnificent things when their backs are up against the wall and they are forced to tap into the wellspring of human potential that lies within them.”
I have become a great believer of the ‘wellspring of human potential’. It’s everywhere and all around.
The great Indian philosopher Patanjali repeatedly said:
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
Let us be brave at this time of our crisis and the universe will guide us to a better place!