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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

What binds us together?

Update : 05 May 2013, 07:15 PM

It is exhausting being a Bangladeshi. Not a day goes by when you don’t observe some incident of a gross violation of justice, some form of avoidable tragedy, some cacophony of discourse and finger pointing, and you think to yourself: Is it worth it?

2013 has been a year of upheaval. In early February, the unexpected verdict of a convicted mass murderer, led the youth to finally realise that the concept of “justice” is one manufactured by political parties for their own expediency. Armed with tools which their elders could not understand and a new sense of urgency, they rose up and passionately demanded that justice be served and the most painful chapter of our history finally be closed.

Initially united, it did not take long for the country to divide itself again, as politics inserted its ugly head into the debate. Is Shahbag a clever ploy by the government to distract the populace, asked the conspiracy theorists? Is it an attack on Islam, asked the religious? Shouldn’t the protesters be spending their time working, asked the baby boomers? Don’t we have other important issues to tackle, asked the skeptics?

Then the conversation changed wildly, into a fight between those who felt that Islamic values were threatened and those who wanted to create a more secular Bangladesh. The country became even more divided, since nothing stokes as much passion as a perceived attack on religious values. Isn’t the defense of Islam our ultimate priority, asked the religious? Isn’t Islamic radicalism the greatest threat facing our country, asked the secularists? Then the usual partisan bickering started followed by indiscriminate strikes at the expense of the people’s wellbeing.

In April, tragedy struck again; this time in Savar, where over 500 souls perished in one of the worst man-made disasters in our history. While initially, the people were shocked, divisions are again showing up. Should we blame the government? Should we blame the factory owners? Should we blame the foreign buyers?

It is depressing. Bangladesh seems to be teetering on the brink. Everyone seems to have splintered off into factions. Everyone is pointing fingers and talking, but no one is talking to each other. In times like this, it is good to think not about our differences, but about what binds us. Is there anything that truly unites us? Who are we as a people?

What are our values and what do we want to achieve? What kind of Bangladesh do we want to leave for our children? What are the attributes in us which would help us drive through this darkness?

Then I had an epiphany. It was so simple. I looked around me at the people whose stories are often overlooked and whose heroics are often ignored. I thought about the doctor from Enam Medical College who is treating all the wounded for free; I thought about the young men and women who rushed to the scene of the accident to volunteer their time, to gather medical supplies, give blood and set up rescue efforts.

I thought about a man who tirelessly worked on instilling values of leadership in the youth of the country; about the NGOs pioneering innovative concepts in social enterprises; about a man who won the Nobel prize for teaching the world that access to credit is a human right; about the entrepreneurs who are trying to innovate and create; about the migrant workers exhausting themselves in brutal conditions and sending billions back home to their families; I think about the common folk, struggling everyday against all odds, so that their children will have a better life.

We call ourselves a broken society, full of corruption, greed and nepotism. And yes, that exists too, more than I would like. But we fail to celebrate the truly wonderful displays of selflessness and sacrifice, which we would see almost every day, if we only cared to look. We have become cynical and we think everyone has an agenda. We have let our disblief go to our head and stopped truly appreciating the wonders carried out by our people every day.

So, the answer to the question, do we have what it takes to climb out of this darkness? Yes, we do. We can start by appreciating the good which is already being done and find inspiration in the small wonders which is keeping this country chugging along despite it’s so many tragedies.

We have done well and we can do even better. Do you believe in Bangladesh? I do. 

Rezwan Khan is pursuing a Masters degree at Dartmouth College, USA.  

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