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Devils behind the desk

  • Published at 12:28 am June 12th, 2018
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‘Can I help you?’ Photo: BIGSTOCK

Why does bureaucracy have to make life so difficult?

Eid is almost upon us. But not, it seems, the spirit of Ramadan and Eid and all that goes with it.

In a recent conversation with the secretary of a certain department of a certain institution, I found myself stumped by the utter lack of respect, humility, and politeness from the individual in response to a query of mine. 

I suppose I had expected a modicum of dignity shown, considering the so-called “reputation” of the institution in question.

There is something inherently disgusting about a certain brand of Bangladeshi who sits behind a desk. He lacks manners, and looks down on the layman in need of information, and perhaps a seal, with disdain from his bureaucratic throne.

These people are what Kafkaesque nightmares are made of. 

These petty individuals litter the Bangladeshi governmental and non-governmental landscape, positioning themselves in positions of power through sycophancy and fraud. And we have become, at this point in time, all too familiar with the process. 

Oftentimes, they expect, perhaps, a little something under the table. But in most cases that I have seen and witnessed, there is no room for corruption of that sort, no way for me as an individual to ease through the procedure.

The root of the problem, it seems, rests in the Bangladeshi’s play for power. And is it understandably so? Seated behind their respective desks, they experience during a 9-to-5 their only scope for power, and the ability to wield it effectively.

There is indeed no juicier morsel present within life than when one is bestowed with the ability to say no. And this spreads into every nook, every cranny. Countless are the times I have been treated with such powerful disdain at the hands of security guards and service personnel, telling me that I cannot enter, and vaguely giving me directions as to how I should go about attaining the privilege to do so.

Is it because so much of our existence within the spheres of this country rests on the very lack of any sort of agency?

You find yourself the victim of an accident at the hands of a bus driver? What other recourse do you have but to give up or to become a ruthless animal, ready to dish out mob justice? 

You find yourself being sexually harassed by an employer or a colleague.

What do you do, leave the job, or grit your teeth and bear through the utter humiliation?

You find yourself the abused servant in a household, being regularly beaten and insulted, completely dependent on a family for support. What are you to do but live in a hell surrounded by upper-middle class privilege? 

The powerlessness reeks worse than the sewers after a storm. And these fumes fester and make themselves shown when we, too, find ourselves in a position where we can exact revenge on those who have treated us so poorly. 

And the cycle repeats itself.

This permeating culture persists; it is, in fact, built on an ecosystem which lacks accountability in almost all forms. Who will be on your side, to protect you, when you are at the mercy of a single individual or institution?

Ideally, the government should. But so much of the problem exists within the government itself. While Bangladeshis are often touted for their so-called resilience and hospitality, none of this welcome is prevalent in most sects of bureaucracy, where it is perhaps most required.

That is not to say that this is a quality inherent to Bangladeshis; I claim no such generalization. But because of the culture of irresponsibility and ruthless capitalism that surrounds us, it has become an almost inevitable outcome. Whether or not we as a people should be better than this, above these petty power politics, is a different question, but a question that maybe needs asking nonetheless.

Such pleasure there is in belittling another human being that it seems to have become the very fabric on which Bangladeshi society rests. I would even venture so far as to say that it is the very reason for which almost all problems exist in our country, wrapping us up like a blanket and squeezing us tight. 

And we give in to its suffocating embrace, just as powerless as those we revel in humiliating. 

SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.