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The Price of Conscience

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‎"The real problem in Bangladesh politics," observes Rehman Sobhan, one of our ‎leading intellectuals and chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, ' a civil society ‎think tank', and of the Board of Grameen Bank, a world-renowned NGO and this years' ‎co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize with its founder, Mohammed Yunus, "lies in the fact ‎that every party harbours mastaans [Bengali for thugs, goons] because they play an ‎integral part in the election system and in securing a support base in particular areas." ‎Does Mr. Sobhan express outrage with this state of affairs? Far from it. "Thus each ‎party," he goes on, "feels a need for their mastaans and will be reluctant to abandon them ‎for potential but indeterminate gains in public esteem unless their opponents are willing ‎to do likewise. Thus, invocations to political leaders to abandon such proven political ‎resources are an unreal expectation, however important this be in the agenda of ‎governance reform. (Rehman Sobhan, Structural Dimensions of Malgovernance in ‎Bangladesh, ‎click here

Since we are ruled from Washington, and our democracy is a kind of make-‎believe, men such as Mr. Rahman, who are plentiful in supply, in order to further their ‎careers and to earn the dosh that comes from the west, have to accept that America ‎wishes to democratize us at all costs. And 'all costs' includes human costs. One wonders: ‎at what price are people willing to give up their conscience? ‎

Consider what the learned Chairman of the board of Grameen Bank is saying: we ‎must accept thuggery. ‎
Therefore, when a teenager is raped by a member of the ruling party youth wing, ‎as one was in Keraniganj in October, 2006, we must accept the incident as part and parcel ‎of the democracy imposed on us by Washington, DC. ‎

And when, on November 8, 2005, ruling party activists gang-raped six-month ‎pregnant Tahura Begum because her husband, Babar Ali, refused to quit the opposition, ‎and when she had an abortion, and after being kidnapped several times from hospital, she ‎finally died on November 16, we had to accept lawlessness of such caliber because we ‎must accept thuggery: the political parties need these thugs, and thugs will be thugs, after ‎all. ‎

And when 15-year-old Mahima was gang-raped and the political maastans ‎distributed the pictures of the rape throughout the village and the girl killed herself on ‎February 19, 2002, we should have calmly accepted the situation as legitimate: and, in ‎fact, that is precisely what we did, for nobody raised a voice of protest against the ‎incident. Washington wants democracy in Bangladesh, and that entails the use of goons, ‎so we must accept the diktat, however odious the consequences. After all, we, the elite, ‎have careers in America and money flows form there and our children work in the United ‎States, and we're proud of the fact. ‎

Why should we anger Washington, DC over a few miserable girls?‎

Under military rule in 1985, 248 girls per year were raped and that was 248 ‎rapes too many. After our democratic transition mandated by Washington, London, ‎Paris, Bonn, and Brussels, since the Cold War was over the figure jumped to 982 in ‎‎1991, and stood at 2,224 by 1997. Mere statistics, of course; not living, breathing human ‎beings and all raped for the sake of our precious democracy, to appease the lust of the ‎soldiers and thugs of our political parties. For isn't that what armies do rape? And Mr. ‎Sobhan above has made it clear that the thugs are the private armies of our political ‎leaders, and that these leaders won't relinquish their armies and, of course, Washington ‎won't allow any retrogression to military rule for its credo is 'freedom': and Bangladesh ‎is special, for it is one of the few Muslim democracies around, a 'success' story to show ‎the rest of the world that, the mayhem in Iraq notwithstanding, democracy and Islam can ‎get along famously as in Bangladesh. ‎

Therefore, since we must tolerate the thugs, the people who can't read and write ‎and so miss the lofty wisdom penned by men (and women) like Rehman Sobhan take ‎the law into their own hands. That's right the people for the sake of whom democracy ‎supposedly exists, do not tolerate the private armies. ‎

In August, 2002, a thousand fists and feet rammed into the bodies of two ‎criminals at Rampura lake in Dhaka: Alauddin and his younger brother Rakib‎. These two ‎had tyrannised the area during the rule of the Awami League; the elections came, and this ‎time the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) won, so the siblings abandoned the League ‎and joined the BNP. But the people decided that enough was enough: they beat them to ‎death. ‎

Lynching can take even more grotesque forms. ‎
In September, 2005, a man suspected of being a mugger was beaten up by the ‎people; but instead of killing him with their fists and feet, they poured kerosene on him, ‎and set him ablaze. ‎

A newspaper editor had observed earlier: ‎
‎"[The] Catching [of] an alleged mugger and setting him on fire by pouring ‎kerosene all over his body at Mirpur last Monday night raked up a nightmarish memory. ‎We can't forget that not so long ago lynching became a regular occurrence just about ‎anywhere (sic) in the country. But mostly alleged muggers would either be burnt to death ‎or set on fire by angry crowds in broad daylight in the capital city....‎

‎"Police said there was no case against him, though the local people alleged that he ‎was involved in criminal activities. Therefore, it is only natural for us to wonder whether ‎he was a victim of enmity. It is not impossible for anyone to frame someone and instigate ‎the onlookers against that person. We have seen how ugly mob temper can get in such ‎situations. But we are yet to know for sure whether all those who had been lynched ‎earlier on were real criminals or several of them were just victims of circumstances." ‎

Notice the editor's tortuous attempt to justify lynching if the man lynched is a ‎criminal, then lynching him is all right. He is not exercised by the fact of lynching itself ‎another example of calm acceptance of violence. ‎

Between 2001 and 2003, more than 150 people were killed by mobs in the ‎capital city alone. In 2006, on an average, six people were lynched per month. ‎

The election of criminals and those with criminal connections have, as we saw, ‎been accepted by the intelligentsia of Bangladesh. Therefore, the people have no recourse ‎except to take the law into their own hands. ‎

Consider only one lawmaker's conduct in broad daylight in February, 1999, as ‎described in a local newspaper: ‎

‎'In an obvious show of strength yesterday, Haji Moqbul, MP from city's ‎Mohammedpur-Dhanmandi constituency, led a motorcade of more than 10 cars and a ‎couple of minibuses at around 11:30 am. As his convoy reached the intersection of ‎Mirpur Road and Green Road, it confronted a group of BNP [Bangladesh National Party ‎‎ the opposition at the time] activists on the run after being chased by police....‎

‎'The armed men caught two young men and started to drag them towards the ‎motorcade that waited on the Mirpur Road. At one point the men hit one of the captives ‎in (sic) his head with a revolver and shot another in the chest point blank, witnesses said. ‎A policeman who was leading a dozen men in riot gear stood silently nearby.'‎

When the president of Bangladesh dared to deploy the army to quell pre-election ‎violence a few days ago, the American ambassador to Bangladesh, Patricia A. Butenis, ‎had a "talk" with him, and the army returned to barracks. While the American military ‎the mightiest in the world and financed by denying the citizens of the richest country ‎such fundamental guarantees as health (43 millions Americans are uninsured) patrols ‎the world promoting civilian rule and democracy, we are not permitted to protect our ‎men, women and children with our own army. ‎

When a country is ruled from Washington in the name of democracy, it loses its ‎conscience - at a price. The price the obedient elite receive is exactly the price the masses ‎have to pay. ‎

 

http://iftekharsayeed.weebly.com

Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English and economics. He was born and lives in Dhaka, "ŽBangladesh. He has contributed to AXIS OF LOGIC, ENTER TEXT, POSTCOLONIAL "ŽTEXT, LEFT CURVE, MOBIUS, ERBACCE, THE JOURNAL, and other publications. "ŽHe is also a (more...)
 

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