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COVID-19 & social norms

Published : Wednesday, 8 April, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 276
A H M Zehadul Karim

A H M Zehadul Karim

A H M Zehadul Karim

The other day, I was reading an observatory feature-article of Julian Frances who has been associated with the Relief and Development Activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation and now he stays at Gulshan Area of Dhaka City. Julian is a Developmental Activist with profound exposure to journalism who had received an honorific title of 'Friends of Liberation War Honour' which was given to him by our Government.
Just a few days before, in one of his writings, Julian incidentally was narrating his own experiences of moving around Dhaka City during Coronavirus lockdown on where he had observed a very unusual behaviour of the people who were not showing any slightest respect to the existing rules of the time. By looking at the situation very closely, Julian expressed his utmost dissatisfaction and anger on the situation, perhaps because of the reason that, he loves this country very much and also he has some historical attachment with Bangladesh since the time of our liberation.
In his writing, he was mentioning that on last Friday, he had to come out of his house in the morning seriously looking for and reaching to a Standard Chartered ATM Booth located at Banani for withdrawing some money or whatsoever. But, he was surprised to see that even though at this stage of Corona surge, Dhaka City is formally under shutdown, yet it was surprisingly looking as almost normal. The number of vehicles was as usual and a few rich car owners were driving free at a very faster speed coming from the opposite direction of wrong side of the road very smartly, as if every one of them is already immune to the Corona'.
In fact, what Julian wanted to say is nothing new in the case of Bangladesh, we always watch these behaviour in our everyday life and now, it becomes visible on different television channels where these are clearly shown when people always have a damn care attitude and to be very frank, it mostly happens in the case of car owners and the rich people.  As a matter of fact, none is supposed to be on the streets by breaking the law at this moment, nor they are expected to come out of the house during the shutdown.
As an anthropologist, I have some personal observation about our people; it is true that many of us are economically rich, but from the familial and cultural point of view, we do not show our richness in our behaviour. We have to remember that our family background is not imprinted on our forehead; it is exposed in our manners. Our behaviour will speak about our decent and family roots. In traditional societies in the past, people used to follow the social norms and values where nobody had any tendency to break the rules living in a society.
Any violation of community norms in the past was seen with scorn and public criticism; and in some cases, the violators often were ostracized, if it is a serious crime. Recently in certain areas of Guangzhou Province in China, the Administrators compel the litterers in the community to leave their areas immediately; but this rule is equally applicable to everyone, and  it is never partial. Singapore is now implementing these systems encapsulating them in a modern format where punishment for violation is just immediate on the spot.
However, nowadays, people do not have any respect for the laws nor do they have any modesty in showing respect to societal norms; instead, some people often with their hegemonic power get pride in breaking the laws. Julian was very much disgusted when he saw that Unimart is a chain-shop where usually many foreigners and rich Bangladeshis go for shopping and it is clearly notified that anybody queue-up for payment must maintain a distance of 3 feet from each other.
But unfortunately, they are not listening to it and also, they are not at all caring for the WHO instructions and Government Orders putting them at a risk of death during this crucial Corona contamination. I would say that having my twenty years' of experience in staying abroad, I found that many of our people are respectful in alien rules, but we become very careless in our own country which can never be appreciated.
We have to admit that in present situation, our brothers from Police Department are performing their duties very diligently by persuading the people in different ways. Like other developed countries, our defence personnel are also behaving very politely with their patience; but the riders, drivers and the pedestrians are often trying to rationalize their illogical behavior explaining them in their own ways. In some community areas, people do not listen to persuasion; it is clearly found among the Bihari communities living in Mirpur and Mohammadpur where they always have some tendency of showing notoriety in their behavior being very careless of everything.
We did not have any social planning for these groups of people who had immigrated to this land from outside. We should have taught them the basic education providing knowledge on family size and also to maintain other basic courtesies. They often violate laws as they do not have any self consciousness about themselves; the local elites simply utilize them as their vote-bank often pursuing them to work as their support-base.
Being educated, we should not be very sarcastic in every behaviour; we require being modest and polite in our behaviour. While I was teaching in Malaysia, my colleagues often used to ask me about the Bangladeshi workers talking very loudly and arguing among themselves all the time. I always felt ashamed of such complains. Malaysia prospered economically to emerge as a rich country and also it is regarded as one of the Five Tigers of South Asia which was only possible because of the reason that they had faith on the dynamism of their leader, Dr. Tun Mahathir.
He took the country in a right direction and the Malaysians kept him in power for more than twenty two years. In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina is also striving hard very seriously to give the nation a positive direction. We should have faith on her as because, she has the farsightedness, commitment and honesty, having inherited from the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib.  Like all other nations of the world, we should stand behind our government. What I am saying that at this global criticality, our Prime Minister has been keeping her eyes on all issues very efficiently and also she is taking right decisions in right time. But the violators are we the people, who do not have any respect for laws and discipline.
During my twelve years' of stay in Malaysia, many of us in the universities have been able to impress the Malaysian academics and policy planners at every stage satisfying them with our performances, work-sincerity and behaviour. In many cases, they took our plans as academics showing respect to our commitment and seriousness. Our brothers working in the labour sector in abroad, also similarly are working very seriously with their commitment, but what they simply lack is a kind of social learning.
In the past, many columns were written in the local dailies drawing attention of the policy planners with requests that while sending the workers outside, we should arrange a kind briefing session to train them up in all respects. In fact it does not cost much, but the nation gains quite a lot; but who cares?
The author is a former vice chancellor of a public university in Bangladesh. At present, he is working as a professor of anthropology at Jagannath University.



















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