Living with half-truths

 Published in: The Daily Star on September 9, 2015

It’s easy not to lie and speak half-truths instead. In one form or another, all of us benefit from all the half-empty glasses sitting on our table. With time, many of us get more comfortable living with half-statements and quasi desires.

As a result, we have been labeled as the second most unliveable city in the world, without any of us forcefully arguing that while Melbourne, the most liveable city, has almost 3,900 square miles and four million people, Dhaka has over more than 14 million spread over in only one-tenth of that of Melbourne. As a result, we have negative, bashful media attention on apparent non-compliance and not so much on positive stories in the readymade garment sector.

So, we waddle through water, watch garbage pile up in front of our homes and have no relief from traffic jams. Meantime, the mayors enlighten us on how clogged the outlets are and how there is a complete lack in coordination with the 54 or so agencies that none of the mayors of Dhaka can immediately solve. When the intolerable jam was questioned in the media, both mayors said that traffic was beyond their jurisdiction. When we watch waste piling up in our neighbourhoods, the Dhaka North City Corporation mayor says that there is no place to dump the waste and that lands for transfer stations are in the process of being acquired. Quite interestingly, both the mayors’ manifestos pledged to “coordinate” and solve all the above problems. At this point, perhaps it is relevant to quote Mario Cuomo, the 52nd Governor of New York for three terms, from 1983 to 1994 who, in one of his famous speeches, uttered: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” Perhaps that bit of Cuomo is right and fair and perhaps we ought to give more time to our mayors to realistically do what they need to do in order to fill their half empty glass challenge.

But what is clear is that a lot still remains on their platter as no matter what these two do, the lands, parks, lakes and canals which have been grabbed will perhaps never be completely reclaimed as there are bigger forces working behind them all.  The question of empowering the mayors more may also not happen, ever. We may have to live with half empty glasses all our lives. What happens then? The fact still remains that irrespective of whether the government decides to empower them or not, irrespective of whether they are able to reclaim the grabbed lands, lakes and parks, they will be continuously graded in their daily report cards . . . just because the people of the city have not elected officials of the 54 agencies but we have elected our mayors. Given that there are many challenges within these organisations, the task for them is perhaps much more difficult than what we assume. But no matter what, the remediation must begin.

If powerful people have grabbed lands, parks and lakes, and if nothing can be reclaimed, then these elected representatives must find a way to make these “powerful people” make positive changes in the landscape of the city. Maybe they can atone for their sins by themselves carving out parks, lakes, and public toilets in the places that they themselves have illegally acquired. How about making them compensate this city for all their sins? And how about laying out your complete plan for five years so that the Dhaka city dwellers have an impression of a fuller Dhaka in the next couple of months?

The RMG story is also a tale of half-truths. Very recently, an international news channel shared a story on Shams Styling Wears that supplies to The Children’s Place, a renowned brand sourcing quite a bit from Bangladesh. The story covered how a pair of shorts travels 13,000 miles from Dhaka to Alabama and is sold at $19.95 a pair. The factory, the story claims, is paid something around $4.00 for the same pair. The channel carefully crafts the story of exploitation at both ends and says how the factory, which belongs to the very well reputed Standard Group, gives no days off to the workers (incorrect data) and how the brands are also paying less to their vendors. While the case of the brands paying much less to factories is made in the story, it’s also true that Bangladesh remains most competitive because of inexpensive labour. On the other hand, the ground reality reflects that remediation is on track in this country. In times like this, continuous rehashing of Rana Plaza in media does nothing more than attempt to draw a consumer’s attention to the product’s ethical construction and dampens the moral fabric of the manufacturers of Bangladesh as there are many stories in this sector that could be incentivised and shared with the world.

While in the story, the owner, Mr. Hossain is referred to as claiming to be a grandfatherly figure, in reality he truly is. This report on him pretending to weep and shed tears and wiping them with a “pink tissue”, while sitting next to the honourable Prime Minister when his factory was burnt down, does nothing to Mr. Hossain’s reputation; rather it reflects poorly on an extremely well-reputed electronic media platform that is known for its political correctness. So while the story of exploitation pops up every now and then, what is needed is an international campaign appealing to all brands, media and platforms to consider that in about three years time, most of the RMG units in Bangladesh will be far more compliant and that by supporting our journey, they would only be supporting the causes of the workers in this county.

The journey of a nation must be a holistic one. We must all collectively remember that promises need to be balanced with pragmatic route maps; plans need to be properly conveyed; regrets need to be coupled with hope. After all, perceiving the whole truth in an instant may not be possible, but the journey must begin. Most of us need to be suddenly exposed to the light where the glare blocks our vision. And ultimately, many of us will definitely be looking at real things and reflections in due course.  And then, finally, many of us must also see the real sun, the moon and the stars that complete the picture. This is where Plato’s Republic comes alive and this is where allegory underpins real life.