How long will the pride last?

by Mehrab Jamal

015The city of Dhaka sits at the bottom of two lists constructed in regards to the quality of life, ‘toppled’ only by Syria’s Damascus in one (ranked 139th in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Liveability Ranking and Overview 2013) and ‘dominated’ by only other 13 other nations in another (ranked 208th in the Mercer Quality of Living Report 2014). Then there’s another list called the Quality of Life Index, compiled by the aforementioned EIU, which puts Bangladesh 76th out of a total of 80 countries. This particular list had its’ name changed to the ‘Where-To-Be-Born Index’.
Imagine yourself at the receiving end of the question ‘Where do you wish to be born?’ Now what would your answer be? Odds are it would not be Bangladesh. Why? Because as suggested by said ‘Where-To-Be-Born’ index, which is formulated taking into consideration, among other things, a citizen’s material well-being, political freedom, personal physical security and his overall quality of life, Bangladesh doesn’t seem to be the most rewarding of options. You could very well be abducted before you even get to your cradle.
Don’t get me wrong. Bangladesh is a country worthy of pride. We have a rich history – from her heart-gripping independence to her present-day economic progress, Bangladesh has battled her fair share of Goliaths. Surely that makes us all proud to be Bangladeshis. But are we making our cherished martyrs proud with the nation that Bangladesh has become today? Are we running out of things to be proud of?
The aforementioned numbers provide a mere peek into a much graver picture in our country. 2013 was a dark year for every single Bangladeshi. ‘Hartal’ was the order of the day for a despicably good part of the year. There could be little dispute to the notion that the spree of hartals had left the entire nation in doldrums− the after-burn of which still agonises many. A study by Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI) suggests that a single day of hartal costs the national economy approximately US$205 million (or Tk 1,600 crore). This is a mere statistic that speaks volumes and turns deafening when it can be concluded that 40 days of such strikes in a year would lead to the economy losing Tk 64,000 crore. This is tantamount to 6.5 per cent of the nation’s GDP. It is also noteworthy that more than 85 such blockades had taken place last year alone. If this particular data fails to dishearten us, maybe this will: according to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) documentation, 85 deaths and 2,727 injuries were a direct result of those recurring blockades; all in all, incidents associated with such political violence from January to December of last year were responsible for 492 deaths and a mammoth 22,049 injuries. Of course, who can forget the Rana Plaza catastrophe that claimed more than 1,100 lives? While construction standards and a complete void of accountability on the owner’s part were unsurprisingly condemned, the aftermath highlighted the deplorable working conditions in Bangladesh: most strikingly, the honourable Pope Francis terming treatment of Bangladeshi workers as that of ‘slave labour’ and deeming the ‘profit-seeking’ nature of Bangladeshi garments owners as ‘God-defying’.
2014 started off in similar fashion with the main opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) formally boycotting the national general elections and imposing a number of ‘hartals’. The results of these polls were as foreseen: 153 seats (of which 127 were won by reigning faction Awami League) out of the total 300 went uncontested. At the end of that day, an unchallenged AL was declared victor in 232 seats to remain in power till 2019. But these statistics are not nearly as embarrassing as the fact that voter turnout was a meager 40 per cent compared to 87 per cent in the 2008 elections; furthermore, election day protests and violence saw more than approximately 100 voting centres get torched and roughly 20 people killed. If you ask me, democracy and the so-called ‘greater good’ has been thrown out of the window. The legitimacy of this 10th General Election was questioned by the EU, the USA and the Commonwealth and accordingly they decided not to send observers.
The streak of ignominy for the nation continues, with the recent surge of abductions re-instilling a sense of apprehension and insecurity in our hearts.
Statistics from the official website of the Bangladesh Police conclude that the total number of criminal cases brought to its attention in 2013 was a bewildering 1,79,199, albeit a number lower than the 1,83,407 figure in 2012 (quite the busy men our police). Simultaneously, abduction figures increased from 850 to 879 and yet it is proudly and happily announced that abduction rates now are lower than those of previous years.
Furthermore, the number of kidnappings in the country during the first trimester of the current year stands at 289, an undesirable proportion of which has been attributed to political purposes and as acts of law-enforcing agencies. The day is young and whether we like it or not, those numbers will surely reach greater heights.
What is most disturbing about all the disgrace that has devoured the country over the past year and a half is that every incident could have been prevented and yet, they were not. The political impasse that even foreign forces could not unwind, the ‘old-world’ construction standards and the inhumane work-conditions and remuneration all these simple but significant elements of disaster could have been solved with dialogue and regulation and yet, they were not.
But why? Was it pride overpowering righteousness? For too long, people in this country have been needlessly getting tangled in political cross-hairs. What is a democracy where the integrity and the credibility of elections are questioned? How can anyone call a nation, with backward pay-scales and Dark-Age period work-conditions and with people exercising savage acts of barbarism, a role model of development?
The image that Bangladesh has been consequently embellished with is nothing to be proud of. It is seen as a nation with incessant civil unrest and an impending vulnerability to terrorism. Foreign governments advise their citizens not to travel to Bangladesh. It is a bitter truth: Australian government’s travel advice website (www.smartraveller.gov.au) as well as that of the UK, (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) have amended their Bangladesh country page to include warnings. Who can blame them! At least some states know what is best for its people. Maybe C.G Jung is right and deep down, our leaders know themselves that something, in fact, a lot of things are out of tune. But the question remains: will that conscience be able to break that thick wall of pride and will our leaders, both reigning and opposing, eventually admit their shortcomings and perhaps even co-operate with one another to really do what is best for the country? How much longer will ordinary people play the role of the sacrificial goat? How much longer will our pride last?

The author is an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney

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