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OP-ED: Inside the belly of the beast

  • Published at 09:49 pm October 24th, 2020
Urban poor
Two men rest on the roadside after a long day of work. The pandemic has not been easy on the urban poor SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Our per capital GDP may look healthy, but our society is plagued with stress

In the year of 2020, Bangladesh is finally set to overtake India in terms of economic growth. With a growth rate that is less than half of India’s, Bangladesh’s per capita GDP is expected to reach $1,888, while India’s per capita GDP lags behind at $1,877.

But yet, things seem worse off than they were before. Over the course of a single pandemic, people who had lived in the capital for generations were kicked right out of the city, cementing the fact that they had never really “belonged” here. Even the people who remained had their illusions of financial safety shattered, as scores of people have lost their jobs and scores of people have been moved to the absolute fringes of city life.

In scenes reminiscent of the masterpieces of Ritwik Ghatak’s Subornorekha, or the many short stories of Sadat Hasan Manto, the false security and freedom borne through the pipelines of neoliberalism have been laid naked right in front of our eyes, and much like the protagonist of these stories, there is nothing we can do about them.

But these are stories from the poor sections of the populations, who, “experts” say, deserve such setbacks for not working hard enough to improve their lives. And having a look at the more “successful” people does confirm their theories.

For example, I go to one of the leading business schools in the country. I earn a moderate amount of income that pays the bills and keeps me satisfied. My education also ensures that I get some sort of an employment, so I’m covered in that sector as well. My partner works for a health-based MNC, and that ensures that she earns a high level of income. My friend works for one of the biggest telecom operators in the country, and that ensures that she gets a huge paycheck as well. Due to the nature of our work, we were able to shift our workspaces online, which has enabled us to lead our comfortable lives throughout the pandemic. So, all is well. Right? I’Il have to get up around four in the morning and work till night to maintain my level of income. My classes start in the morning and sometimes even run till 10pm. Both of these are necessities to maintain my education and income. I mess up even one, and I’ll be out on the streets.

My partner has to work 10-12 hours a day, five days a week. During the weekends, a majority of her time is spent with work related errands or studies. If she fails even a little, she will be laid off.

My friend has to be available 24/7 during her assignments, as she works in the operations department. If she fails here, she will be out in the streets herself.

Capitalism was supposed to give us freedom from the feudal structures of class and royalty, and it was supposed to give us agency over our lives. But all capitalism has done is replace royalty with capital, and when the freedom to choose is between death and sustenance, then the agency in one’s life becomes an illusion.

This is the reason why our society is plagued with stress. This is why “death by overwork” is a literal epidemic in Japan, a country that is well known for its productivity. High levels of stress are common in America, and many executives are known to indulge in drugs to take the edge off. Due to the structure of the world, stress among the working class isn’t even researched that much, and the things they do to take the edge off is demonized.

Whatever it is, we do have a choice between slavery and death, and that is a privilege. And when something like that is seen as a privilege, that says a lot about the world we live in, and none of it is good.

So yes, everything sucks, and under the current system, nothing is fixable. But the latter is hard as well. A revolution that can overturn the whole capitalistic structure throughout the world will take time, and when you have a choice between paying the bills and overturning the system, most would choose the former.

Because when it comes to selling your soul to make your life somewhat liveable and trying something that might not even work, most people would choose the former. Like it or not, capitalism owns every aspect of our lives, and most people can’t even afford to fight against the system. And for those who can, what is important? The lives of you and your family, or a future that might not even come? In one fell sweep, neoliberal capitalism has locked us all within a cancerous system of never-ending production, and from a cynical/pessimistic/realist perspective -- there seems to be no way out.

We are trapped inside the belly of the beast, and that is where we will remain for the rest of our lives. I guess it is slaughter that we are being fattened up for over the course of our lives. That is the secret fate of all life.

But at the end of the day, dreamers never were swayed by cynics like you and me. And if one looks at the course of history of the last century or so, they might be on to something themselves.

Nafis Shahriar is a freelance writer and a business student.

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