Published: Friday, May 10, 2013

Perceptions

A Petition on Our Unchanging Nature

A catastrophe that could have been averted. Photo: Prabir Das

A catastrophe that could have been averted. Photo: Prabir Das

I have a petition to circulate among the citizens of our country which, after reading, I hope they will tear out, sign and deluge the respected home minister’s office. This petition comes, of course, as a result of what has happened in Savar on April 24. Our Prime Minister is correct that one should not restrict our wisdom about rescue efforts and medical help to the television studios and couches in front of televisions. One should be there at the scene of the catastrophe helping the survivors and those who wish to help in recovery. I would like to think that this petition would be a part of my small contribution towards the efforts.

My petition concerns both before what has happened and after. The difference between this catastrophe and those that usually afflicts this country via nature is that this one was preventable. In addition, it was not a sudden event. The very previous day as we well know, cracks had developed as a portent of ominous things to come. All of this has been discussed before. The question is regarding how this very building came into being. We all know that this building was supposed to be three floors high but ended up being a nine-storied monstrosity and so it was very shaky both in literal and figurative terms. And yet, no one from the police to the local administrative officials had the sense of responsibility to confront the owners and builders.

The  bravery of ordinary citizens saved many lives. Photo: Prabir Das

The bravery of ordinary citizens saved many lives. Photo: Prabir Das

With the increasing instances of police brutality, one wonders if this is not compounded by the fact that the biggest bullies are also the biggest cowards. I know that this does not represent every policeman. I have met members of the Police force with such honour that they would put knights of old to shame. Needless to say, such men are never in the news and like it that way. The first of this petition is to simply let such men do their jobs. Do not interfere with them in any way. Do not threaten them, do not allow anyone threatening them to get away and do not put restrictions on what they can pursue in the name of justice and the law. Above all else, pay them more than the many useless civil servants who are more of masters than servants when it comes to those whose welfare they are supposed to look after.

The second part of this petition is regarding the extraordinary bravery shown by the volunteers who arrived at Savar from places all around the country and worked to save so many lives. I salute these individuals. I also salute those medical stations where the staff has taken in patients with no concern of being reimbursed for material or labour. Above all, I salute those who cried for those whom they never knew but who were their sisters and brothers in tragedy. We all know that the military and the different services were there, but why was there no real coordination at the site of the event. We all know that there were ministers, secretaries, generals and even politicians who masqueraded as the former, but why there was no one who took hold of the tragedy by the throat and worked towards a coordinated recovery effort and speedier deployment of resources. The most bizarre was perhaps the sight of rescuers using hand fans and everything they could to circulate air among the debris. That was just one among the many most tragic and ludicrous sights during the rescue efforts. There was this rush of oxygen tanks to the sight with no real coordination. Random volunteers took cylinders and started to release where they thought would help. While these efforts were admirable, it may have even have been counterproductive as shown by the fire that erupted later. Others used everything from screwdrivers to random tools to break and remove debris. People crowded the area desperate for news hampering rescue efforts. I know people are emotional no matter where in the world they are, but they also respond to confident leadership. You and your officials were not confident. Thus, I appeal to you and those who working for you, please learn how to be leaders. Attend a few seminars hosted by so many pedagogues and demagogues in this country espousing leadership in various fields. These seminars are usually totally useless but you should get good materials that will allow you to start to learn.

The third petition is one that has roots in every religion and every philosophy except perhaps those which worship evil. Dear beloved leader of the police force and its judicial attachments, please be humble. Please accept your shortcomings and accept help when it’s offered. I hope, for the sake of the nation and every sane person in this country, that the story being disseminated in the press of your rejecting foreign help is untrue. If it is true, then there is no petition that will cure you of your hubris. I know that your job is very challenging and sometimes it can make one feel that one is so alone in the world. I have a little proven statement for you – leadership is lonely. It has been and always will be. Leadership also means that you have to be humble. You have to ask about that which you don’t know about. Leadership also means that you should not stick to your personal credo even if it means steering the ship straight into the reefs. Is your pride greater than the lives of those who are suffering?

I would thus like to end this petition by simply asking three things from you – allow people who know how to do their jobs, to be humble and to try to understand what you don’t know. If you are unwilling, and events like this and the many preventable man-made tragedies keep happening like before, I think the country does not deserve a second more of your excellent service. Go with pride and let others who can, do.

The writer is Lecturer, School of Business North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh.