Let us do more for the farmers
SOME leaders of the political parties and members of the civil society often say that the armed forces of Bangladesh are "patriotic." No one can dispute the services rendered by our armed forces. In any case, the armed forces of every country must be patriotic; otherwise, the country's edifice will fall apart and become vulnerable to foreign invasion. That does not mean that others living in and working for the country are less patriotic. There are many others who keep a very low profile but make significant contributions to the welfare of the country.
Bangladesh, called a "bottomless basket" by Dr. Henry Kissinger because of the rampant corruption immediately after independence, has come a long way since then and has become a vibrant country.
The garments factories are booming and readymade garments are exported to Europe and North America. Bangladesh is exporting pharmaceutical products to many countries of Africa and Europe. Flowers of different varieties are also exported. Bangladesh is exporting ocean-going ships to Scandinavian countries and Japan.
Nevertheless, there can be no denying the fact that Bangladesh is not free from corruption and mal-administration. Large-scale corruption in the bureaucracy and lack of appropriate policies led to the destruction of our jute mills, while such mills are flourishing in India.
Similarly, our education system and health care facilities are collapsing. As a result, more and more students and patients are going abroad for higher education and treatment. In the process, the state is losing hard-earned foreign exchange.
One cannot deny that the high rate of population growth has compounded the problem. The population of Bangladesh has almost doubled since independence. Such a huge population in such a small territory takes a heavy toll on our budget and planning. Yet, increased population has a positive side as well. It has created a huge workforce, a large portion of which has been absorbed in our garment factories.
Garment factories have been set up in almost all major cities of the country. The owners of these factories amassed immense wealth. There are allegations that the workers are not paid enough to survive in cities.
In the face of agitation from the workers, the government undertook measures to fix a minimum wage for workers in garments factories. There are also allegations that the owners do not pay the wages regularly. Thus, the workers and owners are always at loggerheads. The nation has witnessed a number of outbursts of the workers' anger in the recent past.
It is surprising that while the factory owners take credit for their role in keeping the economic wheel of the country moving, they pay less attention to the interests of their workers. Moreover, many of these owners are enjoying many facilities as Commercially Important Persons (CIP)
Bangladesh is also exporting workers to Middle Eastern and South East Asian countries. These workers send money back home, and are the second highest foreign exchange earners. Even though some of these workers are exploited or cheated by their employers, our embassies/high commissions hardly help them out.
There are allegations that our missions do not pay sufficient attention to these people. Even when these workers return home, they are either attacked by the airport thugs or are robbed of their money and belongings on their way home. What has the government done to protect these foreign exchange earners? While the government classifies the successful businessmen as CIPs and gives special facilities to them, it does practically nothing for the foreign exchange earning workers.
Those who silently work for the country and make significant contributions to the very existence of the people are the wokers of Bangladesh. It is to be remembered that most people are engaged in the agriculture sector, and they have almost doubled the food production since independence. What is particularly remarkable about them is that so far they have been able to produce bumper crops 13 times since independence.
These farmers deserve warm appreciation, especially because they did it in the face of heavy odds. It is a glowing example of patriotism. Sometimes there wasn't sufficient rainfall, often their crops were washed away by flood; the government at times could not provide them with fertiliser, seeds and sufficient diesel/electricity required for irrigation. Still the workers did their job. They are among the few people who never neglect their duties.
It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the farmers of Bangladesh are the most neglected among all the classes. The political parties and the successive governments of Bangladesh had always given lip service to the needs of the peasants without taking sufficient measure to redress their difficulties.
They do not want to be classified as the VIP (Very Important Person), or CIP, they simply want a guaranteed supply of diesel/electricity, seed, fertiliser and fair price for their produce. Unfortunately, fertiliser dealers thrive on the plight of the farmers, and after the harvest the middlemen reap the benefit.
The half-fed farmers of Bangladesh go to their fields everyday in the morning and return home after the sunset. They work in the scorching heat and do not require any air-conditioner. They go to their fields either on foot or use bullock-carts, not Pajero jeeps. Most of them sleep in dilapidated huts, not in beautifully decorated apartments or government quarters.
When they fall ill, most of them blindly depend on providence; they do not have the means to go to any of the 5-star hospitals/clinics. Many of them die without treatment.
Very recently, through the courtesy of a TV channel and relentless efforts of Dr. S. Seraj, the problems faced by the farmers have been projected before the viewing millions. Some pragmatic suggestions towards redressing these problems have also been put forward.
It is also encouraging to see that the caretaker government, for the first time in the history of Bangladesh, made some budgetary allocations for alleviating the sufferings of the rural people. This is a good beginning, and future governments should make more efforts to help and protect the interests of the farmers who make so much sacrifice for feeding the people.
The survival of a state and its economic growth depend not just on any section or class of people. Rather, the cumulative efforts of every citizen help a country move forward. The government's duty is to harness these efforts and reward the outstanding contributors.
It is evident that the farmers of Bangladesh have made significant contributions to the development of the country, but the governments always failed to ensure the supply of their basic requirements, let alone reward them. It is time that we acknowledge the importance of the agriculture sector and do more for the helpless farmers who are engaged in it.