Noboborsho — celebration of tolerance and secularism

As the nation just celebrated Bengali New Year — Noboborsho, Ayan Soofi writes about the legacy of resistance and commitment to secularity embedded in the history of this celebration.

I bid good bye to a friend in the April last year. On April 14, when the whole country rejoiced to welcome the New Year, I mourned. I mourn the month of my friend’s departure — silent migration, but I don’t mourn silently, No! No! The expression of my bereavement is different. I don’t lament. I join the clamorous crowd and participate in the celebration. That’s how I mourn.

By this point you should be confused if not, well you should be.

cover-photoMy friend belonged to certain persecuted religious minority of Bangladesh. After a lifelong battle with prejudice and persecution, my friend and his family accepted the defeat, they lost the war to the ever ‘brave and triumphant’ majoritarian Bangladeshi Society.

They had to immigrate. They have silently migrated to India in the face of continuous everyday discrimination against their community. For argument’s sake, you could say, ‘It must have been an economic immigration.’

Then believe me when I tell you it was not. They were very well off in terms of middle class standards. So what does this story has to do with Noboborsho celebrations? Actually, ‘Everything.’

mongolshovajatra_72507_9249In 1967 when the Ayub regime imposed ban on Rabindranath Tagore’s song on the basis of religion, ‘Chayanat’ in protest to the sinister ban started arranging Noboborsho celebrations in Ramna. In 1989, Noboborsho saw the addition of Mongol Shovajatra to the celebrations as a form of protest against autocratic dictator H M Ershad’s strategic attempts to identifying the country with a certain religious identity. Reckoning with this history, Noboborsho to me stands for tolerance and peace.

The fundamentalist mentality of a portion of the society that uprooted my friend, from the only place he knew to be home. Will any house ever be as same as the home he grew up in? The silent migration of my friend therefore turned Noboborsho for me as also the moment of painful realisation of the virtues of secularity and civil rights that the minorities like my friend are being deprived of.

Among the youth perception of the events vary but there is shared and recurring theme of Noboborsho. It is an occasion of happiness which belongs to every single person in this country. It is a thread that stitches us together into giant canvas of hope.

Sarika a student of BRAC University had a view of Noboborsho which focuses on the dress code of the day and its role in the cultural identity formation, ‘Noborsho is the celebration of identity to me, I like to wear a saree for that day which might not be convenient for other days but when I go out and see the wave of sarees and punjabis I feel it works like an identity card for the country to world.’

A student of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at American International University Bangladesh, Himel sees Noborsho as an expression of harmony, ‘I grew up in the now termed ‘ancient’ part of Dhaka where Noboborsho still retains that vibe of pride for the traditional Halkhata event, the harmony of the intricate balance that our society relies upon makes me proud. A very unadulterated form of secularism has been practiced for centuries in our society which creates a sense of belonging among people of all religion.’

17965790_1688981714445388_1One of the people who work tirelessly every year to make sure that the events are picture perfect is Sumaiya. An artist by passion and vocation, Sumaiya is a student of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka. She Says, ‘All the colours that we see in the Mongol Shovajatra has a story behind it but if you look from panoramic perspective it feels that everything of the carnival has become one to tell a story — a story of the feat of unity.’

Every flower has a certain insect that wishes to ravish it, every noble endeavour is met with conspiratory actions, and in the case of Noboborsho an unholy alliance seems to be forming which aims to make Noboborsho a controversial issue by generating some of the most historically uninformed interpretation of the day celebrations. The drums of the war against Noboborsho are advancing slowly but steadily. The photographs that are circulating in social media showing a big black scar on the walls adorned Bengali New Year alpana (decorative) proves that. The soul shattering sound of their proximity is bound to demoralise the general people but this the time to take a stand.  We always need to remember politicians care about votes not public, they need to be shown the strength public voice otherwise to stay in the golden throne of power they will not hesitate to trade civil liberty and secularity.

It is not a particularly tough task to cynically portray a false perception among the people about secularity or paint over the noboborsha alpana (Bengali New Year wall decoration) but these poisonous narratives must be combated. The true and just social position should be conveyed to the public so that such narrative can be nipped in the bud. History and cultural justification of the ventures should be put forth to the people and should be actively advocated.

It is important to trace back the legacy of resistance and commitment to secularity embedded in the history of Noboborsho celebration to fight and take a stand against the circulating poisonous misinformation about it. Noboborsho stands for secularity not anti religion. Noboborsho stands for protest against oppression not for corporate chaos. Noboborsho not only stands for sarees it also stands for the orna, pinan, hadi and other ethnic dresses of Bangladesh. Noboborsho stands for Ilish (by the way please refrain from eating Hilsha in this time of the year), but also for Boishabi (the New Year celebration ethnic minority people is called – boishabi) celebratory foods. Noboborsho doesn’t stand for you and me, it stands for us.

Braving the midday heat and scorching sun of Boishakh, people gather in red and white with hope to rekindle the history of communal harmony, to experience a society tolerant to new ideas and intolerant to intolerance among the unsuspicious hearts. Maybe one day the wish will come true. Let’s work for it.

The road ahead is going to be tough for the flag bearers of peace but conviction and persistence will surely win this fight. Sincere intention to respect the person sitting opposite him/her should be the strategy to destroy intolerance. Let’s set the rules of the game. Let’s root for debate not destruction. Let’s root for not losing a friend to silent migration, ever again. Let’s gather around this dwindling candle called Noboborsho in this turbulent night and protect it with a human shield because one day it will shield us against the prevailing intolerance, discrimination and persecution.

Oh I nearly forgot! Belated ‘Shuvo Noboborsho!’



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