Expressing ourselves is part of being Bangladeshi
Whether or not one particularly enjoys living in Bangladesh, it is difficult to deny that it is a most interesting experience to do so.
While that may, to some extent, disregard and, in fact, demean the true sufferings of those who call this country their home (beggars, slum-dwellers, rickshaw-pullers, non-upper-middle-class-urbanites), that is not the statement’s intention.
One of the more fascinating things about living in a country that struggles, in the same way that its people do, heaving and breathing as it makes unevenly claws upward up a mountain defined by contextual understandings of success, is that almost everyone, no matter the socio-economic or cultural strata, is affected by decisions its government makes.
Logic would dictate that, as such, everyone also has an opinion on what the government does. Whether or not they support a particular party (and, therefore, remain blindly faithful to an ideology, a group, or a figurehead), or they have been directly or indirectly been affected by certain decisions taken, or they have had their entire livelihoods permanently altered as a result of certain policies, it is impossible to deny that the people of countries such as ours (if you will permit such a comparison to be made) are vocal and passionate, be they knowledgeable or otherwise.
While one cannot speak for other countries, one may make an attempt to speak for this one: Passionate, sometimes well-informed, sometimes uninformed, diatribes and actions are an integral part of the Bangladeshi’s identity. This is present in species as diverse as the talk-show pseudo-intellectual to the tea-stall cigarette-urchin, creating an environment of rich contradiction and dialogue.
This is the reason why my ride-sharing app motorcycling can drive “rough,” swerving past traffic lights and into spaces between other “rough” driving buses and simultaneously opine, without any sense of irony, that all these buses do is go left and right without warning.
This is why a man can turn to me as I, rather peckish, gulp down a banana, and say, right after a girl in a t-shirt and jeans passes us by that: “Bhai, I didn’t want to look. But even then my eyes went there. Is that my fault?”
But it is also the reason that you can find kind words in unusual places. You can hear stories of your servants eloping with that Hindu boy next door, while at the same time your father talks about Pakistanis and how all of them are monsters, past, present, and future.
The point isn’t that Bangladeshis can be, like everyone else in the world, extremely diverse in their thought processes, but that most of them have something to say.
Would it be wrong to generalize in such a manner and say that it isn’t true for many places in the world, because most remain either unaffected or apathetic to the various changes which are sometime instigated by governments, mostly because there’s autonomy and security?
That’s why school students, many of them mere children, occupied the streets, and started controlling the traffic. That’s because, here, even children, whose lives should remain carefree and without major responsibility, care about what goes on in this country of theirs, because their lives are affected by it.
That’s why, right after the protests and violence and the helmet-headed, baton-wielders, the people of the country needed to say something the most. But, unfortunately, it is not so easy to say things anymore.
Because a certain Section 57 of the ICT Act has made it possible for anyone posting information on the internet vulnerable to state-sanctioned abuse and harassment, it means that firstly, those amongst us who said, they were silenced and those amongst us who wished to say something, they remained silent.
For Bangladesh to exist in such a state of being, a state of silence as a people whose voices were meant to throttle the status quo, is paradoxical; this is a state which goes against the fabric of Bangladesh’s history, it goes against Bangladesh’s foundation, and it goes against its people.
In fact, if a Bangladeshi, with all the love and passion and hatred, finds himself or herself in a position where he is not allowed to express himself, resting on the soil of a nation borne out of language, is he or she even a Bangladeshi at all?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.