Cultural vacuum is why we’re here
A social system underestimating the value of teaching harmony; an inequitable education system that does not economically empower the youth; and a political system that silences all voices, giving rise to radical collectives, now have led the country to witness a scale of violence unseen before during the final days of the Durga Puja.
The Daily Star asks three eminent social commentators one fundamental question: how did society get here?
Prof Serajul Islam Chowdhury
The violence was so spontaneous, it could not be controlled and before you know it, a man is dead. This violence was not instigated by the state, which means the violence has now seeped into society. However, the reasons are political -- these groups use communal strife to hold power.
In Bangladesh, the ones who do these are the young, with no employment. Madrassah education is widespread -- this population is frustrated because they are discontent. Their discontent is economic but they make another community the enemy to empower themselves. They can scare others using this power. This is because they are vulnerable themselves. Capitalism has gone to the level of fascism in the world.
They are in an identity crisis and alienated -- they want to be connected as a part of a bigger collective and they use religion for that.
If there were political movements in the country, this would not have happened. Where there are no politics, religious identity takes over. When one group monopolises power, the others become powerless.
Another reason is that Bangladesh has seen a decline in cultural activities. People are not socially entertained, so they seek individual entertainment from social media. This isolation has led the society to this state.
Prof Salimullah Khan
The violence is unconditionally condemnable. Everybody knows the situation is volatile because of the political volatility. Instability is political -- it does not stem from religion. We are taking a law-and-order approach to the situation. Instead, there should be a civil society approach. In 1964, a riot happened because a relic was stolen from a mosque but the whole country stood as one.
But today, the civil society has no unity even on a fundamental issue like this. Everybody is saying the country is improving in per capita terms -- but this is misleading because this divides society. The fire can spread from any angle when the hay is dry. There is no political consensus on the strategy to be followed.
We cannot go back to the 1960's. Any conflagration within the country is sure to bring in international repercussions.
Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam
The most important thing is that violence has become endemic -- from domestic to national -- to a point that people do not have the same intense feelings of denouncing violence. We are not reacting as strongly and I am worried. It is not creating an additional ripple. There is a sense of resignation -- that this is going to happen.
This is a symptom of a society becoming passive, losing the energy to react. Over the last several years we have become quiet as we are consciously engaging in economic development. Every time we gave up, this phenomenon grew.
We have a history of communal harmony and inclusivity. A huge population of the young generation are going the direction of violence. The four institutions in charge of teaching history have failed.
Firstly, families are not reading anymore, children are not gifted books anymore. Reading has become a long-forgotten exercise.
Secondly, schools are focusing on rote learning and passing exams and getting a job. No deviation is allowed. So schools do not have any scope to include additional material. In the scheme of teaching and learning, if there is no space for books, absolutely nothing will be done.
Thirdly, the guardians of civil society in charge of imparting this education -- the cultural organisations -- have no connection with the schools. Village theaters are gone. Musical performances are not given permission. We have always had religious performances -- but they never incited violence. The ones listening to a waaz one night would attend a jatra the next.
The government is the fourth factor and they too have failed. The government does not listen to people across social strata. It does what it thinks it fits. There is no instance in our country of the government taking into account public reaction.
A cultural vacuum is created and this is filled with social media. We are living in the age of hyperreality and things becoming viral in a short time. Constructive ideas are slow to move but destructive ideas are quick.
Children are learning honesty is the best policy in a country that is rife with corruption, so the disconnect is very strong. We are investing in economic development but this is a bad investment. If we can turn the schools, in phases. into centres of excellence, then one day we can have a robust education system. We are really missing the bus -- and if this continues we will see the worst.