Dear fellow Bangladeshis, I mean no offense, but the Education Ministry of Bangladesh has a difficult task, be it to educate or enlighten.
It has to educate and, by association, liberate, the minds of what is possibly the least disciplined people in the world.
If you are still offended, consider the habits we portray.
Flouting the rules is in our blood, it seems, as we take “rules are meant to be broken” our crying call and take it to its extremes. We drive on the wrong side of the road, build ramshackle shops on footpaths, squat on any land we see fit.
If there’s a rule in Bangladesh, it has been broken. Persistently. You have, I have, we all have.
Now, I understand that this is the result of a system which forces us to behave a certain way. How can you stand to not ask your rickshaw puller to go on the wrong side, or not drive your motorbike over the sidewalk when the entire other side is vacant and you’re really in a hurry?
How can you, a poor man, woman, child, not just start living in a vacant empty space you find and then refuse to move when the legal owners come by demanding their place back?
How can you, a police sergeant standing under the scorching sun and in the dusty polluted roads, someone who has paid their way into the position, not feel like it be your almost moral duty to fleece the public for bribes, in a way that you feel that you, in the very least, deserve it?
Come on, world, be reasonable.
But, rowdy ruffians we are, prone to misdemeanours and full of (mostly reasonable) excuses. Rules? They’re suggestions at best, especially when you’re living here.
Within a limit
So, is it not understandable, when considering the context of Bangladesh, what the education minister said? For those who are unaware, context, I believe is not that important. But the gist of it was this: There’s no point in telling people to not take bribes. But, if you’re doing so, might as well keep it within a limit. Keep it reasonable.
This has already been the butt of many a social media joke already. Bangladesh is at that point in its existence where it is doing poorly enough and well enough simultaneously that the two combined make it almost a misery that we can all collectively laugh at.
The ridiculousness of such a statement, which the minister has said has been ill-treated by the media, and one person has said was merely a joke, is not lost on the public. It is akin to the certain sections of the government becoming parodies of themselves. When real life becomes satire, what are you to do?
That we can still laugh at our own miserable existence, that we can ask people to “You know, like, not so much, maybe?” because we understand that there is both a system and a blood which tells them, each in its own way, to keep doing it, because we understand that corruption is not an absolute but rather on a spectrum, is possibly the silver lining we can take away from this incident.
Positive change? I don’t see it. Bangladesh loses billions of crores in lost revenue every year. Corruption is as much infused into our national culture as ilish maachh and shutki bhorta
Point of no return
Alternatively, is it indicative of how bad corruption has gotten that we, the public, have of course given up, but even our governmental representatives, who have to, at least, pretend everything is okay, must also admit that it’s just the way Bangladesh runs now, so might as well get used to it?
While the cynic in me continues to exist, and sees a veritable point of no return in our national fate, there are many peers surrounding me who wax poetic about Bangladesh’s potential and hope for change.
Potential, yes. Change? Positive change? I don’t see it.
Bangladesh loses billions of crores in lost revenue every year. Corruption is as much infused into our national culture as ilish maachh
and shutki bhorta
and Eids at the Westin (the scene has shifted to Amari nowadays).
But, the fact that we have become so bad that it is forcing our worst offenders to admit defeat, is perhaps a kind of change that we can get behind. Maybe, with the amount of corruption, the needle was not sharp enough to prick our collective conscience.
Now that, thanks to some of the genuinely great work we’ve done (for me, the Tigers and RMG stand out as the most ostentatious of these examples, and maybe passable internet speeds), we can recognise our value as a people and a country, there are some amongst us who could not help but react thus: “We could’ve been so much better. What have we done?”
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.