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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: 188
October 02, 2010

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Freedom, background and education: Some reflections

Mostafa Haider

Ihave recently been contacted by a friend, who was also previously a top favourite student of mine. I did some tutoring (private coaching type stuff) during my College and University years. The little boy who I taught in his early student life wrote on my facebook wall: “Hello, I am going off to the UK to study Law at 'Moon University'........let me know what you think.” I could not think of anything for a moment. Ideally, I would not think much about this. Yet, I wanted to think and this article is an immediate reflection of my thinking about this Moon University bound boy (I consciously hide the real name of the University to maintain the confidentiality of my friend). This, I suggest, could also be a background story for some lawyer/law students in Bangladesh.

I sorted out small number of background “freedom” or “capabilities” around this boy: a brief profile so far as I am allowed! He is from a well-off family. His father is a businessman, but does some cultural work too. His mother is a housewife, educated and modern. His grandfather was also a known person in the locality. Briefly, impressive economic capabilities! The boy was, in every sense, meritorious. Initially enrolled in a good Bengali medium school, he was then taken to English medium when he was in grade two. I met him right at that time and taught him until his grade seven. I guess, English medium fervour was in its full swing by that time. I also sensed that his parents were respectful toward their own “Bangla” upbringing, but could not keep much faith when it came down to their own son.

Soon, Bangladeshi English medium school, for his parents, proved to be not enough. He was being prepared for another move. This time too, I was involved in his future-building or one could also say, became a part of a “complicitous” project. We all were determined to get him a position in one of the best Indian schools. He was outstanding, 'successfully' managed to get a place there. I have been occasionally in touch with him and his family since then. They were, as they are till today, immensely kind to me. This note is my later realisation of what I now consider as background education that takes fuller shape in the foreground of a free market society.

I have very briefly, charted the “development” paradigm for this boy. Let me draw on the thematic which is at work here. This would be double reflection for those who read Amartya Sen's “Development as Freedom” (published in 1999), a popular book that asks us to think of Development differently (?). In a few words, the book is about human freedom and human capabilities. Freedom requires good education, health, food, housing etc. in other words, a good upbringing. Freedom means the ability to own property and participate 'freely' in a market economy to develop one's potential. The state should not limit freedom by breaching human rights or impeding markets but should also aim to expand human freedom, by providing security and promoting the fulfilment of basic human needs. The idea that capabilities and freedom could be promoted directly rejuvenated the discipline/study of law, as both means and ends to secure human freedom.

Let me return to the boy to understand his conditions of “freedom”. The boy was relatively a 'free' agent. His country/state, Bangladesh, did never prevent him from doing what he considered necessary. He gave up his 'Bangla' education when it lost its “currency” in his class. His parents encouraged him to undertake different (Indian?) education when it was deemed better than the 'Engrezi' education in Bangladesh! I call him free agent because he also thinks that these decisions, taken on his behalf by his parents, were right. The boy is so grown up now, freer to decide for himself, or maybe, undecided for himself!

But how has it become so easy for this boy to go ahead with whatever he/his parents wanted? No doubt that the boy has immense economic capital to his possession. He could afford various kinds of education at home and abroad. He was capable of doing many things and freely exercised some. I have, for this article, constructed capabilities only in economic terms. There are indeed other aspects of his enjoyment of freedom and flourishing of various capabilities. He is not, at least, one might say, confined to one language/culture/state. He can transact or communicate between two languages/cultures/states: in this case between India and Bangladesh. As he is going off to the UK, one might hope, he would be able to do the same between the UK and Bangladesh in future.

In the meantime, I retrieve another piece of information about one of my distant cousins. Disappointingly, he wants (or, dares) to be a lawyer too! His parents are yet struggling to get him the basics - food, clothes etc. He is now, very much confusingly, doing what I had been doing some years ago: Tutoring (or, acting in complicity) in the mechanics of the production of 'at home and abroad' class - who are able to do the necessary market transaction! This cousin of mine, if successful in his venture, might be promoted to a rank or two higher in his class position like me! Let me hope, again.

Amartya Sen could hold these different (free and unfree) groups together, but that was still only Sen's freedom; and in my doing it came undone. To me, Sen's 'Development', imagined in this way, could free human being, but only to legitimise itself. The point is to think neither ill nor well of development. Freedom also presupposes coercion and so does law. Extending freedom to one would at the same time impose restraint on another. In this case, it did facilitate some, keep 'the' hope for some and diminish any such possibilities for thousands. My narrative suggests that 'Development as Freedom' is prone to be appropriated by upwardly class mobile people like me or this 'successful' boy. However, many narratives are likely to run in counter of my construction here. I welcome and look forward to seeing some of those!


The writer works with BRAC University.


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