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     Volume 7 Issue 37 | September 12, 2008 |

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One Off

Who Would put the Front
Foot Forward?

Aly Zaker

We are recognised as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. A lot of people, have dwelt upon the subject in vivid details. I would, in my discourse, venture to veer off the beaten track. We all know that we are corrupt. Almost all of us, adults, have direct experience of being subjected to corrupt practices at least once in our lifetime and, more often than not, oftener. So there is no debate about that. What bothers me though is that we often indulge in the exercise of over simplification. On the pages of the newspapers we see picture of a traffic policeman collecting toll from the driver of a vehicle. This can happen even if all your papers for driving a vehicle were in order. You may even see a picture of a petty clerk in an office receiving bribe from a client. These are despicable practices and, needless to say, must be abhorred.

But there are many instances where our eyes cannot reach, let alone the lens of the camera. These are the people whose activities cannot be seen. Though, somehow, even the people in the streets know about them all, talk about them, and helplessly try to keep themselves amused. When I compare the small time larceny with the misdeeds of the big and powerful, I often feel that our effort at establishing a corruption free country seems misdirected. However, I am told that the small units of bribes are shared even by those that are at the highest echelon of power. Be it as it may, the point is that we have to take a look at the changing mindset of the 'ordinary corrupt' in the light of reality. These people come from the villages of Bangladesh in search of a livelihood. Back in the village they had to do a lot of backbreaking work which is why they travelled all the way down to the capital city where, they were told that, luck favours everyone equally. The luck, in reality however, did not favour everyone equally. Some of them, through whatever means, landed some jobs that brought them luck. More often this was made possible by the political connections back home. On landing up a job they live in dingy accommodations, and start their lives off on bare minimum amenities. They often have their families who either live in the villages where most of them come from or with them in those rat holes. This easily obtainable politically achieved success instilled the greed in them that became all pervasive and set off a kind of deviant hunger to acquire more of buyable worldly possessions, both tangible and intangible, as quickly as possible and at whatever cost. I was once surprised to have learnt that a senior clerk in a judicial office a takes bribe Benson and Hedges cigarettes. Not food, or clothing but Benson and Hedges.

Mean while, the poor take desperate measures to live

Quite frankly, ours is an absurd society. I can't really figure out how a family can live in a room or a thatch for a thousand or fifteen hundred takas a month when his known monthly income is five thousand takas. So, for whatever the reason, petty corruption is the order of the day. Push yourself a little higher in terms of income and the picture grows even more absurd. Even the most absurd of thoughts would not be able to conjecture how in a city a person earning twenty five thousand takas a month actually pays thirty thousand for a rented apartment. Coming down to the subject of petty corruption, a friend of mine was telling me the other day that this kind of corruption isn't so bad because the money circulates within the country. From a giver to a taker then to the market, so on and so forth. But the big time criminals apparently keep all of it stashed away abroad. So the money generated within the country travels to distant lands. While this keeps happening the rich get richer. The poor (except the ones already endowed with the magic wand) become poorer. Perhaps that is what snowballs into further corrupt practices.

This most amazing disparity itself can instigate the poor to take a plunge in the pool of sleaze. For example, a person languishing in the darkness of his dingy room during the load shedding hours, walks out to breathe and finds that the super market around the corner is dazzling with all kinds of fancy lighting, the BMWs and Mercedes' are queuing up to deposit their precious passengers eager to launch themselves off on a shopping binge. Could you blame him if he is then motivated to do something desperate? Would the 'well off among us' ever be sensitive to acknowledge how our ostentations may be viewed by the vast majority of our countrymen languishing in poverty?

He also finds, painfully though, that his benefactors from the village who helped him land up a job in the city through their political connections live in similar flamboyance while he has very little to expect from life. And, unfortunate though it may seem, this is directly connected, somehow or the other, with our country's politics and bureaucracy. I think the sooner we realise this, the better. Now comes the million-dollar question, who would put the front foot forward? You? Me? Them? Who in the end would set an example of normality as evolved through the onward journey of human civilisation to combat this abnormal and absurd condition that we are travelling through? The politicians? The bureaucrats? The common people? I would say all those that are well off must reverse their attitude. Indeed they do not have a right to show an 'attitude' when the whole nation languishes in such stark poverty.

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