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|Volume 12 |Issue 06| February 08, 2013 ||
Respect the Language
M Ahsanur Rahim
The month of February is sacred for every Bangali. This is the month where we stopped a powerful external force from oppressing our culture and our heritage. The events of 1952 provided the foundation on which the Bangladeshi struggle for freedom developed and flourished resulting in the culmination of events in 1971. What is amazing is that this year, certain very powerful individuals have chosen this year to define the sheer hypocrisy by which they intend to suppress and defy the good of the country and its citizens.
The month of February 2013 has started with the government making a major decision that will have an impact on the prosperity of the people of Bangladesh. While it seems curious to connect the refusal to accept a financing arrangement for an infrastructure project with the principles of the language movement, both events have a contrasting thread despite the seemingly common principles. In 1952, the people of Bangladesh refused to accept the imposition of a foreign language and weathered the brutal response. In 2013, the people of Bangladesh are going to be imposed upon to compensate for the stubborn refusal of a few individuals to be politically humiliated in public. One can make a wager that within the next few weeks, the said individuals will highlight the refusal to accept the World Bank's terms and conditions as a great victory slightly similar to the victory attained by our great compatriots in the language movement and then the war of liberation. One can expect to learn how the government has protected our sovereignty and wellbeing by not accepting such dictation of principles by an internationally corrupt organisation. This will be reflected in the already boring speeches given at various locations across the country on the occasion of this month.
It is bad enough we have the unique spectacle of the cultural “elites” who have property and scions abroad berate us about how we are losing our connection with our roots. One would like them to stand up and say that they believe accepting new cultures and ideas while respecting the old is the right way to go forward. One would prefer their stating that we need English to be the medium of instruction in Science, Economics and Mathematics while imposing Bangla in the social sciences and history. This would allow us to be competitive and yet reaffirm our identity. It would be apposite within the context of labour being the most important commodity being produced in Bangladesh, for schools even in the most remote village to teach English in a useful form and context. Instead we have the grandfather and grandmother manning the bastion of our Bangla culture while the grandchildren play with Doraemon and his Hindi compatriots. I sometimes wish Doraemon had stuck to speaking in his native Japanese just to witness children try to decipher the fun. I will gladly state that the reason I speak English well was because of being glued to the television when Sesame Street was on. This blatant hypocrisy and shamelessness is reflected in educated Bangladeshi society's approach towards governance and economy.
It is sometimes amazing that people forget that we are a country of rivers and that carrying goods and passengers by boat would be far more economical, according to many studies, than using bridges. Nonetheless, let's assume that building a bridge over the Padma will be truly economical. Even then, it doesn't make sense to aim to gather monetary resources from local sources. The country is suffering from immense economic pressures and yet the government has decided to make two monumentally inexplicable decisions – to spend a billion dollars buying arms on credit and to spend another billion on making a bridge. Government officials constantly travel all over the world asking for money for various development programs. Various individuals in the country have won awards for working with the impoverished and yet it hasn't made a dent in the issue. Thus, since when have we gone from being an impoverished country with a myriad of issues to a having powerful economy able to sustain such massive expenses on weapons and infrastructure? And even more interesting – why did the government feel the need to state that they would be investigating corruption even if they did not request funds from the World Bank. This most likely means that the government expects to need the World Bank's help in the future and thus did not want to burn all the bridges. Already, there are seemingly intelligent individuals praising the decision to withdraw from the World Bank's onerous terms and conditions. These very same individuals would also most probably refrain from using grants and aid money directed through the World Bank into various programs and institutions in Bangladesh, right? This dissonance between what is and what we say is the reason why we are not taken seriously in the world arena. Of course, there is also the fact that a significant number of individuals employed in jobs which involve interfacing with foreign entities, are criminally incompetent. This ranges from the foreign ministry to various government and non-government institutions. We also don't have clearly defined policy papers when it comes to interacting with some of our biggest stakeholders abroad including our neighbours and other major international organizations.
We also need to be very careful about what we say in English and in Bengali and to stop thinking that never the twain shall meet. This writer has witnessed a number of instances where senior government officials and intellectuals have stated something in Bengali and then toned it down for a foreign audience. These amazingly dense individuals have ranged from our esteemed foreign and finance minister to many intellectuals at foreign funded events. There are professionals called translators and not all of them are Bangladeshis who feel it discreet to tone down stupidity. When we speak in public, it should be for a genuine reason and not to promote one's own agenda. Of course, every individual will want to promote their own ideas over others', but it is shocking how much we use the useful function of speech to try to damage rather than construct. The irony of that should not be lost on someone reading this effort at composing an article.
This writer is trying to damage the power of people who will try to use cultural guilt to make us buy a few books, wear a white kurta and praise their efforts towards the promotion of the Bangla culture. This writer is trying to damage the power of the most inane speeches given by foreign rooted individuals who we call ministers and intellectuals of the country. Having grown up abroad once upon a time and lived abroad recently for a little while, this writer is amused by how the lions at home are mice abroad in front of the law they can't buy or coerce. There are many genuine intellectuals and activists in this country. However, their work is shadowed by the loud mouthed and the hypocritical. It's time we stood up for these individuals on this month of holiness, of honesty and of blood. If we do not, we lose our country, our lives and our money to those for whom this is a place to siphon off and entrench abroad. Otherwise, that glorious month of February in 1952 will be for naught.