Survival means accountability: The forgotten lesson of 1971

Afsan Chowdhury
Wednesday, July 19th, 2017
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The uneasy relationship between the Judiciary and the Executive continues with Justice Sinha reminding the AG that nobody gains by browbeating the court. It comes from the Chief Justice of the Appellate division of the Supreme Court who has taken a principled position on upholding the prestige and privileges of the Judiciary. The 16th amendment revocation and appeal rejection may be seen as the peak but it essentially showcases that the various branches of the state need to have better relations and work together.


In case of the Supreme Court the matter is perhaps simple as the status of the body is beyond question but there are other areas where lack of a common concert is noticed. It could be as simple as that of the Ministry of Health not talking to the DMCs leading to the rise of the chiku crisis this year. IN fact the several disasters show the lack of co-ordination as a chronic epidemic. Floods, haors, CHT hills all point to the weakness of the governance chain. But this is not a particular government’s fault but of accumulation of inabilities that has led to this situation. It’s not shortage of patriotism but it’s probably an ever declining level of efficiency caused by the lack of accountability.


The social roots of accountability and 1971


But is accountability necessary in our current Bangladesh governance and who is responsible in ensuring that remains an unanswered question. Nobody is quite powerful enough to exert its practice and few knowledgeable enough to suggest ways to do it.  Our history doesn’t show presence of accountable regimes over time which means it’s not a necessary political or cultural product.  The result has been retention of much earlier versions of governance going back to the periods when societies were emerging from the first serious triumph of the wet agricultural regimes under the Mughal era.


Bangladesh’s history means exploring 1971 history but we at the centre know only about what political filters allow us to learn. Our opportunity to learn is limited by intellectual censoring as we hear and observe what the elite choose to learn and tell. But if we had looked at 1971 closely, we would have noticed that although our societies experienced the worst possible phase in terms of death and loss and mourning, it was also a period when we were at our best and most glorious because our humanity triumphed over all base instincts. People survived by being at their most humane. Since no official body existed, to whom were people accountable for their humanity?


It’s a curious question as many might make moral or religious interpretations of this but research shows that survival was possible only through collective action. And one’s survival depended on the action of others hence the need to help each other to ensure one’s own survival.


1971 and 2017


Accountability is therefore linked to survival instincts, our history shows. One is accountable because others are to you and without that equation, both would perish. This is the lesson of 1971 but in 2017, is it possible that this link has snapped and we longer feel threatened by what we do, particularly the ruling class?


The ruling class of the political sort, the tycoons and the supporting state mechanisms would not by any stretch of imagination be called accountable. Nobody is even thinking of asking them to be so and they certainly aren’t thinking either. Given this situation, accountability is no longer social, governance and collective issue but a personal or clan based necessity.


It produces an ‘every person for themselves’ attitude which tramples over the rights of others in the pursuit of survival. Everyone has to survive and not just the powerful and when that is the case, society and government goes distant, society itself becomes weak and the glue that keeps everyone together thins and/or dries up.


Lack of accountability’s greatest impact is that it creates many islands in the same space where there was only one and they are all at war with each other. It’s not a process of nation building anymore but of dividing and through the tools of conflict as expected but none is accountable for each other’s survival. That is the loss of 1971’s lessons we could have learnt.

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