Sunday, April 21, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

It means nothing to be Bangladeshi

Update : 26 Apr 2013, 10:49 AM

The past few months, we’ve seen a resurgent and emphatic affirmation of our identity.

We’ve seen chest-beating nationalism, vigorous flag waving, and passionate, positive posturing about what it means to be Bangladeshi.

We’ve made our secular values heard, our demands for justice known. We’ve even asserted our right to be ultra-religious if we want to be. The truth is, it seems to mean very little to be Bangladeshi.

For a country so obsessed with our sense of self-worth, we seem to have completely forgotten why we became one in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, we didn’t become Bangladesh so that we could all sing and dance in Bangla and revel in our own culture, pleasant as that might be. That wasn’t the reason at all.

Anyone who knows a little bit of history knows that Bangladesh exists because we were tired of being exploited.

43 years later, the exploitation has not stopped, not for the tens of millions of people who form the backbone of our economy and indeed of our state. Every day of those 43 years, an overwhelming majority of Bangladeshis have been working for a pittance, with no rights, no standards of care and no recourse to justice.

All of this we have seen and ignored. In our rush to establish ourselves, we put off doing perhaps the most important thing a country should do – ensure that its citizens are looked after.

But it doesn’t end there either.

The absence of efficient mechanisms or institutions that create the conditions required to look after people, has left all sorts of avenues open for unscrupulous, irresponsible operators to exploit.

Often the willingness to enforce regulations that do exist, or for that matter, to build better institutions remains conspicuously absent since the people who might have done that, benefit most from a system full of holes.

All of this too, is known, and often ignored.

But what happened in Savar, on the back of a series of similar tragedies can’t be ignored any longer.

We can no longer call ourselves a country or even a nation, if the people belonging to it are allowed to die such horrible, senseless deaths simply because we couldn’t stop a faulty system from falling, literally, on top of them.

In any case, we may have already forfeited our right to call ourselves civilised when we allowed a dysfunctional status quo to prevail in the name of profit; but when people are forced into factories or locked inside them and killed, we aren’t far from losing the right to call ourselves human as well.

But we have squandered, repeatedly, every opportunity to come clean. Instead we seem to only continue along a downward spiral that makes the figures of pilfered, looted and siphoned-off public funds rise exponentially while governance practices becomes more and more convoluted, and our economy becomes increasingly exploitative.

Given all that, the rhetoric of a “Shonar Bangla” means nothing at all if basic standards can’t be ensured for the people we rely on to build it for us.

Our flag will mean nothing, and our liberation will mean even less if we don’t stop turning our backs on the priorities that led to the birth of this country to begin with.

Bengali culture itself, if that is indeed what we are seeking to preserve, will die a dishonourable death if we keep ignoring the fact that a culture is not just a language or a mode of expression but a complete system of values. Values that we have, so far, failed miserably to uphold.

Zeeshan Khan is a Senior Sub-editor, Dhaka Tribune

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