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A shrinking space

  • Published at 12:13 pm July 6th, 2018
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A long way from Digital Bangladesh? BIGSTOCK

Differing voices cannot be met with violence every time

In the age of Digital Bangladesh, the internet is no longer a platform to safely express one’s opinions, thanks to the former ICT Act, now under the new incarnation of DSA. 

And the streets are no different.

What began as peaceful protests to questionable policies regarding civil service jobs in the country has now become a site of injustice and violence. It has also become, as with many other instances in the nation, the site of dissent. 

Without delving too much into the contours of the movement itself and how it has taken shape since its onset, what is remarkable is the looming threat to one of the four founding principles of Bangladesh: Democracy. 

The silencing of dissenting voices may not be anything new -- one only has to think back a few years, and remember the grisly murders of numerous bloggers and publishers, and the impunity with which they were carried out. 

But this is no longer about how secular thought has no space in this secular-with-a-state-religion nation of ours, it’s about being able to express anything in any sort of platform, lest we cross that dangerous and invisible red line. 

Doublethink 

It has come to a point where no longer can the citizens of Bangladesh avail their basic human right of freedom of speech, let alone the democratic and political rights of holding peaceful protests. No longer can a newspaper publish an article without having to trim certain parts deemed sensitive, in case Big Sister is watching. 

And as we climb towards being a middle income country and move towards a Digital Bangladesh, self-censorship online has become the norm, thanks to the fear-inducing atmosphere and draconian laws. 

The irony is astounding for a nation that was built on political dissent, given that the very speech that reverberates through our streets has been attained through student protests. 

I have no doubts about the strides Bangladesh has taken in terms of development and economic growth under the rule of the current state. We have gotten to be the shining example for the developing world -- the bearer of human rights -- for sheltering the Rohingya because of our leadership and humanitarianism in the face of injustice. 

And yes, every country has its own predicaments no matter how bright it shines on the global stage. 

But when the issues at hand are so fundamental and divert so far away from the principles on which the country was formed, the identity of the nation comes under fire.

The principle of democracy clashes with another of the four founding principles of Bangladesh -- nationalism. And although what constitutes democracy has now become an increasingly fluid phenomenon, the state’s definition of nationalism has remained as rigid as ever. 

One of the basic issues one could take with the concept of nationalism is its paradox of unity: To unite a people, there needs to be borders which keep others out. And here, the case of national truth follows the same principle. 

If it doesn’t fit with the truth of the state, keep your voice quiet, or some student party hooligan will do it for you.

As we move closer to the elections, despite the open secret of the inevitable outcome, the government would do well to keep in mind that constant abuses of citizen rights will result in a milieu of discontent. 

As it stands, one need not look as far back as the 80s to understand what authoritarianism looks like. If the response to an expression of differing voices is violence and incarceration every single time, then the boiling point may not be all that far. 


Luba Khalili is Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.