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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 43
November 10 , 2007

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Being fair to fairness

Mufassil M M Islam

The nature, growth and definitions of human rights, human dignity and discrimination and the basis of these terms vary in societies, nations and regions. Culture, tradition and religion play significant roles in determining our behavioural issues. Our part of the world has been visited, developed, ruled, ravaged, progressed, looted and influenced by various cultures, religions, traditions and languages for centuries which turned us into a 'Sankar' mixed race which mixed and at times lost or confused senses of entity and ethnicity. There are several legacies which we are carrying from the foreign rulers which range from dress codes to linguistic developments.

The last in the lineage of major invaders were the British and it seems that although we did gain several historic emancipations from them as the abolition of the 'Satidah' custom, we also followed them blindly at times believing that whatever the ruling class has, does or ordain are better and probably are the best. Class system and 'follow thy guru or peer blindly' tradition or the definition of discipline to be a culture of 'following by the disciple blindly', were accepted, cherished and nourished social stigmas which are existent even at this time and age in several spheres of our daily social and family lives.

The world has struggled hard to overcome the falsehood of racial discriminations and it has been branded as a crime in almost all developed countries and these are not only civil litigation issues to insult someone for his dark skin or ethnicity. The US went to civil war to establish the rights of the Afro-Americans. The names of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have become household echoes to declare the equality of all homo sapiens.

It is true that poverty, ignorance, education and other relaed issues do play significant roles in influencing our judgements but it is abhorring when the people with power, education and the knowledge of the developed world exploit the vacuum of the unfortunates. Money has been a driving force ever since the invention of the currency and this has led to social order and the evolution of class system. Evidences of class system are taught in Roman Laws as the precinct of Twelve Tables while we study law as an academic degree. Residues of class systems are still carried among the so-called untouchables in many parts of the modern India and other undeveloped regions of the world. We wonder why the untouchables are usually of darker skin and the Brahmins are of brighter complexion. We do not need to be rocket scientists to accept our traditional leaning towards the brighter skin type. When the Arabs came, the Persians invaded, they became the rulers with might and certain strengths which allowed them to dominate our societies for more than five hundred years. Then came the even fairer skin, the Westerners. The British were quick to pocket the ruling class of our societies. We started following the ruling class and fancied imitating them in all spheres of lives. Our dresses changed, laws amended and socio-political views evolved. This change brought blessings and often incompatible values. We were perplexed, vexed, coaxed and influenced in accepting that whatever is Western were bound to be modern, genuine and the best. We are still following the stigma blindly to a large extent. It took us several decades to seriously understand the faulty system of combining the Executive and Judiciary in enforcing justice. England and the western laws have changed and evolved so much that we can now hardly find them to be compatible for our society although it did evolve immensely from that system.

Bengali is our mother tongue but at the same time our sudden zeal for making Bengali our only mean of communication may have its backlashes as there would be a massive neglect for English which is a lingua franca for the present fast paced world. A chunk of our society is heading towards complete isolation by pursuing foreign academic curriculum up to GCSC level and then vying for higher education abroad which will in turn give us a massive population with complete foreign education and values without any required knowledge of geography, history or other native incumbent knowledge about Bangladesh required of a working educated person here. This will in turn pressurise the native yet foreign minded individuals to create more clinging to the west creating a voice for the superiority of the west within our societies. We need to emphasise on both our native lingua and on the lingua franca to rip the benefit from both and be fair to both cultures in emancipating our views.

Recently, I challenged the airing of a skin-fairing lotion on a London based Bangla TV channel wherein they were advertising 'Roop Amrit' which is a skin whitening (I refuse to use the terminology of 'fair') product as the advertisement was offensive in stating a fairer skin received privileges in society. The advertisement was condemned and the airing of the product in its manner was scrapped. It is true that this stigma or social vice is very much present in our society where the whiter skinned individuals do get privileges but to encourage such a sentiment is even a worse plebeian act. It is an individual's choice to become tan, white or black and a product should have the access to advertising medias to publicise but the wordings of such advertisements should not go beyond the limits of civility and hurt sentiments of any other group. Readers can check the details of this judgement on http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications.

Our constitution upholds equality on account of race, religion and colour but time has come when we should go further into creating Equality and Human Rights Commission (http://www.equalityhumanrights.com) as in UK and in criminalising discrimination on account of race, religion and colour. Bangladesh is a land of Bengalis as the name suggests but it does not belong to people of Bengali origins only as there are Chakmas, Shaotals, Mogs and Kookies living within the political borders of this nation and as England is no more the land of English people only, we also have to respect, celebrate, cherish and be proud of versatility in our social lives and only then we all will be equally sharing the pride of being Bangladeshis.

The writer is Human Rights Advocate and President Islam and Associates.


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