It’s hard to imagine much ever changes in Dhaka’s crowded, frenetic old city.
Rickshaws still clog its arteries. Soot spilling trucks narrowly squeeze through the scrum. Men wearing plaid headscarves plod the streets while women in saris glowing orange, lime green, turquoise, walk the alleys.
Life in this hubbub wasn’t always so peaceful.
In 1971, tired of the oppressive measures imposed by Pakistan (its former overlord) that included the subjugation and replacement of the Bengali language with Pakistani Urdu and having official government representatives of Afghani and Pashtun descent (rather than Bengalis), East Pakistan (as it was then known) rose up.
The Pakistani military moved to suppress a resistance movement that spiraled into a full-scale war. One of Pakistan’s top military officials was quoted in the Asia Times saying, ” Kill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands.”
During the following 9-month Bangladesh Liberation War, estimated casualties vary widely – from 300,000 to 3-million Bengalis.
While the conflict ended in December 1971, the scars of this bloody history haunt Bangladesh’s stability, where politics and violence often play out in tandem.
Today, the most common form occurs during hartals, protests intended to disrupt and shut down the country. They often turn violent as vying political parties clash. Everyone not involves stays indoors and before the protests tip to action, an uneasy calm electrifies the air.
Until the static of tension ignites the rage and the cycle of violence recycles itself in a frenetic city, choked with dust and lost somewhere in the haze, a glimmer of hope.