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Unheard Messages

January 1, 2015

On December 16, dignitaries, including Prime Minister and President,watching the official Victory Day parade at the national parade ground  were awed by the stunning maneuvers of the newly acquired Chinese-made jet trainers. Just outside the parade ground billboards boasted of the sponsors of the event. One of the sponsors was Islami Bank Bangladesh Limited (IBBL), a financial institution that is linked with the anti-liberation Islamist party Jamaat-i-Islami and had been accused of patronizing religious extremism by the ruling party in the past.

US authorities termed one of IBBL’s shareholders ‘conduit for extremist finance’. Media also ran reports of IBBL’s alleged involvement in financing last year’s violent political campaign.

Banks and financial institutions with BNP dominated management are gradually loosing pace in the competition in the last six years. The whole financial sector, in general, is plagued by scams during this period.Meanwhile, IBBL has become one of top 5 banks over the years.

Earlier in March this year, incumbent government had been criticized for receiving donation from IBBL for a record-breaking national anthem singing event on Independence Day.

Even concerned ministries came up with explanations and admitted their ignorance about IBBL’s association with the national anthem singing event. What will they say now?

Despite the controversy in March, this time the govt dared to allow IBBL’s sponsorship of a national event and met little protest.

Shocking part of this mockery is the silence of the pro-government professionals. They have been critical towards journalists and writers for their objective blog posts and observation. Op-ed pages were deluged with vituperative articles. However, they are still quiet about this mockery at the national parade ground. Not a single op-ed column published or a talk-show program broadcast criticizing the govt’s role.

While extremists’ money is being used to finance mega national events, growing Bengali nationalism has taken on a jingoistic posture. This rising tide of neo-nationalism has already brought ordeal to indigenous and linguistically minor communities.

There was a deliberate attempt to create tensions between the Bengalis and indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) on December 16. The CHT region, consists of youthful population, has the highest rate of unemployment in Bangladesh according to some sources and is considered a tinderbox as there is a growing sense of disenchantment among the indigenous people with  government’s efforts in implementing the peace deal.

On the very Victory Day, shops and homes of indigenous people were attacked and gutted down by Bengalis  after unknown miscreants had uprooted pineapple plants at an orchard belongs to a Bengali settler in Rangamati. Initially, local administration promised to compensate the victims and to restore law and order. But, two weeks after the attack, the promise still remains a promise. Rights groups visited the scene said that some influential quarter set the poor settlers against the resource-strapped indigenous people to stir communal trouble in CHT.

Just the day before the victory day, Urdu-speaking Bihari community of Bangladesh organized a human chain before the Kurmitola camp, where an arson attack led by the Bengali slum dwellers under the auspices of local police left 10 people killed, on June 14, demanding immediate arrest of the culprits and withdrawal of harassing cases against the community. Nine of the dead were from the same family. Only surviving member of the family Farjana sustained burn injuries in that attack. In a mysterious bus accident, she also lost her father. She used to go to a Bengali school and watched Bengali TV programs during her leisure time prior to that attack.

For a moment, she never thought she was not a Bangladeshi. Like her education, her treatment was hampered because of lack of money. Now, she is struggling to resume her normal life.

It is being told officially that the attack is originated from a dispute over firecrackers on the night of Shab-e-Barat. But, the Bihari community and neutral observers blamed the local MP for the attack as he had earlier feuded with the community over the camp property and its amenities. The community even collected mobile phone footage of the attack and handed them to Police. Police have arrested none until today and, to their surprise, filed cases against the community members for deteriorating law and order situation.

However distant it may seem resurrection of Bengali nationalism cannot evade responsibility for preparing a favorable ground to spew hatred against different communities.

This growing intolerance and hatred are also manifested in criticizing people whose views and observations are different from those of the govt. Zia Haider Rahman, a British novelist of Bangladeshi origin,at a program at Dhaka University commented ‘Bangladesh is a land of dead ideas’. What he tried to construe is that most of the people living in the bottom rung of the society are not interested to take initiative. Rather, they are molded into followers who implement ideas (orders) of people holding superior positions in the hierarchy. The society itself does not tolerate any deviation from that. At that program, he also made a strong observation:”I do not belong to this country, you do not belong to this country; this country belongs to people with extraordinary power and privilege.” A misreporting of the event on a leading daily infuriated some people. Many jumped down Zia’s throat in their op-ed pieces without delving into the content of his speech.

Government seems to have ample time to check who is acting or saying against the spirit of liberation war and to have less time to address the woes of the affected communities. All its efforts, attention and resources are being used to subdue its opponent BNP.  Whenever BNP tries to initiate movement, announcement of pending verdicts of war criminals is resumed. Just two months ago when the BNP chief called for  starting a movement in January for early election  and neutral caretaker government, the  date of the final stage of war criminal Quamruzzaman’s trial  was rescheduled for January. Many were expecting it to be completed by December. Govt is keen to dub BNP’s movement ‘an attempt to save war criminals’. Well, it is no secret that Jamaat is part of the BNP alliance; it is, however, BNP that is dearly paying the price for organizing anti-govt protest. Hundreds of BNP rank-and-file members have been missing for more than a year. But, it was Jamaat which spearheaded the violent political campaign of 2013 and 2014. Most of Jamaat-shibir men are yet to be brought to the book. Interestingly, Jamaat is trying to distance itself from any kind of anti-govt movement, hoping for getting more concessions from the ruling regime.

Clearly, AL is considering BNP a political enemy, not an opponent. Millions of dollars worth of weapons are being purchased to defend the country from foreign foes. The most plausible risk the country is facing right now is internal instability, emanating from political stalemate and unhappy indigenous people. The risk is compounded by widespread unemployment, lack of rule of law and rampant corruption.

Accepting anti-liberation forces’ sponsorship for mega events and letting their financial institutions grow will jeopardize the spirit of liberation war. Redoing the wrongs that were done to us will not unite people of different creeds and tongues, and it will not lead the country to its desired destination. Oppressed minorities indicate savagery of one dominant group and weakening of the fabric of society. Going after the people who hold different views than those of the government is contrary to the very spirit of liberation war. Shutting down all the doors of dialogue with the main political force will not break the deadlock. These messages have been conveyed to the ruling regime in many forms and in many ways. I hope it will lend an ear to the messages in this new year and will play, from its part, a constructive role to make 2015 a peaceful year, which seems hard to come by.

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