When we were children, there were these essays we’d write. My favourites were the ones in which I got to brag about Bangladesh: “Bangladesh has the world’s longest sea beach and largest mangrove forest.”
I can’t help but wonder whether my children, 10 years from now, will still get to write that -- with the huge possibility that the largest mangrove forest will not exist then.
Are we really okay with the Sundarbans ceasing to exist? At what point do we stop being indifferent?
If the Bangladeshis of 1952 were “courageous,” and if the 1971 generation was “spirited,” our generation is definitely the “not bothered enough” generation. Or maybe we’re just the “helpless” generation. We all feel bad when something happens, or so say all the Facebook posts. We just don’t feel bad enough to do something substantial about it.
The type of protests a country’s citizens engage in speaks a lot about the kind of people they are. Recently, there was a road blockade in Dhaka by some students protesting against their exam seats being located in a particular college where rules are rumoured to be strict.
Then there are all the political rallies with people fighting for their prospective political parties. If these people loved Bangladesh as much as they seem to love the Awami League or BNP, would we be in such a state today?
Do we not love our country like those who loved her back in 1952 or 1971? Why is it then that we don’t defend what makes Bangladesh special like the Sundarbans? Why is it that we can hold mega rallies and protests for political causes, but can’t stand together against our government building the Rampal plant?
Is it because our voices are more or less ignored? Maybe so. The only way you can get someone to listen to your opinion in this country is if you’re politically well-connected, or by being on popular talk-shows; but, even then, your opinions might not be paid any heed.
Is the “power of the people” once and for all dead in Bangladesh? If people staged united protests against Rampal on a large scale such as the Gonojagoron Moncho, would the government still be able to not blink an eye?
Where are the new generation “leaders” now? Or are leaders like Imran H Sarkar only assigned to lead the people in one or two particular issues and remain indifferent in everything else? A true leader with the country’s best interest at heart would come forward to lead the people in protests against the Rampal project. Because this is not a political issue, it’s a patriotic one.
If we don’t fight for a thing of pride like the natural habitat of the Sundarbans, maybe we don’t deserve to have it in our jurisdiction. Ever since the Bangladesh government announced their plans of the Rampal project, many eminent scholars like Abdullah Abu Sayeed have spoken up against it.
Environmental activists have urged the government to rethink the construction of the Rampal plant. Besides the inhabitants of the area being directly affected, statistics show that the Rampal plant poses great environmental threat.
There’s a good chance that our eco-system will be severely hampered from emission of the poisonous substances that will be used to run the plant. Local people in and around Khulna have been holding protests against the Sundarbans being destroyed.
They need and deserve the support of the rest of us from around the country. This is not their fight alone, it should be ours too.
It’s really frustrating that it has come to this point. But somehow I’m unable to lose hope entirely. That’s because more than often there’s someone somewhere trying really hard. For example, amidst all failures, there were the “No VAT on education” protests by private university students. They spoke up and made a difference.
Maybe it’s only the students who can fight for what’s right. History says that students have always been the ones to lead a march towards change in our nation. It doesn’t matter whether it's public or private -- it’s time we stop letting that divide us. It’s time we realise that we, united, can be an incredible voice that can’t be ignored.
So, I urge the student population to step up to save the Sundarbans. It’s ours to save. I’d rather save our Royal Bengal Tigers from extinction than demand justice after the Rampal plant is built.
And to our government -- don’t turn away from the voice of the people. This isn’t the Game of Thrones, so kindly stop being the Lannisters. Listen to us, and do what’s right.
Maybe we should reset our mindset as a nation. Maybe we’re following the wrong examples. Why not follow the example of Bhutan who has proved to be exceptional in its non-commercialisation of the environment?
In Bhutan, they just celebrated the birth of their new prince by planting more than one million trees. If something of similar splendour happens in Bangladesh, we’ll probably do the opposite and cut down trees to construct a monument or something.
We don’t need so many development projects, so much technology -- not at the cost of a natural galore like the Sundarbans! We don’t need to be “Digital Bangladesh” now, rather we need to try and sustain “beautiful and green Bangladesh.” I’m not a leader; I was born to follow. So I wish someone somewhere would start a revolutionary protest against destroying the Sundarbans.
It’s sad in the first place that we have to fight for saving a heritage like the Sundarbans. I’m confounded by why the government fails to comprehend the fact that there are alternate options to produce electricity, but only one Sundarban.
I wish the government would wake up, before it’s too late.
Until then, what can I do? Perhaps I’ll change my profile picture to a “Save the Sundarbans” photo, not that that will make a difference.
But what else can I do?