This week Bangladesh celebrates the birth of its National Poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam, better known as “Rebel Poet”. 117 years after his birth Nazrul’s writings remain works of great literature with significance for all of us. As the poet himself wrote ‘I don’t belong to just this country, this society. I belong to the world’.
Bangladesh was born as a result of a struggle against intolerance and exclusion. Nazrul’s works have inspired generations to pursue freedom and equality. He was writing before the adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with its statement that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. He gave powerful voice to a passionate belief that every person has the right to realise their full potential, free of any form of discrimination.
One of Nazrul’s great works is the poem ‘Nari’ (Women), condemning discrimination against women just because they were women; and in his other poems, Nazrul is urging an end to all forms of discrimination against people on whatever grounds.
His writing is part of Bangladesh’s rich culture and long tradition of harmony, inclusion, diversity and tolerance across all divides. This year’s Commonwealth theme is inclusion and the values promoted by Nazrul are at the heart of the Commonwealth. Bangladesh and Britain share a set of core Commonwealth values around tolerance, inclusivity and diversity. And we share a commitment to protect and uphold human rights.
Bangladesh is rightly proud of its great traditions and its rich cultural heritage. The attacks on innocent inhabitants of Bangladesh, including bloggers, foreigners, human rights activists and civil society figures, religious and other minorities, are assaults against the hard-won freedoms of Bangladesh.
Today we remember Nazrul’s work and life and the value of tolerance, inclusion, justice, and diversity.
“Gahi shammyer gaan
Manusher cheye boro kichu nai
Nohe kichu mohian”
I sing of equality
Nothing is greater than human kind
There is nothing nobler than humanity
(from the poem ‘Manush’ – Human Being)