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Bangladesh

The government appears to have committed itself to achieving two economic goals: (1) to graduate to a middle income country by 2021 and (2) to transform into a developed country by 2041. These are admirable goals to set for the nation. However, it has not made clear what it really means by ‘middle income country’ or ‘developed country’.

 

Former Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda has come forth with a suggestion that calls for serious and purposeful discussion. The names of individuals shortlisted for the positions of CEC and Election Commissioners, he has said, should be publicized through the media in order for public scrutiny to be applied to an examination of the ability or otherwise of the nominees for the Election Commission. Coming from a person whose high reputation as CEC under the last caretaker regime remains impeccable, the idea must not be ignored. 

 
“So, what were you doing in December 1971?” asked a friend the other day. Every year at this time, as well as in the month of March, I remember vividly the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. As coordinator of OXFAM’s refugee relief programme in India which cared for 600,000 women, men and children, my colleagues and I were worried about many things in November and December 1971. The roads to the refugee camps we were supporting were choked with military vehicles and hardware and it was difficult to reach supplies to places as far as Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and Cooch Behar. Thousands of blankets and woolen clothing had been donated by the British people following campaigns of OXFAM, “Take a blanket off your bed” and “Send us your sweater: It can save someone’s life”. The advertisement in the British newspapers said “Refugees in India are facing a new horror: death from exposure. Nighttime temperatures in winter can fall below freezing. Children and old people are being killed by the cold now. Healthy adults will not last the winter. Warm clothes are needed with desperate urgency – shawls, sweaters, cardigans – anything woolen.”  
 
There are too many reasons to say this, and I celebrate this Victory Day with some triumph. In the West, the celebration would entail a champagne toast and sharing sweets with friends and family to pay homage to the freedom fighters, martyrs, and our great Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.  
 
Dhaka, the heaving, ramshackle capital of 17 million people, is spreading its concrete tentacles ever outwards across the flat riverine plains of the Bay of Bengal in this country squeezed between India and Myanmar. There’s an in-your-face vibrancy about Dhaka, a smiling resilience against all the odds of its manifold pollutions and adversities – the choking traffic, the sprawling slums, and groaning infrastructure. On the plus side, Bangladesh is something of a development success story. Poverty has been reduced, and it outclasses its economically stronger neighbour India in most health and human development indicators.  
 

Beginning with Operation Searchlight on March 25, 1971 in Dhaka, the Pakistani army perpetrated widespread violations of human rights with support from its local collaborators. The massacre and mass rape in 1971 were the most incredible and calculated crimes in the 20th century.

 

People do not make the decision to leave their homes lightly, but sometimes circumstances compel them to move. Many Bangladeshis leave home to pursue opportunities in the wider world.

 
There is enforced disappearance and there is self-imposed disappearance. Both of these types of disappeared men have been hitting the headlines from the shadows for quite some time now, although for quite different reasons.  
 

For Bangladesh, it is that old dilemma: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. In these past few weeks, the country has been under pressure from global human rights bodies as also governments and organisations in the West to permit Rohingya Muslims fleeing repression in Myanmar entry into the country. In other words, the Bangladesh authorities have been and are being urged to open the country’s borders to the petrified Rohingya, who have come under fresh assault in Rakhine State in Myanmar.

 
In view of the grisly and gory attacks, allegedly state-sponsored, on the Rohingya Muslim minority of neighbouring Myanmar, it would not be out of place to take a serious look at the menacing face of the other kind of fundamentalism about which the international community has not been desirably vocal. Incidentally, the word 'fundamentalism' has often been used and expressed in a pejorative sense.  
 


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