MADAL : Not songs, but sound of tears and courage

Talking to band members of Madal, Nahid Riyasad writes about their songs that they describe as the sound of tears and courage of the oppressed.

 

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In the beginning of this millennium, Bangladesh forest department, financed by World Bank and Asian Development Bank, started an eco-park project in Tangail. Some two thousands of Garo and Koch people have been living there for centuries and their lands and homes were inside the design of the park. The government started to construct walls without taking into consideration the historical ties that the community had with the forest. Inevitably, people revolted. Movement started to grow. They wrote slogans on the roads — ‘Destroying forest, cutting our ties, we do not want eco-park.’ The slogans created discomfort; the local administration in particular was agitated. They brutally attempted to dissent their voice by the police. In an attempt to silence the movement, in January, 2004, during a protest programme, police opened fire and Piren Snal, a local community leader, was killed.

But, the death of a leader failed to tame the movement. Protest continued, new voices took over. Chalesh Richil is another such voice of hope and courage from the ethnic communities of plain land. Richil was the one who re-ignited the idea to people’s mind that they should fight for their rights to the forests. For his prominent political stature and image among people, he became an arch-enemy to the forest department. In lieu to this, a joint law-enforcement force arrested Richil on March 18, 2007. His tortured body was returned to his family and community. Police told the family and media that he was killed in ‘cross fire’. Richil’s dead body, however, was telling a different story, story of state violence as it was bearing marks of excruciating pre-death torture.

These names are not very well known in the Bangladeshi mainstream media, neither their movements are familiar among general people. These two martyrs have stood in front of a violent state-force without fear. Slan and Richil have opposed to the attempt of occupying their lands for tourism. Despite their courageous act, ethnically chauvinistic state and society never spoke for them, neither demanded justice for them. However, the martyrs are regarded as heroes to some, they are the colossal voices of dissenting ethnic minority of the country, who are constantly fighting inequality in independent Bangladesh. Among the very few who have still remembered these unsung heroes is Madal —a musical band aimed at representing dissenting voices, especially those of ethnic minorities living in Bangladesh.

Founders of Madal were too young to participate in the anti-eco part movement. However, they heard the sound of bullet that hit Piren Snal. They saw the tortured dead body of Cholesh Richil. As young artists, singers, lyricist, guitarists, they chose to fight against the state imposed amnesia and sing the songs of courage remembering Snal and Richil. Through their songs, they wanted to tell the stories of oppression of that Mandi, Koch, Hajong, Chakma, Marma and others.

 

As cultural activists, their journey started with the Bangladesh Udichi Shilpigosthi. It was the beginning of the last decade, around 2002. At one point, they had some disagreement with the authority of the group and decided to form a platform of their own. That spirit was the very essence of Madal. As Udichi is an advocate of Bengali culture and practices, they wanted to create a musical band consisting of indigenous members. The recruiting process has never been easy though. The long history of oppression and ‘othering’ forced them to become increasingly inward as a strategy of cultural survival. Madal had to create an atmosphere of trust and comfort so creative souls could breathe again. It was still a difficult journey. They never had a regular and fixed lineup, rather, artists performed with them temporarily. It is after over a decade, in 2014, they finally got a more cohesive line-up, a group of free-spirited courageous singers — Horendra Nath Sing (madal), Antar Sku (guiter), Riton Rings Chakma (guiter), Jemson Amlai (guiter), Joel Chakma (media manager), Antoni Rema (drums) and Sham Sagor Mankin (vocal, lyricist and composer).

Madal never believes in practicing art for art’s sake, rather they have taken their songs as a form of raising voices against injustice done to their community. In Bangladesh, short-sighted eco-terrorism projects have displaced many communities. Media largely remained silent. They wrote songs, when backed by the military Bengali settlers put fire on Chakma houses in Chittagong Hill Tracts. They wrote songs to remind us that the nature is not an object of extract and exploitation, we are a part of it. Hence, Madal poetically and powerfully writes, composes and performs drawing comparison between our ties with mother and nature. They insist, our ties with the forest are no different than the ties we have with our mother.

From Madal’s experience and philosophical-political standing, human rights are scarce in this country; this is not only true for ethnic ‘minority’ but also for common people of Bangladesh. According to them, trying to get independence from or showing resistance against its oppressive forces is never a static process that it has to be done at a certain point of history. Rather, it is a dynamic, continuous process. They suggest the independence we have earned in 1971, the best way to celebrate it is to speak against the injustices and inequality that are still inflicted on the people of this land, particularly on people of their communities.

The members of Madal have been active members in the leftist political arena. This background and orientation made them understand that the fight for liberation has not ended yet and that urge to achieve true independence is thoroughly echoed in their songs.

Interestingly enough, Madal has not restricted them into responding only to national issues; rather they think their responsibility is towards every oppressed society of the world. According to them, Bangladesh is not the only country to take the blame of oppression and failed system, this is an over encompassing global reality. Poor people are exploited across the globe by the powerful and rich. The exploitation comes in different forms, for some it is cultural, for other it might be economical and religious. In this culture of oppression and exploitation, people are allowed to have as much freedom the state and the corporations allow them to. So, repression and oppression have various forms but is present in every society. To express their understanding of revolution, they sing to tell these stories.

Madal’s songs are soundscapes that ring the sound of courage and spirit of resistance. For example, the Kaptai dam has submerged lands of many, displaced thousands from their ancestral home. Their outcry is no different than that of Piren Snal’s family. Kalpana Chakma, Cholesh Richil, Romel Chakma or Mangal Mardy — they all faced inequalities of this Bengali chauvinistic state and society and raised their voices against it. According to Madal’s belief, in this process of exploitation, nature has also been victimised. The outcry of plundered nature in name of progress is actually interwoven with lives of the suffering people. Madal sings, because they know why caged birds sing.

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