Monday, February 12, 2001

Bangladesh 2001: The Myth of Bengalee Culture - Part 7

26. What ails Bangladesh - The Diagnosis

Whatever has happened in Bangladesh in the last thirty years were things we could not predict, and whatever will happen in the next thirty is something we cant predict. In March of 1971 for instance, nobody was able to predict that by December of the same year, Bangladesh would emerge as an independent country. We are an unpredictable people because we have still not been able to control the events and situations around our lives, and nothing is more painful that the realization that so much was expected of Bangladesh when a generation rose in revolt against the Pakistani's and that revolt had much to do with what Bengalee's considered among others - their cultural differences with their then rulers.

We have failed to control events and situations around our lives, because we have been unable in the last thirty years to champion the cause of peace, freedom, and the right of the individual citizen - instead we have left our destiny in the hands of evil politicians, and chosen to demean ourselves with contrite cultural efforts, so that today we are oblivious to the threat a society - a people at large face, when it stands exposed with no 'great culture' to solicit the respect of the world.

While we talk ceaselessly about democracy, autocratic dictators have wrought havoc on our lives for more than half of those thirty years, and whatever democracy we have achieved, is merely a 'rubber stamp' version that allows Bangladesh to be recognized as a 'civilized country' in the family of the world - with foreign aid and World Bank packages meant to foster a semblance of civility. The truth is, to this day Bangladesh continues to receive the euphemistic recognition of a 'developing' country - meaning 'poor country'. We have built a new class of tyrants with Western patronage, who prefer to call themselves the 'civil society' - while in reality, it means the recognition of a fallacy, that the rest of the citizens of Bangladesh, other than those self proclaimed ones - are 'uncivil' or worthy of living only in a jungles. Again this is a new breed of the implied 'oshadhoron jonogon' or extraordinary people, a 'gentlemen' or 'bhodroloke' club, mainly 'intellectuals' and corrupt NGO coalitions. It is indeed a travesty of fate that the supposedly neutral President of Bangladesh could be a participant to one such 'civil society' hoopla, some years back only subscribing to a clear divide and manipulations of the coterie interest. Our 'democratic' Governments therefore are in no way been better or different than out brutal autocrats that came and went - and may yet come again? The difference if at all is cosmetic.

When Henry Kissinger sometimes in 1972 called Bangladesh an 'International basket case', the leaders of our country thanks to their cultural inadequacies quickly turned those words around to mean tola heen jhuree or a 'bottomless basket'! Thankfully we have managed to sew in the torn bottom, but our problems did not end there. The divide between the rich and poor continued to magnify in snow balling proportions, so that today Bangladesh is in no different a state than it was just after the war.

Every 'democratic' Government that came and went, made it a point to complain to 'donor countries' the sheer brutality and corruption of one or the other while in Opposition. However when it moved to power no political party carried any mandate to restore confidence in its people - by assurances of dignity in life, economic development, restoration of peace an and end to mindless violence while the most fundamental absence remains: Liberty.

27. Western Largesse - The New East India Company find roots

Western largesse and aid meant for poor, found way to the pockets of the new rich, who were in one way or the other part of the 'system' I have explained in an earlier chapter. Unmonitored 'foreign aid' more than solving the basic problems of Bangladesh only fostered the growth of a ruling class no different in character and composition, than the exploiters and sycophants created by the British East India Company more than two hundred years ago. Nepotism and corruption has gotten institutionalized, and the West has unwillingly played a major role in the sheer misery of the people of Bangladesh.

While aids and donations came with many strings attached, one of the strings that inadvertently stuck was the continuos down gradation of life of the common people of Bangladesh. It became important for our leaders to play up on our miseries and abject poverty to donors, without any commendable effort at self reliance and development, that could have easily been achieved if the West only understood our culture and took measures suitably to counter the threats that their money could bring.

While the West continued to fund, the money spent did not buy them the 'influence' to create opportunities for poverty alleviation of our people on its 'own terms'. Western money was indeed used and continues to be used as a bonus, for the usurpation of Indian interest in Bangladesh, and no Western donor or aid giving country has ever challenged any Government of the day - to this one specific point.

Components of culture routinely played about saw them somewhat at a loss to identify any 'natural gains' - and while moral lessons specifically in gender related issues, birth control, health and hygiene are 'thrust' area - the ratio in money spent and causes advanced with success is paltry.

28. The Grim Scenario - All Set for Mutual Destruction

We continue to have among the highest infant mortality rates in the world as also the highest births. Basic medical support to our citizens are pathetically lacking, and doctors in Bangladesh with negligible exceptions, are amongst the most insensitive people in any communities that they operate. The rich and middle class in Bangladesh traditionally rely on 'advanced' medical help available in India and the consequent burden on our resources is appalling. One in five women in Bangladesh have child births through caesarean sections, and the reason for that is the promise of more money for doctors through surgery. The medical profession in Bangladesh is by and large a business with profits more important than prognosis.

While the Bangladesh Government denies any great number of HIV AIDS patient in its population, more than ten thousand people travel to Kolkata daily, where a large number of them visit brothels that have a history of active HIV carriers. The case is also the same for the number of people visiting Bangkok in Thailand.

AIDS awareness programs revolve around useless 'cultural exercises' - such as rallies with children wearing paper caps and display of festoons about the ravages of AIDS, releasing of gas balloons and pigeons into the air, as also fish fries into ponds and lakes!

The discussion in public of homosexuality or promiscuity is still taboo - and most hoarding will appeal to citizen's to stick to 'religious edicts and preaching' in the prevention of AIDS, not even suggesting which particular edict to follow. In one of the most bizarre AIDS campaign that I have seen, millions of dollars were spent on AIDS prevention messages on the back of tickets of the national airline - Biman. The idea was after reading the message, passengers will not engage in 'illicit sex' while visiting a foreign country - the danger of contracting AIDS apparently does not exist in Bangladesh! Are we being naïve or plain stupid?

29. The Drug Epidemic - A Campaign to Wipe out the Young

Unknown to the West is the epidemic of codeine addiction in the large and clandestine export of the cough syrup PHENSYDYL from India, which it is banned in Bangladesh. Heroin is the next big kick to codeine users and the increasing and alarming cases of hold-ups and snatching in all major cities and towns of Bangladesh is attributed to drug addiction. Drug rehabilitation center's are very few and restricted to only urban areas and major hospitals do not have the infrastructure to handle substance abuse emergencies, neither are treatments available for free. The absence of psychiatric help and long term counseling results in a large number of cases of repeat drug addicts.

Clearly the young of Bangladesh with a potential future is being targeted for destruction by India, and to this date there has been no effort by any Government to take the matter up with any sincerity with India. Large criminal nexus operating in Dhaka are armed to the teeth and are used recklessly to promote political violence, their funding by the Indian intelligence agency RAW coming in form of 'open license' i.e. state patronage to indulge in narcotic, and gold trafficking. Bangladesh is the gateway to the world for much of the drugs that is produced in the Golden Triangle - and many drug Mafia dons are Members of Parliament.

Bangladesh should declare an emergency on drug addiction in its 'highest priority' and seek Western help to eliminate the menace on an urgent basis. A narcotic ban agreement with India is the demand of the hour. The more delay that we encounter - will see us in the thick of social and political problems that we do not have the experience to easily handle. We do not have the resource or the patience to deal with addicts with empathy.

Drugs see no class division in Bangladesh. Its spread is all encompassing. The next victims could well be our own children - this is no nightmare, this is for real. This is the tip of an iceberg. The crash - will mean the crash of the young, the future of Bangladesh that we have made a habit of talking in very high terms without meaning a damn thing.

30. The Bengalee Language and its Usage - Our Death knell

After the Independence of Bangladesh in 1971, great emphasis was placed on the proliferation of Bengalee in all affairs of the state. Although this effort saw widespread use (even abuse) of the language, what became apparently a major setback was the total and absolute rejection of English. While English was then, and still is compulsory in school and college level examinations, its standard specially in the written and oral tradition dwindled to an extent of it being reduced to a language of only the 'elite'.

Somehow English became unfashionable in the new culture of Bangladesh, and anybody who could speak or write the language was an object of suspicion. The popular culture made every effort to reduce the language to a farce, and today the biggest problem that we face is the inability of Bengalee's to make intelligent conversations or decipher much of the English scripts that goes around, even with those having a Bachelors or Masters degree from our many reputed Universities.

On to the mid nineties when the IT revolution made its first appearance in Bangladesh, the first hurdle that we had to encounter was the English language. Many spoken English course schools opened up in the cities and here was this great race to catch up. Programming schools mushroomed overnight as also folded operations, only because they offered courses in English, which had no takers. Consequently Bangladesh today ranks much behind, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal in spoken and written English.

As the Internet came in the absence of people with basic English knowledge skills saw us many years behind the Indians, who made good use of English - even fine tuning a pidgin version called 'Hinglish'.

However much of the real talent in the IT industry in Bangladesh today, are students who had an education in English medium schools with a GCE - O or A Level, but all over Bangladesh the normal English curriculum is still a detrimental factor to come across skilled professionals who can act on their own with relative confidence in the language. English is still the language of the elite - and the division of classes continues unabated - on language grounds. Consequently for those that are in their mid thirties in Bangladesh - the lack of English language skills finds them desperately ill equipped for any major employment opportunity and frustrations abound. Simple email correspondence with Bangladesh companies will point to our failure to have a grip in mastering a world language - as we had somehow like the Chinese or the Japanese exuberantly expected the world to learn Bengalee in 1971 to deal with us! That Economics and not politics will ensure the survival and spread of our 'mother language' was something that our founding fathers, our early planners and policy makers had not taken into cognisance. A new generation is having to shoulder the burden of those early failures - and for Bangladesh to catch up with the rest of the world it is still an uphill struggle - a struggle that has only painfully started - but showing sure signs of success.

31. World Culture - Deshi Rock in the Dock

Adaptation of 'world culture' however started soon after the Liberation War and the first evidence was noticed in Music that went on to make very important 'cultural statements' of things to come. Bengalee Rock Music or Band Music was one of the products of gain in our culture following the War.

In the Bengalee language the early rock bands started a bush fire that ignited the passionate war weary young - a fire that would soon envelop Bangladesh and set into motion a 'counter culture' that is all set to unseat the hypocrisy of the decaying 'old fashioned culture' - with its attitude, message, hopes, patriotism, sensibility, socio-political activism, love, heritage, secularism, anti communalism, anti fascism, anti extremism - indeed all that was missing from a 'culture' that was thrust on the people of Bangladesh, saw a revolt after 1971 in Band Music.

From Revolt to an ongoing Revolution, Bangladesh Band Music has come a long way.

Lot more about it in the concluding - Part 8.

First Published 12th February 2001

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