Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 66, Tuesday November 21, 2006




Time to rise and shine!

Brave women are born everyday, grow and evolve and are killed everyday, stifled by the monotony of a common existence. As I sat on the cold hard pave of the road facing the National Musuem, surrounded by hundreds of women, old and young, blooming and bent, rich and poor, doctors, engineers, lawyers, social workers, freedom fighters, university teachers, housewives, students, garments workers, paper bag makers, garbage collectors, sweepers and school girls- I wondered if I had been wrong in thinking so.

Maybe they don't die but remain in hibernation, waiting to be awakened and united for a cause such as the one that grips Bangladesh today. They were united that afternoon when called upon by the Peshajibi Nari Shomaj to protest against the nonchalance of the caretaker government and the Election Commission, there to support each other and a common cause. And to think how some people are reacting to their protest, to the protest of the so called 'general masses' not led so much by the opposing forces and the 14 party alliance, as by the desire to voice their opinions, to be heard and to be free again.

Some among us, living through the same surreal shamelessness of the Election Commission and the careless caretakers of the country, deaf and blind to the pleas of the people for them to either fix their acts or leave, would go as far as to label the entire affair as nothing but a load of drama. A public display of vulgarity they call it, that has stopped the economy in its tracks and incurred more losses than can ever be remedied! Mr. Mannan Bhuiya, in a press briefing last week mourned the death of 50 or so people as a result of the protests and curfews, and the newsreader sadly concluded that all this has 'harmed and greatly distressed the general masses' who cannot avail public transport and cannot go about living their lives in peace. With all due respect to the people behind the news, and Mr. Bhuiya, who are we trying to kid? We are stuck in our neighbourhoods without buses and rickshaws are costing us hundreds and our children can't make it to school today, for a day, for a week, or even a month, the short term. But what about the rest of our lives, the rest of the country's years, the long term? Let's take a long term sort of look at the last five years. Let's remember the banning of polythene bags, CNG converted scooters AND ALSO the rest of the wonderful developments our democracy made during this time.

Soon after the last regime first took over the reigns in 2001, in an article Dr. B. K Jahangir, a Dhaka University Professor wrote that since October 2001 over 30 thousand Hindus fled from Bangladesh to India, over one thousand women were raped, over 185 political opponents were killed, over 5260 were injured, over 4,000 houses burnt. The article and many others like it went on to describe unfair taxes levied on the population without allowing them any form of recourse, whole villages like Aguandi and Hapania made destitute. The country that had always prided itself as being secular even had its constitution changed to exclude some of those secular acts, the same constitution that is so debated, revered and discussed now that the elections are coming up!

Journalists, writers and others were arrested based on a legislation that allows detention for 24 hours without a warrant. People whom we know have been fighting to preserve the history of our country and our war of liberation were arrested for allegedly participating in so called anti state activities, taken from their homes in the middle of the night in true 1971 style with no explanation of what they had done wrong!

In the last five years, for the first time in the history of Bangladesh, 64 bombs went off all over the country at the same time. Other bombs and grenades started going off in opposition rallies and meetings, killing important people like Ivy Rahman and AMS Kibria, who besides being in the opposition were very valuable citizens who could make a big difference in the country with their knowledge, wisdom and presence. Judges were killed by bomb blasts as they went off near courthouses.

Seventeen people were shot dead in Kansat, Chapai Nawabganj because they demanded that the government provide them with the electricity that they pay for but don't get! People were shot dead in the Phulbari Coal Mines because they protested against an exploiting foreign company! The media was no exception in the royal treatment extended by the regime to its people. Ekushey television, the once most watched and loved Bangladeshi TV channel was shut down on grounds that may have been remedied with simple fines and small punishments! Journalists got beaten to pulp in front of hundreds of people in a stadium in Chittagang by the police. RAB got released on to the streets and have since made a lot of people among us feel, 'much safer', capturing Bangla Bhai, Abdur Rahman and heaven knows how many other dangerous terrorists and yet, killing hundred others in encounters and useless in preventing the crimes mentioned so far from happening!

And why are people coming out onto the streets? They are not Pied Piper's children following the 14 party and LDP politicians like mindless entities? Why are they 'making the scene' as some of our polite and civilized counterparts and most of the media are accusing them of making? They are protesting all the crimes they can no longer bear. They are on the streets because although power has been handed over to a so called non-party, neutral caretaker government, nothing seems to have changed! Only a few days ago, when nine members of the Peshajibi Nari Shomaj, a neutral, non-party platform for professional women walked to the Election Commission to give in a petition to ask Mr. Aziz, the cause of all our worries these days to resign from his post, they were manhandled by the police and six of them were 'arrested' on yet unknown grounds for a few hours after which they were released on 'bail'. Among those harassed were university teachers, doctors, lawyers and journalists, accomplished citizens exercising what Barrister Amirul Islam points out to be a very basic right, the right to petition. So who are we kidding, really? Where do we stand today? On the brink of a breakdown because our ports, public transport and offices are closed for a few days, or on the brink of massive change that can only come when our backs have hit the wall?

By Diya
Photo: Amirul Rajiv

By the way

Eat 10-12 almonds, the equivalent of two aspirins, to cure a migraine headache. Almonds are far less likely to upset the stomach.



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