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A Frisson of Freedom

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I feel a frisson of freedom every time I contemplate our democratic transition of ‎‎1990. We were living in an autocracy; today we are free men and women who go out to ‎vote every five years. Ah! Liberty. ‎

Yes, today we are free to walk the streets of the city any time of the day or night ‎without fear. We couldn't do that earlier, could we? Women wear their finest jewelry and ‎saunter around heedless of who's looking. They know they are perfectly safe they feel ‎as though they are in Saudi Arabia. Men carry wads of cash from banks and homes to ‎their offices and back without a moment's reflection on the security they enjoy. There are ‎no goons who would tell them to stick up their hands and stuff the stuff into a bag at ‎gunpoint. Partygoers come home from late night soirees at dawn, a little drunk, but safe. ‎If this isn't liberty, what is?‎

Women have never had it better. No girls are raped in the universities perish the ‎thought. There have been reports in the newspapers, of course, but they have to jack up ‎their circulation with lurid stories, don't they? The Daily Star observed: "Incidents of ‎sexual harassment of women at educational institutions over the last few years provide a ‎shocking pattern: the perpetrators are mostly political activists, especially those ‎belonging to the student fronts of the mainstream political parties" (11th March, 2000).‎

This must surely be a canard. Our brave, freedom-loving students are models of ‎respectability and good breeding. Only boys from the best families go to school, college ‎and university. And these boys naturally treat girls like their sisters. It was also reported ‎‎(shame on our newspapers!) that 'more than 20 female students were raped and over 300 ‎others were sexually harassed on the campus by the "armed cadres of a particular ‎political party."' (I think it was again the Star that printed the calumny on October 1st ‎‎1998 online.) This was said of Jahangirnagar University. What slander! Surely we all ‎know that our boys never engage in politics; they are too busy, crushed crushed, poor ‎chaps under the load of their exacting curricula to engage in any extramural activity ‎like rape. Why, they hardly have the time to participate in debates! ‎

Newspaper headlines announce the murder of student politicians by student ‎politicians. By no stretch of the imagination can one conceive such a situation. These ‎boys must be yahoos and hooligans, not 'real' student politicians. A student politician is a ‎good boy: he stands for election to the school union, wins and takes care of students. And ‎we all know the student unions are never I repeat, never! politicised. ‎

Our politicians have nothing but the good of the public in mind. They are elected ‎for a few years and are expected to perform miracles. Surely this is unfair. It swells the ‎chest with pride to watch the two parties debate the minutiae of a law into the wee hours, ‎bleary-eyed, barely coherent, hungry and demanding breakfast! And how do we reward ‎such utter selflessness? By printing wild stories of the politicisation of student unions. ‎Nonsense! ‎

Then there are hartals. But for hartals, the pollution would have been intolerable. ‎And hartals are welcomed by school students because they get a holiday. Hartals are a ‎constitutional right, after all. It was by means of hartals that the latest autocrat was ‎deposed. Little good did the curfews do him! I seem to have got the following from some ‎source hostile to our democracy: "Two rickshawpullers one of them unidentified, the ‎other Badaruddin (32) - were bombed while they were pulling their rickshaws during ‎hartal hours. It took them 24 to 48 hours to die. An auto-rickshaw was burned to ashes, ‎and when the driver, Saidul Islam Shahid (35), tried to put out the flames, he was ‎sprinkled with petrol, and burned to death. It took him more than two days to die. Truck ‎driver, Fayez Ahmed (50), died when a bomb was thrown on his truck. And Ripon ‎Sikder, a sixteen-year-old injured by a bomb, died on 4th May, 2001 at the Dhaka ‎Medical College Hospital after struggling for his life for eleven days." Talk about yellow ‎journalism! ‎

Some nasty people point out that the last autocrat was kept in power by the ‎donors. And when the Berlin Wall collapsed, they let him down. For evidence, they point ‎to Africa: in 1989, there were only three democracies in sub-Saharan Africa; in 1991, ‎there were 30 such democracies. ‎

But what does that prove? Our benevolent donors (who are after all our real ‎rulers) saw the error of their ways and thought fit to impose I mean, give us ‎democracy. I vividly remember Colin Imray, lips trembling with suppressed emotion, ‎announce to the General while opening a bridge, that from now on multi-party elections ‎would be the way to go. I am surprised that the great man did not break down in tears at ‎the enormity of what he was proposing. ‎

Of course, rude people point out that the donors are not really interested in our ‎welfare; that even Mark Tully has shown how they take away half the loans and grants ‎they give us. All they want, it is claimed, is control. "Look," these naysayers say, "at how ‎many seminars are held on Palestine in Dhaka city." Well, none.‎

Are they trying to imply that our intelligentsia are corrupt? If they are making ‎such a dastardly accusation, I personally shall be in the fore of the attack against such a ‎glabrous innuendo (I'm not sure if that word is right here, but it sounded nice)! Why, ‎man, what you are saying amounts to the admission that we have a freedom industry on ‎our hands, that this industry lies about the state of affairs to make money. Any man ‎making such an accusation should be keelhauled (or, if the laws won't allow that, hauled ‎over hot coals). ‎

No, no, an epidemic of freedom swept over the unfree world in the early 1990s. ‎Prometheus was unbound at last. No villager came to town to celebrate the overthrow of ‎the dictator, granted, and most of our people live in villages, yet there was a surge of ‎people on the streets when the tyrant announced his resignation. What is it that I hear? ‎They were unemployed people? Very well, then, even unemployed people deserve ‎freedom, don't they? And when you're free what does it matter if you're raped or ‎cremated by a mob?‎

 

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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