“Responsibility is the price of freedom.”
Elbert Hubbard, American writer and publisher (1859-1915)
Although the main objectives of our liberation war were the economic emancipation and a pluralistic democratic society, we are yet to go a long way to achieve them. This year we have celebrated the 47th Independence Day in Bangladesh. Celebrating 26th March has become a ritual because we hardly understand what freedom means. While celebrating the day we become overwhelmed by emotions. This is quite normal. On this auspicious day we need to look back at our tasks and responsibilities we have been entrusted with. Despite multifarious problems we face in our country, we have progressed a lot. Recently we have become a lower-middle income country with nearly 1700 BDT. per capita income. No doubt, this is a big achievement for the nation. But how far have we gone to establish rule of democratic law and good governance in the last 47 years? Rather, we have developed a culture of impunity over the years!
This is our misfortune that we could not save the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from being assassinated in August, 1975 although he was the pioneer to help liberate us from the West Pakistan’s misrule. Are we not traitors because we, the Bangladeshi people, killed Bangabandhu – one of the greatest nationalist leaders of the world? We also killed our four great leaders in jail in November, 1975. As we got our independence prematurely, we did not try to perceive the inner meaning of freedom and nurture the spirit. Since the emergence of an independent state, not a single national/constitutional institution or organization could stand high with credibility, transparency, quality and accountability. We have got some important democratic organizations -- Public Service Commission (PSC), Election Commission (EC), Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), University Grants Commission (UGC) and Information Commission (IC) -- which should have played a significant role in helping build the nation, but regrettably we have failed to institutionalize democracy and strengthen these organizations.
As a nation we are independent but not responsible. We are mostly driven by superficial emotions, not by reasons. We are influenced by some politically corrupt sycophants, not by our conscience. We are guided by religious fallacy or political demagogue, not by critical thinking. We build many big structures, but we do not know how to maintain them. For example, we have made a big project named “Hatirjheel” in Dhaka a few years back, but we have failed to maintain this site due to lack of our civic responsibilities. Now this place is littered with some plastic substances, polythene papers, empty water bottles, cans, peels of bananas, broken plastic glasses and so on. We have also destroyed the rivers around the city; we have grabbed wet lands (water bodies) and open spaces (fields/parks) to construct high-rise buildings. Which is why Dhaka has been rated one of the most polluted cities in the world. In addition to this, we are not at all concerned over the environment. Knowingly we use formalin in food and make adulterated food items not maintaining hygiene but we do not think about its worst consequences and health hazards. Isn’t it suicidal?
Also, we have a very callous disregard for the feelings of others. We are not in the habit of following traffic rules. We are callous, so we park our cars, motorbikes and other vehicles in the middle of the roads/thoroughfares blocking the public space. We are not decent because we drop litter in the streets and parks. We are not sensitive to others’ rights; as a result, we keep piles of bricks, sand and other construction materials in the streets of residential areas. Besides, we have developed a bad habit of spitting and peeing (especially males) in the streets, pavements and even in front of the buildings or parks. We tend to ignore all political and social nuisance!
We seem to be a suicidal nation because we do not know our basic rights which are guaranteed in the constitution. We have a nonchalant attitude to the problems we encounter because we fear raising our voice in a collective manner against any social injustice and crimes/violence such as rape, killing, misuse of power, misappropriation of public money and rampant corruption. We do not raise our voice against unbridled corruption which earns Bangladesh bad name and discredit. We do not try to resist the ongoing dirty political culture which is the main obstacle to institutionalizing democracy and establishing good governance in the country.
We are reactive, not proactive. We are indolent bystanders, not active workers. We have a dangerously complacent attitude towards the existing political culture, no matter whether it is effective for establishing good governance or not. We are indifferent to the bad governance and maladministration of many institutions which require massive qualitative reforms. And due to lack of our institutional vigilance and collective responsibility or commitment, we have seen some gross scams in financial sector - - share market scam, Destiny scam, Hallmark scam, Bismillah Group scam, Sonali Bank scam, Janata Bank scam, Basic Bank scam, and Farmers’ Bank scam - - over the years. Last but not the least, Bangladesh Bank cyber heist has been the worst case reported in the global financial arena.
However, we should not be oblivious to our rights, struggle and history. We must be courageous enough to stand against any kind of social injustice or oppression. Since our democratic institutions remain vulnerable to extraneous pressure, we - the conscious citizens of the country - must be vocal and vigilant simultaneously. We must act proactively and responsibly to save our democratic institutions and uphold our constitutional rights because we are an independent nation. Let’s not turn a blind eye to everything!
Sheikh Nahid Neazy, Associate Professor, Department of English, Stamford University Bangladesh
(He could be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)