Thursday, June 13, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: I want to leave

Are any of us safe here anymore?

Update : 19 Jan 2021, 01:47 AM

Time is nothing more than a construct made by humans to measure the impossible. We separate portions of our lives into separate, easy to handle compartments, as a way to keep track of things. “This month was no good, but next month will be better,” we say. “Yeah, this whole year was awful, but starting next year, things are going to change,” we say again.

But when the high subsides, and we are greeted with the sun of a new dawn, we go back to our own lives. We stick to the same regiments, and conduct the same routines. As such, it is only inevitable that we would be making the same excuses and trying to follow through on the same promises, when we come to the finish line once again, and get ready to run the same track.

We’ve been here before

The more things change, the more they stay the same. If this wasn’t apparent enough, there have been barely 20 days since the start of the new year, and there have already been numerous incidents of rape, murder, and gruesome acts of debauchery. The recent incident has been so harrowing that going onto social media for the past few days has been nothing short of traversing a minefield.

At first, you gawk at the suddenness of it, stunned to have witnessed something so despicable happening outside the silver screen. Then, you retch as people come out of the woodworks to support the incident, trying to further their patriarchal and fundamentalist agenda of delegating women into objects, and only objects.

You’ve been here before. This song and dance has been going on for decades. And while people who are on the right side of things have tried to do their fair share of work to stop these things, with each incident, these monsters only seem to grow in numbers. With each incident, they show just a little bit of their fangs.

We live in abject darkness, and the wolves are circling all around us. If the only thing that we have to defend against them is a ceremonial torch, then they can always bide their time. And by the looks of it, the flames are getting dimmer by the second.

A battle already lost?

So, does that mean that nothing can be done? Not necessarily. People who have always understood the issue have always written against it, and have taken part in their mock protests. But aside from being a talking point among like-minded individuals and racking up a ton of shares based on their artistic merit, nothing has come to fruition for this.

There are other, smaller scale organizations like Oroddho or BLAST that are trying their best to systemically fight against this plague, and I applaud that. But when it comes down to it, we are up against an enemy that has existed for thousands of years, and we are seriously ill-equipped to fight them.

There need to be drastic, earth-shattering changes to the whole system, something that we won’t be able to come back from. And something like that can only be done with the ultimate power, a decree to be sent down from Olympus itself. But at the end of the day, Zeus and his legion are busy with their own games. And when it comes down to it, the voice of reason isn’t even a fraction of the voice of hatred and oppression, when they are compared side by side.

For example, Dhaka University is supposed to be the Oxford of the East, an elite beacon of light that is a refuge for the best and brightest minds of the country. But whenever an issue like this happens, the majority of the students turn out to be wolves themselves, and they use it as an apt opportunity to push their agenda. With each incident like this, they get stronger, while we get weaker. It is reaching a point where the whole country is a powder keg, and one wrong can make everything go up in smoke.

And I don’t know about you, but I have always known the inhabitants of Olympus to be pragmatic and strategic. They have the power to shield themselves from this plague, and they want to hold on to it for as long as possible. Like the prince in the Masque of the Red Death, they wouldn’t want to risk doing anything that causes any kind of disruption to this position.

Then, what now? Surely after talking about a problem of this stature at a stretch, surely, I should be able to offer some kind of a solution, right? 

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but this piece is not going to turn out like that. I have spoken about solutions in the past, and better people than me have taken the mantle from there. I’m not the first person to even suggest these things.

Gender-based violence has been a topic of research for hundreds of years, and there have been many solutions proposed throughout the years. Upon implementation, some worked, while some were utter failures. Countries that are at the forefront of progress have had some luck, but they will need some time before they can eradicate a beast that I sometimes think even predates men themselves.

And when it comes to a country like ours, I suspect that the battle is already lost.

First, they came for …

Long ago, they were confined to the shadows, only showing the darkness of their souls within the household and such. Then, they took to tongs and Facebook, proclaiming their wretchedness with a sort of twisted pride. 

Now, they are explicitly blaming the victim and trying to get the murderers off the hooks, and by the looks of it, even if they don’t succeed now, this is something that will become routine for them. It is as was foretold in Martin Niemoller’s harrowing warning of keeping evil unchecked, “First they came … ”

First, they came for the atheists. Now, they are coming for our women, as they have done for centuries. Only now, they are doing it out in the open and doing it in the most devastating way possible, a way of showing us our place after we dared to speak against them.

It won’t be long before they come for all of us. It won’t be long before we are dragged out into the streets to take part in their twisted rituals of “purification.” The sky will be obstructed by an ominous black, and none of us will be able to do anything, for the figure in the dark, blood-splattered robe will get us all.

But even then, there is hope to be found. Even in the darkest of nights, if one is willing, one can find a solution. The solution might not be elegant. It might not even be a solution per se, but a form of escape. But from my point of view, it is a solution, and personally, I think anyone who has the privilege to indulge in it, should take it.

The individual, the collective

Expatriates are often shunned as deserters, and if that expatriate has studied in a public school, the scorn is oftentimes unbearable. “You studied with our money, and now you are going to serve only yourself while you forget about us?” growl the masses. But there is something else at play here. It’s a very puritan and romantic notion, but it is ultimately wrong.

We haven’t always lived like this. Before the age of farming, we lived in isolated, tribalistic groups, where we functioned based on the hunter-gatherer perspective. But when farming began, we began to settle down, and started to build communities around us. That was the birth of modern civilization, and as such, the move is seen as something that can’t be scrutinized.

I’m not arguing that settling down was the best option for us then. I’m not arguing that we are a collective species, and it is in our best nature to stay that way. As someone who is opposed to systems like capitalism, it only makes sense that I would support collectivism.

But when collectivism turns into a cult, where the will of the one is crushed by the will of the many, things start to become problematic. A popular quote between people who support misguided notions such as patriotism or nationalism is: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Instead, ask what you can do for your country.”

On face value, this makes sense. The love for one’s country is supposed to be one of the fundamental truths of the world, and if we didn’t indulge in this, then we are to be considered nothing but traitors. But even when one looks at the first collectives -- the very foundation of modern-day countries -- it quickly becomes apparent that people lived together to ensure their own survival, and to further one’s own goals. In short, the collective exists to serve the individual, not the other way around.

And this isn’t something like a monarchy or a modern-day consumerist society, where the collective exists to serve the needs of the few. The collective, in theory, should serve the needs of all. And if that can’t be achieved, then one is left with no other choice but leaving the collective.

I am talking about leaving, of course. A mass exile from the land of the damned to a place where things should be much better -- in theory, at least. Of course, the same arguments would be brought up again. Since I am a student of a public university, I think the argument about taxes would be the most apt criticism here. Taxation is money that is necessary for a collective to sustain itself. It only makes sense that if people want to take part in the benefits of a collective, then they should have to pay for it.

But what happens when the collective stops serving the purpose? Should someone squander his life based on the premise of manufactured loyalty, or should he seek out distant shores, and make something of himself? The benefit offered by the collective here is education, and anyone partaking in it has paid a part of it himself as well.

Of course, the expenditure at public universities is huge, and people can claim that they have a stake on the person that is to graduate. But when almost the whole collective is detrimental to the progress and happiness of that individual, I think the sensible thing to do is to opt out of it. Even if the collective loses 20-30% of the people, there would still be 70-80% of the people left. And assuming the remainder would be just as vile and wretched as the rest, this should be a win-win situation for all parties involved.

And if there are still objections, then the grand illusion of public university students serving the country needs to be shattered. This is another misguided notion that has been around for decades, and like the opium of old, it is time this was left as a relic of the past.

After graduation, people take on various kinds of jobs that offer various kinds of benefits. But the benefits only exist for the job holder, and the people who funded his education can take no part in it. Even if someone takes a position of legislature, he simply does his routine job and earns his routine money, and from how things have been looking for the past decade or so, this has not had a positive effect on the collective as a whole.

There is a system at play here, and when one enters the system, one needs to play according to the rules of the system itself. And even if one didn’t, even if he tried to go against the masses, he would surely find himself facing the same fate that had handled the last rites for people like Humayun Azad or Biswajit Das.

As such, it only makes sense for people like us to leave. The collective we knew has ceased to exist, and in the coming days, if we cannot integrate, we will be massacred. This has happened before. Mass exodus from Afghanistan, people barely escaping with their lives during the Partition, people losing their lives to the political purging of Augusto Pinochet.

While someone more brave or more idealistic would opt to stay and fight, I would like to take the other option. It is the easy way out, sure. Some might even argue that this reflects a particular cowardice on my part. But really, I don’t care. I don’t care that it is the easy way out. I do care that a lot of us will not be fortunate enough to do this, that this is not an option that is accessible for anyone.

But really, there is nothing to be done here. The world is imperfect, and the collectives that make it up are even more so. And when it comes to the piece of land we inhabit, well, I’ve said what I wanted to say already. If someone can bring about actual, structural change, then sure, there is hope. 

But if that can’t be done, then incidents such as the one that happened a few days ago will only worsen. As such, if anyone who can save themselves chooses not to do so, it would not only be incredibly stupid, but it would be immoral as well.

In conclusion, if one is looking for a solution, the best option would be to leave. To leave this wretched land behind, and never look back. With the way things are, a mass exile might take place in the next 5-10 years anyway. It is better to do something before things start to go wrong, and it is better to do it from a position of strength. 

Which means that, for the privileged few who can do so, the only option is to leave, and to do it as soon as possible. Because at the rate things are progressing, no one is safe. None of us are safe anymore. And if someone wants to feel safe, the only option is to pack one’s bag, and grab a ticket.

Nafis Shahriar is a student of business and a freelance writer.

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