Many of us alive have long been dead
THE cultural activists in the country did their bit last Sunday when they accompanied the families of those who had died in political violence and hung a list of 54 victims in front of BNP chairperson's Gulshan office. It was ironically done on the same day 41 people, to the last count of that day, had reportedly died after a launch sank when it was hit by a cargo vessel. The number of victims has risen to 71since then, and nobody knows where to hang the list of these luckless names. Death in this Death Valley of ours isn't a cognisable act of dying unless it has some kind of political twist.
Roughly six months ago the search for a sunken launch was abandoned eight days after it capsised in the same river with 230 passengers on board. More than hundred people had died or gone missing and the sunken vessel couldn't be located despite 'extensive' search. If we add the number of victims of these two launch accidents only, it gives us nearly four times the number that appeared on the Sunday's list.
Our cultural icons, for reasons best known to them, took up the cause of a particular kind of death. Those are political deaths caused by political violence, clearly having the potential to give political advantage to certain brand of politicians to undermine their headstrong opponents. The other kind of death is when people get killed by natural and manmade disasters for which the government in every country has to take some blame.
In an ideal democracy, the opposition would have done that blaming. They would have run with the lists of victims who may have died due to government's negligence or incompetence. They would have hung those lists in front of government offices. How 230 people were packed into a vessel made for 100 passengers wasn't just the launch owner's fault. The government also had a responsibility to see that all vessels stuck to their capacity levels.
It's no surprise that the cultural glitterati didn't wish to embarrass the government. It's also obvious that they didn't prepare the list of victims because they were dead. They prepared it because these victims still had some sort of political value comparable to ivory from dead elephants.
If death alone would have been their matter of concern and humanity their driving passion, the cultural stalwarts would have also run with the list of other victims of other tragedies and posted those in front of other offices. But this nation has waited for five days since that launch went down last Sunday. And, alas it has been eerily quiet on that luminescent front!
That invokes the story of the Persian king Xerxes, who was retreating from Greece aboard a Phoenician ship which got caught up in a dangerous storm. After the captain informed that the only way to survive was reducing the ship's load, Xerxes urged his subjects on board to show their regard for their king. Many obediently threw themselves overboard and the ship, now significantly lighter, was able to safely reach the shore. Xerxes quickly ordered that the captain of the ship be given a golden crown for preserving his life, but then also commanded his head be cut off for causing the death of so many Persians at sea.
People in this country are getting killed coming and going. And all of them are ordinary people who don't aspire beyond their right to make a humble living. Whether they drown or burn to death, whether death comes to them in sinking or scorching, they have to die on either side of this disturbing dilemma. They are damned if the politicians are saved. They are damned if the politicians are ruined.
This land is now divided in life as well as death. Politics has divided the people, and the people have divided emotions. They kill in vain; they die in pain. Some rejoice over the deaths of others. Others mourn the loss of some. Neither are we united in passion, nor are we uniform in compassion.
In many countries of the world except for those which are like war zones under constitutional cover, unfortunate deaths call for national mourning. Those nations are founded on people's inalienable right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. In this country, power struggle regularly subverts that fundamental precept, loss of lives discriminated as per political motives.
Those who die in bomb attack, shootout, drowning or any other manner other than natural death, all are citizens of this country and all are equally unfortunate. If death is meant to be the great equaliser, it went one step ahead last Sunday. Many of us may be alive, but they have long been dead.
The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star. Email: [email protected]