Of Youth and Optimism
SHAYERA MOULA ponders over the give-and-take relationship between the nation and its youth.
|"No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline."
-- Kofi Annan (Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2001)
Every generation is sworn to believe that they are ambitiously unsound compared to their preceding ones. Bangladeshi youth, more often than not, do a good job handling optimism in a nation that provides fewer great jobs for a massive pool of talent, enthrals everyone with hours of traffic jam, and refuses to withdraw from the vicious cycle of political instability. One should celebrate the patience, which is often tested to its limits, as the youth struggle to keep up with global competition, the latest technology market and attempts to fulfil the highest of expectations demanded from careers, families and the society at large.
The complexities of control over mind and body in the era of corporate competition and the aggressive economy have set in motion certain ideologies. This generation has come to terms with the fact that they can never afford to buy their own land, a house or apartment or even a car without the default structure of long-lasting loans which in itself, as we are aware, have caused worldwide damage to a global economic meltdown.
The relationship between the nation and its youth, however, is never a pessimistic one.
Considering the strong current of waves that are thrown hard at the youth, nobody has actually given up. There is no massive genocide, there is no large anti-nationalist parties charging the streets every day and, most importantly, there is no lack of hope.
A history of anticipation
Some of the biggest movements towards the Independence of Bangladesh have a rich history of the nation's young blood and dedication engraved within it. In February 21 of 1952, students had begun gathering on the premises of Dhaka University in defiance of Section 144. In the early hours they gathered at the university gate in an attempt to break the police line, where some students ran in to the Dhaka Medical College and others rallied towards the university premises. Numerous arrests of these students were made to which more violence broke out and after a group of students had sought to storm into the East Bengal Legislative Assembly to block the legislators' way, the police opened fire and killed a number of students including Abdus Salam, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abul Barkat and Abdul Jabbar.
A gathering of more than 30,000 people congregated at Curzon Hall, consisting of students initially, prompted people from all sectors and sections of the society including colleges, banks and the radio station, to boycott offices and join the procession. On February 23, Dhaka Medical College students constructed a Shaheed Smritistombho, (Monument of Martyrs) that had the words "Shaheed Smritistombho" handwritten on it, which was destroyed on February 26 by the police. More killings following more movements led to Bangla not only being the official language of Bangladesh but to February 21 being the International Language Day celebrated across the globe.
That was but just the beginning of the step towards anti-segregation and nationalism.
The formation of the Mukti Bahini consisted mostly of regulars and civilians after the proclamation of Bangladesh's independence on March 26, 1971 but had a large population of 18-22-year-olds assisting the larger armed forces during the war. After the war "Mukti Bahini" became a term referred to all forces (military and civilian) of former East Pakistani origin fighting against the Pakistani armed forces during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Jahanara Imam in her "Of Blood and Fire" acknowledges the difficulty of keeping her son, Rumi, within the safety of her home only because the rage within him became too difficult to control. The spirit of his fight for the nation, be it at the cost of his life in the process, was too strong where a mother is forced to give in, she wrote in her diary: "I sacrifice you [Rumi] to the cause of the nation. You may join the war." This chemistry between the land and its youth is a worldwide phenomenon of course.
A two-way tie
The relationship between the current generation and past ones is of a give and take kind. While the preceded ones gave their lives in the cause for a liberated land, free from oppression, that very action was set so that the generation which followed may uplift the glory of a land standing on free will and power. While those who dedicated their lives did so without any demand in return, they had hoped that the population that would follow would fulfil everything demanded by the nation. The problem, however, lies in the instability of that demand and the blurriness of everything that has been promised to the people ever since Independence.
One of the first demands of any and every youth of the country today is "opportunity". They would like to find prospects set out for them which would allow them to take higher risks and initiatives. The problem is the fear of falling back because of the lack in social and political stability. There is no assurance that what we have today will sustain itself tomorrow, let alone find immense support in the long run. Many graduating and coming from an already financially secure background prefer the idea of quick money where more and more people are getting themselves involved in the share market, with recently the highest total number of trades being 389,310. The recent rage when there was a sudden big dip in the Dhaka Stock Exchange very clearly indicates the amount of money everyone is willing to invest just to gamble their way to the top of the social and economic ladder. Taking quick chances has become an easier option over working slow and steady with a strong foundation of financial setting.
On the flipside, there are many Youth Forums and volunteers actively involved in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other organisations, which promise to fight for the betterment of the underprivileged. There are more than 20,000 NGOs nationwide and most research, development planning and implementation involve much of the academic excellence from within our country and abroad on national and rural development policies. While the brain drain policy is still critically intact and deeply discourages any sign of upgrading the national system, many back here still hope against hope. But there is still a crowd, even while optimistic, who feel apprehensive about the sustainability of other organisations.
A tangled legal system
The one platform that seems to rebut any crack is the one standing firm against political involvement. The student-politics dichotomy that was once the only means of national growth and movement has taken a turn. While during the 2008 elections, the number of voters and the enthusiasm of young supporters were high, there was also the anti-vote campaign that foresaw a repetitive political culture. This is very much related to this generation asking its government to provide more guidance and create trust.
YAMIN TAUSEEF JAHANGIR
The level of trust can be earned once the laws at hand are reinforced. The process of justice is a lengthy one. The saying "Justice delayed is justice denied" allows the general crowd to feel weaker about their position in the society. Certain initiatives, namely with recent policies targeting against sexual harassment against women [Freedom of movement (Article-36)], are always being taken, but somewhere along the road there lies a failure to see that law implemented till the end. Many violations are overlooked for political reasons and without the involvement of influential persons, the lack of confidence in the law enforcement authorities only increases. Corruption is also a big hurdle that is yet to be fully addressed. Ranking still in the top five nations as the most corrupt, earning social trust or believing in law enforcement remains a distant hope.
One of the main obstacles faced by the generation today the minute they graduate is the lack of equal access and opportunity to the job market. Equality of opportunity in public employment (Article-29) has been crushed over the decades where the "who's who" tag has become far more significant within the blueprints of a curriculum vitae than the actual merit of the candidate. Much of the complaint lies in the removal of transparency when a certain candidate is employed over the rest. This allows the small percentage of privileged society to take control while the rest are set aside de-motivated.
Charles Wright Mills had referred to this cycle where one group of powerful personnel takes over the preceding in his "The Power Elite" long ago. This system neither addresses true democracy nor plans to uphold it. So then in this regard, the youth of the country still finds within themselves the energy to pursue a better life, to share and stand strong in the global competition and take whatever opportunity is available at hand without much delusion, only shows the level of respect they have for the country.
The festivities throughout the year with colours and life during all the cultural and national celebrations represent the love they feel even in the hardest of settings. The Bangladesh economy is still booming, the GDP is still growing, the number of children in schools is still high and the overall lifestyle of a hardworking, educated pupil is still full of spirit. Given this, if the nation could give just a little more, its youth would not think twice about giving everything that their earlier generations had hoped and fought for.
Shayera Moula is Sub-Editor, FORUM.