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We know not what we want

  • Published at 04:45 pm August 17th, 2018
Protesting to the best of their ability
Protesting to the best of their ability Photo: BIGSTOCK

We hate our colonial forefathers, but carry on their legacy


For the last few days, I have been numb. It’s not the first time. I was numb when my dad was on life support. I was numb when the army had cracked down over the Dhaka University campus. I have been numb whenever I have faced a situation that made me feel helpless and confused. 

Therefore, I felt numb when I saw students were beaten. But I should not have been.

And who am I? I am the common man. 

Every few months, we common men see new trailblazers. There were the phases of dushtu chheles, rubbishes, and now the komolmotis. But as the aftershock of every phase comes the gujob. This one constant proves more overwhelming than the others. Why? 

Because the rest had a demarcation line. You could see who the dushtu chheles were, the komolmoti students, but gujob? You don’t know what to believe, what to rely on, what to accept. Last but not the least, what to say. 

For even if you say something that you believe most sincerely, you need just one other to brand it as gujob, and the rest will be history. 

You may take some pride in being part of the history, but there is no guarantee your name will appear in it. If you still want to be the fallen hero, go ahead.

So we face a situation where we weigh the power of gujobs against the power of the common man. We saw the power of common man in Shahbagh, we saw that for quotas, and now we see it for the victims of road accidents. 

But somehow, every time, the power of the common man was beaten down by the power of gujob, and people were divided. As a common man, I’m trying to analyze why the people’s unity never succeeded.

Why did we not have clarity to stick together? There’s a gujob that claims a stupid intellectual named Plato once said that the wise king was the best. But since Bangladesh hates intellectuals, because they do nothing, we choose to ignore Plato and elect law-makers who know nothing about law. 

And there was another gujob called rule of law that says laws must be seen through the lens of the common man. Laws are seen very differently by those who study it, those who make it, and those who have to follow it. 

In an ideal state, the makers put the perspectives of the subjects to make a law. But not us. We love our colonial hangover, we like to attack our colonial forefathers for their treachery, and at the same time, carry forward their legacy. 

Therefore, we make laws that serve the powers-that-be and not the people. When citizens become too vocal, we cannot tolerate that. 

We have grown up in a society where challenging the system is seen as “cool,” but challenging it meaningfully, sustainably, perseveringly, is seen as problematic. 

Society thinks it wants change, but it fears change. Society waits for an outsider messiah to come and fix its problems 

The #KishorBidroho, #WeWantJustice, #NirapodShorokChai movement indicates a point: Most of us don’t deserve this youth. 

In the beginning, the kids did what the elders had failed to do, so everyone was happy. But when the kids did it a bit too long, tried to embed it, brows were raised. 

A part of society itched -- how did the kids dare tell us what to do? That is beyadobi.

So, use police brutality to threaten them, keep them at bay, and let the “actual” leaders do their job. 

The komolmoti kids only gave slogans and displayed genuine faith. That naïveté is not movement. So know your place and protect status quo. That is what we are after all. 

It is easy to praise the children. It is also OK to argue against the protest. But it will not be effective. 

Why? Because 1) We won’t do it long enough because we will be afraid, and 2) Because there are people amongst us who oppose it. And they are not insignificant.

So the gujob is embedded in our psyche. We, the common people, know not what we want and become confused with social media showing us too many sides of the cube.

But there are those who know exactly what they want -- power and control -- and what they have to do to get it. 

That is the difference between the children and the common people.

The kids have not seen jibon, thankfully, so they use their clarity to the best of their capacity. We have seen too much of it, and we muddle everything and do nothing.

So if you are feeling numb like I am, fear not. You are a common man who underestimated his or her power. You wait for someone else to do your job.  

Arpeeta Shams Mizan teaches law at University of Dhaka, and is a socio-legal analyst.