These famous lines from a Bangla poem – “this is the right time for he who is now a youth, to join the procession” – are of little relevance or appeal to the youth born after 1990. That was the year which witnessed the last student-demonstration-turned-mass-upsurge of our time to restore democracy.
Why would the younger generations go to (holy) war, no matter how euphemistically poet Helal Hafiz narrates the greatness of sacrificing oneself for altruistic purposes? We can’t blame them either, since we never try to know what they think of the country or even of themselves.
Today’s youth have shown smarts, because they have avoided the Bohemian path they probably consider to be wrong, which was followed by many of their predecessors. Instead of venturing on violent politics or spending years reciting poems, as we experienced during our university life, a Bangladeshi youth, during this age of globalisation, prefers pursuing a job and building a family.
How unlucky the new generations are, that they have not been made the torchbearers of the senior ones! What about the role of the old leaders? Sorry, they are not leaving too many role models to be followed by the posterity.
Perhaps as a result of natural justice, the present-day leaders have been reduced to a position in which they can no longer exploit even the emotions of the more junior citizens. These morally bankrupt leaders had to bank on the Shahbagh-based movement in 2013, spearheaded by some ambitious youngsters, for their political survival, at the cost of democracy being derailed.
Inevitably, our society has undergone a generation gap, wherein the latest one, disillusioned with politics and volunteerism, has turned selfish, setting the trend of pursuing mere individualistic pursuits. Earning money, dining at fancy restaurants, using costly mobile phones, buying a motorbike, owning a flat, and shopping outside the country are some samples of the dreams of the average youth, and a career is only the vehicle for securing those dreams.
In 1971, it was the young freedom fighters who risked their lives to pursue the dream of an independent Bangladesh. Before and in 1990, the youth of our generation selflessly fought a war between autocracy and democracy. Today, the young people have no collective dream that could bring positive changes to their very surroundings.
We, as a whole, have failed to realise that a culture of utter selfishness instigated by alienation of individuals from society, ultimately cannot serve the selfish interests of all men and women.
Unfortunately, after every revolutionary change in this country, the youth were either misguided or excluded from the next ladder of leadership. No sector, except groups of a few elites and family-owned businesses, has created a second tier of leadership to succeed the current one.
Rather, showing signs of hypocrisy, the dominant leaders often describe the youth as being the future of the country but never welcome any new ideas from them, let alone providing any space for them to grow. I wonder how the beneficiaries tasked with building and leading Bangladesh would be held accountable to history for pushing future generations into a state of uncertainty.
The dreams of each youth at an individual level is also constrained by a wholesale absence of independent minds to think freely.
We once employed social efforts to produce servants for the colonial setting, now we have joined the spree of making only business executives and technicians with a restless education in which enlightenment and big dreams are hardly of any value.
It’s dangerous sometimes to raise criticism targeted at the evil system. Still, British author of Bangladeshi origin Zia Haider Rahman described this country as a “land of dead ideas.” He said in Dhaka recently: “This country belongs to people with extraordinary power and privileges.”
The state is treating the youth accordingly, just not offering what they need and deserve. In the client-patron relationship of the statecraft, Chhatra League and Jubo League cadres have emerged as the most powerful agents, though minor portions, of the Bangladeshi adults of the 21st century.
They and their political masters are the virtual owners of public goods, be it in the form of contracts, kickbacks, extortion, public service recruitments, or land-grabbing.
In such a regime, no authority, irrespective of paper-based legal provisions, guarantees fair opportunities for the youth. Those who frequently talk about dreams and the spirit of independence are out to deny, consistently, any fair rules of the game for newcomers. This system of governance has purported to prove that the youth are not ready for leadership roles.
Also, over-pampering parents and guardians think their children are not competent enough to lead the family or the nation. But practically, the successors do lead, making breakthroughs in their own lives and society in the process. This poor and troublesome legacy of being left behind by the elderly generation remains a matter of serious concern.
The contemporary Bangladeshi youth, lacking education proper and missing the wisdom of seasoned personalities, may find themselves in the awkward position in which they would be offered leadership, in a sudden but inevitable transition, in the near future.