The Year of Harsh Lessons
AASHA MEHREEN AMIN
The first thing that comes to mind about this year is that it has been one of zero tolerance. It is zero tolerance for freedom of thought and expression, zero tolerance for other faiths, zero tolerance for differing ideology and zero tolerance for difference in political thought. Not that it was any different the year before. But never before have Bangladeshis shown such lack of feeling for their fellow citizens. The number of people killed or maimed in bomb blasts, shot down in police 'crossfire', tortured by employers or raped by neighbourhood goons reached an all time high and point out to a society afflicted by a disease that threatens to become terminal. The scenes in the streets show how antagonistic people are towards each other. Police mercilessly beat up rickshaw wallas for the slightest transgression, car drivers beat up mishuk drivers. It is a push, shove, 'get as much as you can and give as little in return' society that we have ended up with.
This year, the year of bomb blasts, has made us realise that anytime anything can happen. Anytime one can be blown up to pieces. Anytime you might lose a loved one, lose a limb or even lose your life.
We have learnt that the government is more clueless than we are. First they have tried to deny the existence of religious militants. They went as far as claiming that 'Bangla Bhai', was a figment of the print media's imagination. It took 500 bombs to blow off simultaneously all over the nation, for the government take the religious militancy phenomenon, seriously. Once it acknowledged this the government has gone all out trying to show how efficient it is by unearthing hordes of ammunition and arresting armies of JMB terrorists, although failing to nab the masterminds. Why it had not done so before, something that would definitely have avoided many of the gruesome bomb attacks, is the mystery of the year.
We have also learnt some strange facts from our ministers. One of them said on tv that bomb attacks are a global phenomena and so we might as well learn to live with it. Another one tried to sell the idea of a 'new dimension' in this kind of terrorism whereby Hindu suicide bombers were being recruited by the Jama'atul Mujaheedin Bangladesh (JMB). The latest gem of knowledge imparted by a minister was thst it's ok to hunt down our guest birds because they are a nuisance since they crowd out local species of birds and gobble up their grub before leaving the country. Even though bird specialists and environmentalists have categorically stated that guest birds should be protected because they are an important part of our ecological balance, we must listen to our minister and happily have roasted wild and exotic duck for dinner.
This year is significant for being the year of press persecution. While journalists have been cold-bloodedly murdered with no sign of their assailants being caught, press people have faced unnecessary harassment from the state. Not only has the press been vilified, maligned and made fun of, the ruling power has been toying with laws to make it even more difficult for journalists to speak out freely. The government continues to think the press is trying to 'tarnish the image of the country'. They still think that the newspapers only print negative stories. They still think that the woes of the ordinary person, such as lack of personal security, impossible market prices, paralysing traffic and complete failure of all public services, are all exaggerated, spiteful stories cooked up by malicious journalists.
We have also learnt, first hand of how to extend the olive branch with one hand and then stab the same person's back with the other. This has been through the government's constant ranting that the opposition is somehow to blame for all the terrorist attacks in the country while at the same time sending love letters to woo its archenemy to discuss how to fight terrorism.
So is there a silver lining, however slim, at the end of the cloud of cynicism that engulfs us? Maybe it is in the form of yet another lesson: that we, the ordinary people must stand up for ourselves and each other. The state mechanisms have failed us miserably but at the individual level there have been many instances of true patriotism and commitment to improving the lives of ordinary people. These are the individuals we should celebrate and draw hope from.
The people of this country have always been survivors and lovers of peace and harmony. Just as the concept of suicide bombings contradicts the basic psyche of our people who have always believed that life is worth living even in the direst of circumstances, the notion of intolerance is also something alien to our origins. It is therefore time to reject our insincere, self-serving politicians, to revive our marginalised culture, one based on tolerance of others, mutual trust and cooperation. We must also not be intimidated by those who impose false religious doctrines; we must build the strength to fight against those who are trying to stifle our voices and tell us how to live our lives.
Perhap the most important lesson that we can take over to the New Year is to remember who we are and what we have stood for all through our history.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005