The epicentre complex
In the light of #BlackLivesMatter I am duly impressed by the supportive posts on social media here in Dhaka. I mean growing up and still hearing phrases such as:
“The parents are such good people, how did the children become like that?”
“Not one person in that family is forsha! Shob kalo.”
“How did he marry her? She must have done some jadoo.”
“She was very dark before, bleach korte korte whitened herself.”
“He is from a broken home, so obviously disturbed.”
“It is better they remain together, it will be easier for the daughter to get married.”
“What do you need respect for? He has given you so many things.”
“Arre, if he does not take drugs, who will?”
“Never trust or tempt the servants. These people will turn on you in a second.”
“No one from a good family would have done this.”
“Uff! That class of people….”
So, what do these phrases have to do with #BLM? Well, the movement is a stand against systemic prejudices and bias, and that is what the comments above represent, do they not? The structural malevolent condemnation of any man, woman or child, deemed not conventional or not class worthy or lowly, or not useful to us in any way. And yes, it does lead to violence.
Meanwhile, we are not protesting that our garments workers have not been paid their due wages, or that people are being dismissed from work without severance, or that the part time staff are told not to come to work without any provisions for their living. We are stating that there ought to be more lockdowns, so we can be protected from the virus, without much thought for how others with lesser means will survive. But then again, they are not full- fledged human beings are they, like us elites or wannabes.
The veneer of solidarity with #BLM, though heartening, reminds me of the regular outrage expressed here during Israeli Palestinian conflicts. I mean, it is not that we do not have land grabbing or dokhol, and it is not as though we view our ethnic minorities as equal, but we do not express our indignation to such an extent as we do for social injustices occurring far, far away.
Which reminds me, I remember a friend of mine calling me from London a few years ago to ask why there was so much “grief” in Dhaka over the death of a“worldwide” (as in parts of Western World) acclaimed chef, whose restaurant was located in a remote village (whose name I cannot recall) in Europe, where very few people we knew had even visited, much less consumed his pork delicacies.
I was not as puzzled as him though, because I had been noticing that we have what I refer to as an epicentre complex. The need to be associated with or part of any event of great international significance, the epicentre, as in whatever makes the headlines in the Western media.
We do nothing for our street animals, but were crying buckets for the poor koala bears and kangaroos becoming dehydrated in the fires in Australia. We were also devastated by the conflagration of parts of the Amazon. But amader Shundorbon?? That is in our backyard. Too close.
I mean, here we are cheering on Jacinta Ardern, and rightly so, for she has done a brilliant job of handling the Covid-19 crisis in her country thus far. Delving into her background, she began working at a fish and chip shop when she was 14 years old, distanced herself from the Mormon community as she felt it clashed with her values, and delivered a child with a partner, not a husband.
Would we have allowed our own daughters to take the steps she has taken to make her what she is today? Would we have showered such praise on any of our female politicians had they delivered the same results as Ardern? Or would we have displayed the usual hingsha and brought up her character and background, and goodness knows what else?
I recall after the attack on Holey Artisan Bakery, someone called me to ask if I did indeed live on the same road (yes), and her next question was “bhara basha?”and she didn’t stop there. She then asked if my brother (one of the proprietors) was really my apon sibling or half or step. Huh? She wanted to invalidate my connection to the epicentre, to the incident, and possibly insert herself as being closer. Could she not think of anything better to do? I wanted to cry.
In fact, every time I see the manifestations of this complex, I want to scream. Of course we have every right to connect to whatever incident or event that is happening anywhere in the world, or in the next world, but we also have a responsibility to address our own fundamental isms: colourism, sexism, classism, ostracism, priggism, and escapism. So yes, a big shout out to the #BLM, but let us make our own society the epicentre, with a lot more empathy and a lot less apathy for the malicious and cruel inequalities and exclusions that we ourselves perpetuate.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveler, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.