From Disgrace to Grace
The recent announce-ment and endorsement of the resignation of two high-profile figures have rocked the political boat. A mayor and a state minister have given up their offices—or should I say, they have fallen out of grace to fall on their own swords.
Historically, "falling on one's sword" implies a tradition of accepting responsibility for a calamity. It dates back to 42BC when Brutus, one of the assassins of Julius Caesar, decided not to run away after his defeat at the Battle of Philippi, but to end his own life. Shakespeare made Brutus say, "Hold then my sword and turn away thy face/While I do run upon it" (Julius Caesar V.v). By the same token, one can even argue that the recent resignations involve swords of a sharper sort—such is the reputation of the tongue. In both cases, private loose talk exposed in public domain became the source of disgrace. Since one cannot answer the "why" and "how" of the public availability of such private discourse, it is safe to reflect on their observable implications and ramifications.
The office-bearers were asked to step down once their recorded conversations with objectionable remarks were leaked. They did not resign out of any moral impulsion. One tried to play the "conspiracy" and "put out of context" cards, while the other got ready to phase out to succumb to the political compulsion. They did not assert any high moral ground that the Roman practice of self-immolation would have implied, as they did not own up to their actions. The endorsement of their resignation letters simply shows that these two individuals have burnt their boats, and there is no turning back as they have failed to control their tongues. It was a bit too late by the time they learnt that a little modesty averts disgrace. They were sacrificed to save the parties from public opprobrium, and their inglorious exits were timed and presented in such a way that their political adversaries did not get any opportunity to crow triumph or showcase the government as weak.
Instead, their demitting of office is being used as a tool to inculcate a sense of fear among the potential transgressors. There was a time when voluntary resignations were used to laundry-wash away tainted reputations. But we live in a different time, where everyone is vying for attention, and there are too many "cool" people to fill in the empty space vacated by the mighty hot air. It is unlikely for these zeroes to become heroes all over again. By showing the door to two public officials in the face of charges of impropriety and conflict of interest, the government has actually gained political capital.
These timely departures came at a time when a mood of impunity was growing. These punishments can be used as a stern signal for those who constantly fail to control their tongues. A similar exemplary punishment is evident in the landmark judgment in which 25 students of the country's premier technical university were sentenced for the murder of one of their fellow students. Twenty students were given the death penalty, and the remaining five life imprisonment. In essence, both are capital punishments as life without parole is nothing but an extended death sentence.
Social media is rife with mixed responses as the punishment of so many bright, young students is unprecedented. On the other hand, they were all party to a crime that resulted in the death of an equally bright young man. The punishment has been given to transgressors—the ones who violated a legal, moral and ethical code. They are all guilty in the eyes of the law.
They took the life of one man because he articulated his frustration. As a conscientious citizen, Abrar Fahad urged for the upholding of national interest above everything else. The expressed sentiment was interpreted as something that went against the party line. He was rounded up, periodically beaten. Under the influence of alcohol, perhaps. Abrar was killed on October 7, 2019. Who do we blame? The 25 men who had been identified as the shadowy figures captured in the night vision of Buet's CCTV footage? The system that allowed people to act more Catholic than the Pope? What does one get out of such excess?
I was reading an article by the youngest daughter of Bangabandhu. After the death of his mother, it was one of the would-be murderers and perpetrators of the August 15 carnage who cried the most. The public show of ideals does not mean anything unless you internalise the spirit of freedom and humanity. The candid remarks of the former Gazipur mayor showed that, deep down, he never respected the ideology of Bangabandhu which he was publicly parading. He was not thinking of the reputation of the party and the love of his constituents that gave him his public stature and personal fame.
The obscene remarks of the disgraced state minister showed that he had no respect for women even while working under female leadership. He was not thinking of the discretion required by the position sponsored by the taxpayers. The violent act of the engineering students showed that they were simply acting as automatons to pursue hazing instructed by a party senior, without listening to their inner voices of reason. They were actually not thinking of their parents who sent them to become educated and better human beings. They were not thinking of the taxpayers who were facilitating their studies. The fallen public officials and the cursed students remind us of knowing our place in the grand scheme of things.
Frankly, I could not process the judgment against the 25 meritorious students-turned-criminals; just like I could not process the death of Abrar two years ago. As an educator, father, and a responsible citizen, I feel we have collectively failed our students. Our indifference has allowed the hidden monsters to thrive and prowl. Sometimes, they are posing as intriguing land grabbers, perverted predators, or violent Frankensteins.
I don't want to dampen the spirit of our golden jubilee Victory Day with such pessimism. I was reading the story of a young girl from Brahmanbaria named Shova, whose mother works as a domestic aide. Shova lost her father when she was in her mother's womb. Her mother was at the mercy of her brother for some time. The mother and the daughter were thrown out of the house in the middle of rain one night once the mother sold some eggs from the chicken coop to buy a dress for her daughter. She was thrown out of a household as the employer refused to feed two mouths for the work of one. That little girl got scholarships, tutored others for a monthly salary of Tk 100 to eventually pass her school and intermediate exams. She has finally found a place at Buet.
My eyes are welling up as I write her story. I am sure those 25 students have all been special with their own stories. Right now, they are nothing but news items. They join the list of viral stories. But to pay respect to our freedom fighters, we must find shova (grace) in whatever we do. We need to leave all our disgraces behind to move forward to embrace the radiance of the golden Bengal that was pursued by Bangabandhu, the father of the nation.
Dr Shamsad Mortuza is the pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB).