On the threshold of the New year (2015), we look forward to seeing a new Bangladesh, a Bangladesh that the 3 million martyrs dreamt of, a Bangladesh that would be built up on the four basic principles of our original constitution-a Bangladesh that would be fostered by humanity and patriotism, and protected from the acts of religious fundamentalism, militancy and fanaticism
Dr Rashid Askari
The present Government led by Sheikh Hasina is going to complete the first year of its term in office. The power- party and its allies will as usual break into chants of a roaring success while the opposition will spit venom at them. The media will give blanket coverage; arrange rounds of facetious chat shows, and long political discourses about the hot issue. This is not unusual in our society. We may have limits to our attainments, but we do not have restraints on our tongue. We like to lavish both our love and hatred.
I would, however, try not to be one of those doom merchants who could not show adequate forbearance to declare the initial year of the present Government as a total failure, nor would I be one of the over-enthusiastic admirers who consider it absolutely immaculate. As a matter of fact, I find it difficult to say a simple 'yes' or a 'no' about the initial stage of a government's tenure straight from the shoulder. Most of the statements regarding this sort of things are guilty of lopsided views and rabid speculations. The situation is not usually as black or as white as it is painted.
It can, however, be generally acknowledged that the country's overall development in last year has not lived up to people's full expectations though it was pretty satisfactory. But compared to the previous phases and given the adverse effects of the depression-ridden global economy, the march of progress made by Hasina Government has not been as bad as all that. It must have been the best of a bad bunch from the standpoint of its comparison with prolonged years of misrule and maladministration by other previous governments.
I, however, would not like to adduce any statistics to prove the government's success. Our learned economists are there for it who have given a pretty satisfactory picture of our economy with reference to the statistics of existing rates of GDP, foreign earnings, foreign currency reserves, remittances, standards of living, conditions of health and sanitation etc. What I would rather like to do is to draw attention to some points with a view to not siding with the power or the opposition but to making people awake to some potential dangers that can be looming ahead.
Despite all its shortcomings, the biggest success of Hasina Government or of the people who voted them to power is the bold move to bring the war criminals to trial. The Government has, to some extent, kept their word of honour. One convict has already been executed, some are awaiting execution and some are standing trials. Those who have lost their beloved ones at that war would realize the real magnitude of this trial. Although the slow progress of the trial is little concerning them, they are happy to see the perpetrators are languishing in prison after four decades of the Liberation War (1971). If this attempt succeeds, and the top brass are punished in the foreseeable future, the victim's long bereaved families would feel relieved of their pent-up agonies to a great extent, and the pro -liberation folks would heave a big sigh of relief.
The second thing that the Hasina's Government can be credited with is that, it is fighting an uphill battle against religious militancy, which is now one of the most serious problems besetting the Muslim world and the whole as well. People are dropping like flies in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other places in the hands of the unruly militant forces. Unbridled sectarian violence has turned these countries into death valleys. The recent juvenile genocide in Peshawar has exceeded even the notorious Holocaust. Bangladesh too was going to be infected by the same militancy virus. On 17 August 2005, the violent activists of JMB exploded 500 hundred bombs at 300 locations in 63 out of the 64 districts to herald their existence in this secular soil of ours. And quite unfortunately for us, they were being indulged by the then custodians of the state. If this deadly social poison had not been properly fought back, they would have by now risen to a point of no return. Now we live in hope that Sheikh Hasina's Government would take tougher lines on them.
Women empowerment is another feather in Hasina Government's cap. They have taken some active measures to empower women. This is for the first time in post-independence Bangladesh that the highest number of women has been made to hold high offices. The Nobel laureate Amarta Sen had the satisfaction of seeing Bangladeshi women become more empowered than those of many provinces in India. The Government adopted a national policy on women empowerment, and tried to bring about a radical change in their social and legal status by implementing it. However, it is not being fully realized because of some bigoted male chauvinists and their blinkered attitudes.
The restoration of the Constitution of 1972 could be a big success of the present government. The Great Alliance Government in their previous term had taken an attempt which half-succeeded. They should once again take initiatives to restore the 1972 constitution to abort the chances of the growth of fundamentalism and religious militancy in Bangladesh. We had one of the world's best constitutions imbued with the main ideals of our Liberation War (Nationalism, Socialism, Democracy and Secularism) which were defiled by the political vandals time and again with a view to legitimizing their power assumption through the backdoor. We expected AL Government to restore it with the main spirit intact. But they have also frustrated us by not fully bringing back the 1972 Constitution, although they have made some positive corrections to it.
The failure in the much-awaited Padma Bridge construction and in the Teesta Water Pact had left a blot on the Government in the last tenure. But in the new year, the Padma Bridge construction may become a reality as the communication ministry has assured us. However, it has to be proved by tangible evidence. Sheikh Hasina's recent meeting with her Indian counterpart in Kathmandu SAARC summit has brought back the possibilities of implementation of different bilateral deals that lay stuck in limbo for ages. Modi has assured Hasina of his continued support for the implementation of the long-awaited Land Boundary Agreement (LBA), the Teesta Water Sharing Agreement. In addition, the conditions seem to be ripe for the implementation of the long-pending Indo-Bangla LBA, as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has changed her tune, and declared willingness to reach an amicable settlement of the border dispute. However, given goodwill on both sides, we can cross our fingers that the deals would become a reality in the near future.
The human rights defenders, however, have termed the human rights situation in Bangladesh as 'alarming' citing the examples of incidents of the forced disappearances and extra judicial killings. The human rights organizations such as Ain O Shalish Kendra, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Bangladesh are of the similar opinion about the situation of human rights violation in Bangladesh. The Human Rights Commission too has expressed their concern over the fact, though not the same way. Opinions may vary as to the gravity of the situation, but it is not a thing to brush aside. The Government should realize the words of all concerned to improve the situation. We should not forget that today's Bangladesh was created on the basis of a collective resistance to a massive violation of human rights by the erstwhile Pakistani rulers. Article 3 of our constitution affirms that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security, and article 35(5) confirms their right to protection from torture. Besides Bangladesh has signed the International Covent on Civil and Political Rights. So there is every reason why Bangladesh should do her best for the protection of human rights. But to our great shock, we see cases of human rights violation have been nagging the nation since long. The carrying out of the counter-terrorism operations in the name of arms recovery and crime control like Operation Clean Heart and the creation of the elite forces like the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has produced diminishing returns. The Human Rights Commission, which was established in 2009 after the fashion of Paris Principles to help protect our civil and political rights, is not also being able to produce desired results. The commission, however, has proposed some suggestions through its strategic plans for the improvement of the overall human rights situation in Bangladesh. The Commission's recommendations on the complaint management system, reforms of 1861 Police Act, monitoring the detention place and detainees, investigation of the incidents of extrajudicial killings, conducting a number of national committees etc should be implemented for the improvement of the situation.
On the threshold of the New year (2015), we look forward to seeing a new Bangladesh, a Bangladesh that the 3 million martyrs dreamt of, a Bangladesh that would be built up on the four basic principles of our original constitution-a Bangladesh that would be fostered by humanity and patriotism, and protected from the acts of religious fundamentalism, militancy and fanaticism. These are our New Year's resolutions!
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]