Bangladesh has been making headlines for months now. Bloody headlines, for all the wrong reasons. Some months ago there was a fire at a garment factory that took lives of more than 100 workers, and an investigation later suggested it was sabotage. Owners of the factory, failing to deliver the consignments on time decided to burn down their own factory, to save some money. And there was much hyped war crime trials that triggered great riots all over the country, for the prosecution of the convicts and against it. And more recently a building collapsed killing 1100 people- most tragic of the kind. As of yesterday, there was a more vandal demonstration by radical Islamists demanding Shariha type laws and death for blasphemy- and so far 26 are dead already in this spring of riots.
Bangladesh is a small country, much like our own- but it is the most densely populated country in the world, with the population of about 160 million.Most of the people are poor, with greater segregation between filthy rich elites, and the Rikshwa pullers and day labourers occupying the lowest strata. But middle class population serve a great buffer, and it is this population that has helped this country become a rampant economy in last decade.
To understand Bangladesh, one needs to look at its traffic. It must be the most awful driving culture in the world, they drive fast and rash, not leaving an inch of space between the vehicles. Every single, and I literally mean every single vehicle has been scratched here and banged there. That’s how life is like in Bangladesh. Its harsh- you have to keep moving, struggle to survive. If you stop for a moment- either you are run down or you fall far behind. So everyone is in hurry, everyone is making plans- not of great amusements, but merely of survival.
When Radcliffe decided to draw lines between India and Pakistan, he had merely religious considerations. And thus, culturally immiscible Pathans, Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochs and muslim Bengalis (situated 1000 miles away) were made a single country- Pakistan. The ruler class in West Pakistan always suffered from superiority complex, regarding Benagali muslims as lesser kinds and though majority of the population lived in East, and they produced maximum revenues through glorious jute exports, the Bengalis had very little representation in civil administration or military. Thus when Mohammad Ali Jinnahdeclared only and only Urdu would be the state language for whole Pakistan, the language loving population of erstwhile east Pakistan retaliated. The bhasha andolan that started in early fifties, and culminated into climax- the liberation war of 1971. People were already angry over decades of economic injustice and racial discrimination, and in November of 1970, a cyclone hit badly in the east. Central government in the West responded poorly to aid the victims. In the election that followed Awami League led by Seikh Mujib emerged as the biggest party, but Pakistani elites were reluctant to recede. Despite winning a clear majority AL was not allowed to form the government, so Bengalis had no choice but seek independence.In one of the bloodiest military suppression in history of mankind, where 3 millions are said to have been killed and as many as 4 hundred thousand women violated.Eventually, on 16th December, 1971 a new nation was formed, called Bangladesh.
And there were some Bangladeshi nationals who were loyal to Pakistani government. They helped find the educated men and women, hindu people and kill them. These people are called razakars– the betrayers. But strangely enough, they managed to bounce back to mainstream politics, and they now make a third largest party- called jaama e islami, with a strong student wing, called shibir. Suddenly, the government has decided to deliver justice that was long due- that’s what the war crime trials is about. And many people are not happy about it.
For the atrocities Pakistanis inflicted upon their people, one might assume there must be a strong anti Pakistani sentiment. But that’s not the case- which is vivid during notorious indo-pak cricket matches. There are die hard fans of Pakistani cricket- and usually they support the BNP and those in favour of India are sympathizers of Awami league, lead by the prime minister Seikh hasina. It had a landslide victory in last election. And in election before that, BNP had a similar victory. Bangladeshi public thinks shift in power is essential to keep things in balance. So the timing of war crime trials is very important. This has brought people with modern secular views and radical ideas into conflict. While majority is undecided and bear no sympathies to war criminals, they might have been meaning to vote for BNP, out of habit. Now cards are on the table and one has to choose sides- BNP, is still loyal to its long time aide jamaat, but as the cracks go deeper it has a huge risk of losing its moderate base. Because smart people (yes they are) of Bangladesh have seen what radicalization has done to Pakistan- bomb blasts are so frequent that they don’t make headlines anymore, a girl is shot for advocating education, US drones can come down to their villages to destroy homes and kill, with no questions asked.No party has ever won an election in a row, and it is really hard to tell from attack in Buddhist villages in Ramu to burning of temples in Tangail, which is orchestrated, which is spontaneous.
Bangladesh is a small country with big resources and bigger problems. They have mines to dig out natural gas, coals, numerous suitably situated sea ports, great beaches for tourism, well established universities in every corner of the country and rather unfair, cheapest work force in the world. Corruption is so deep rooted that it has become a culture, people do not ask questions anymore. Power is in the hands of two political parties, and people have no say. And its such an established system of impunity, common people, civic leaders have no voice or representation. Political prosecution, punishment transfers keep them at the bay.
One can’t help but compare. Our country’s small, not so many resources and perhaps smaller problems. We live in a secular society, in harmony with different ethnic communities. We have small population to feed and foster, suburbs that could become great cities, countless possibilities and people who can contribute immensely for country’s good. We do not have hard-line radical values that stop us from trying a something new. But the biggest distinction is, a common man can still make a lots of difference by his saying and doing, as long as he gets out of comfort zone of his humdrum life and decides that only problem this country has is its corrupt incompetent politicians and it is time we seek representation of people who are better qualified for the job. There’s a thin line between criticizing the netas at every social gathering to becoming, finding and supporting someone that the country needs. Or we can tuck ourselves in the cocoon of our own saliva and vomits, bear the filth and the odour, and look while the most imbecile of our kind take turns to loot the country, slowly poison our ears to communal hatred, and rule over us from their concrete castle of oligarchy. Like we have adjusted ourselves to 14 hours of load shedding, we will surrender to insecurities to life, we will manage with no jobs, we will comply with frauds and injustices in everyday life, we will grow sicker for mean hospitals and become dumber for bad schools. But we will adjust. And when our kids from future generation ask us, why our country is in such a bad shape, we will shamelessly answer, k garne yestai ho!
Writer is a medical doctor by profession and founder at Bibeksheek Nepali 😉