Of Fear and Fright: Reminiscences from the Bangladesh Sundarbans in Colonel Ershad’s Time
In these reminiscences from the Bangladesh Sundarbans in the early 1980s, I recall the climate of fear that reigned in the area. Among the poor, every spring presented the threat of starvation and death, as their rice stocks became depleted and the price of rice became impossibly high. Rice became scarce, too, since much was smuggled to India at an even “better” price. For those who had a little land, there was the danger that rich neighbours would dispossess them by bribing the village accountant to change the title to the land. For the land-grabbers, there was the fear of vengeance from the Mukti Bahini, the clandestine freedom fighters from the time of the war of independence, who would sometimes kill the wrongdoers. For those who sympathised with the Mukti Bahini, there was the fear of the police. Even the schoolmasters were afraid, for the state coffers would run dry in the summer, and they would not get paid until the arrival of foreign aid money in January. And yet, in the midst of all this, there was the Jatra, the folk theatre, whose rehearsals were held clandestinely in spite of the curfew – proof of the people’s determination to enjoy life and art in spite of everything. This article, then, is a reflection on the courage exhibited by the residents of the Sundarbans in defiance of the omnipresent spectre of fear.