The privileged few
Upon returning to Bangladesh and settling comfortably back into the privileged, bourgeois standard of living in Dhaka, I have had the opportunity to reflect on how this city is the perfect paradise for an adrenaline junkie. I mean it; who needs to invest into adrenaline pumping recreation when the constant life-and-death reality that surrounds you is more than capable of throwing you into the deepest pits of illusion, consecutively make you disillusioned while providing you with the accompanying sensation of jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute the whole time?
The reason I have successfully managed to offend both the city and my particular class in the same breath is because it is not the first instance when I have bitterly noticed the positioning of my own class in this society and the views and opinions it seems to represent and I must say they are not, as one might describe it, 'kosher' – or more relevant in this society's context -- 'halal'.
There is no easy way to state the truth surrounding the conformity of this upper middle-class or as I like to refer to them, the 'unfortunately privileged' part of society. The fact of the matter is that the invisible caste system, unassigned by any racial or religious discrimination (as we might observe in the neighbouring countries) that exists amidst the people of the same colour, features and profile in this country is a puzzle.
It is a puzzle I have neither been able to unravel nor understand ever since I can remember and it started within my own household, where as a child myself and the hired help had never been allowed to occupy the same space at the same time, without clearly defining our individual domains.
The very first encounter with an exception to this rule was when I visited a friend's house from school and discovered her exceptionally liberal-minded parents allowing their young hired maid to sit at the same table as us and I remember how all the other kids, including myself reacted to it -- not with negativity thankfully but with sheer incredulity at such a break from tradition. The ratio of rational, forward-thinking people in this particular class -- with similar financial means when I was growing up -- against the bourgeois was 1:100 and sadly it has not changed much since.
What have we really got against the hordes of the black, brown and yellow that walk the same road as us every day and why can we not for once accept that they are our majority, the driving force of this nation and not the ruling minority that speeds past in their air-conditioned BMWs?
When the RMG sector in this country first started gaining momentum and a lot of this apparent 'lower' class joined this contemporary stream of workforce, I did not have to venture far to hear comments like “look how this boom in the garment industry has affected this lower class! Suddenly their attitudes have changed, their backs straightened, they are looking us straight in the eye!”
This was a clear indication of the supposed upper-class suddenly starting to feel threatened as their subconscious stoked their growing concern over the repercussions of an empowered underclass which might ultimately grow powerful enough to compete at the same level as us -- even, God-forbid, intermingle with our own children and contaminate future generations.
I must pause here to take off the figurative cloak that I have draped myself in thus far (to better explain my inherited personal positioning in this class struggle) and would refrain from using the term 'us' when speaking of the upper-middle-class henceforth, as in the context of this piece, I mentally do not sit within that arena.
In the wake of the Rana Plaza crisis in Bangladesh, which even managed to raise alarms at the Vatican, I was once again disappointed to discover that this country had been divided into two even by a tragedy of this magnitude. The segregation that lied between the capitalist vs. the idealist, the patrician vs. the egalitarian -- the former in both cases presenting success stories based on monetary facts and figures and the latter obviously highlighting the failure in the form of a retreat from human development.
What we collectively fail to realise is the number of years and a catastrophe serving as an eye-opener that took us to reflect on the lawless manner in which the upper-class has been conducting all employment transactions with the underclass.
The complete lack of regulations and regard in relation to working conditions, fair pay, discrimination and foul play exceeds far beyond the realms of the RMG sector alone. It seeps into our homes, in the driving seats of most chauffeur-driven cars, in our kitchens, on the stools guarding our forts and into the very fabric of our everyday existence!
The desensitised negligence from the educated section of society and the vanity from the 'elite' is reminiscent of a struggle in a different part of the world long ago -- the American civil war and the African-American civil rights movements to name a few. Under the current circumstances, we either give rise to an Abraham Lincoln from amongst us or wait for another Martin Luther King to be born out of oppression. Either way, we need to be rescued from this attitude where we see only to make it unseen and feel only to make it unfelt.
Collectively, as a society beyond class and creed, and individually let us exorcise the demons within ourselves and eradicate this gap between the different classes that still exist today before we can hope to achieve anything else and perhaps tilt the scale towards the more rational, progressive and forward thinkers of this nation. This can be achieved first and foremost by growing a conscience.
The Oxford dictionary describes education as 'an enlightening experience' and while you would find many a certified educated person around you in Bangladesh, how many do you believe have actually acquired their sensibilities in the true essence of the definition? Let us be enlightened and grow a little more courage and show it by taking some baby steps and as a nation develop unabashedly, monetarily and conscientiously, hand in hand. In a hurry to get to work, let us not forget our morals back home.