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Analysis: Kissing liberty goodbye?

  • Published at 10:09 am July 25th, 2018
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Vendors selling tea at Dhaka University Teachers and Students Centre (TSC) during the rain On July 25, 2018 Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

This is the same campus where ruling party cadres beat up their senior students merely for holding hands just a few days ago

A couple kissing in front of the Dhaka University Teachers and Students Centre has taken the social media by storm. Drenched wet, without a care in the world and completely oblivious to their surroundings, the young man and woman appear to be lost in their kiss.

This is the same campus where ruling party cadres beat up their senior students merely for holding hands just a few days ago. Despite having been a cradle of popular movement and free thought for decades, this same campus had banned entry of outsiders only a couple of weeks back. It was literally yards away where ruling party cadres had beaten to pulp their fellow students of Dhaka University earlier this month for standing up against the government’s unjust quota system that deprives them. This is also where Awami League student cadres harassed their teachers for standing by their students protesting the quota system. That the same campus could also have such couple who expressed themselves freely was like a breath of fresh air.

In these suffocating times when the slightest dissent is frowned upon; when any criticism of the ruling government is met with harsh measures both on the streets and the courts; when people are slapped with unbailable lawsuits for the most trivial deviations; when the ruling party acts with impunity; when patients die sooner under doctors’ care rather than later; when the same doctors retaliate by suspending medical treatment when such events are reported; when injustice is rampant such a picture of uninhibited innocence instils hope that all is not yet lost. It is refreshing to think that even in these times such people exist who have not given up on life or love or youth. It warms the heart.

Many have been debating whether the picture was published with the couple’s consent. The photographer has stated in interviews to other media outlets that the couple saw him taking the picture and did not protest or have not complained about since. Moreover, the fact that they were kissing openly and publicly without any attempt to conceal their identity suggests that they had chosen to relinquish their expectation of privacy in the first place. If a person makes an allegation in private, then there is an expectation that the accuser’s name would be kept out of a news report. But when the same person makes the same allegation in a public gathering there is no need to ask whether the accuser’s name may be mentioned.

But what is far more disgusting is how much vulgar commentary this picture has met with on social media. Some thought this would encourage rape. Some said this is what encouraged women’s harassment. Others said the couple were sinning and that this would encourage women to become loose and abandon their families. It is as if this single photograph of a simple kiss – not corruption, not the authoritarianism, not the culture of rampant impunity – would send the nation spiraling into mayhem. It is difficult to determine which is more disturbing. That so many people are so vocal against this simple and innocent expression of love or the extent that their vulgar thoughts can sink to.

One thing is certain though. For all it's talk of being a champion of secularism, progressive thought, education, and liberty -- the government has not had much success in educating and enlightening the masses in its almost 10 years in power. Whether it has even tried is an open question. Frankly, I see little evidence of any effort on their part, and the increasing intolerance and zealotry suggests that this has been a dereliction of their duty . Today’s outrage is perhaps the most damning testimony of the government’s inability to truly engender progress and liberty.

It is indeed bad times when a kiss brings out the worst in us.