The 11th day of Boishakh

 Published in: The Daily Star on April 14, 2014
The 11th day of Boishakh

Dates maybe inconsequential, but events are not. One looks forward to happy, unexpected bends on the roads to change one’s life. Some of these bends end up being gratifying, some lead to disaster that ends up being too costly for comfort.
If you want to sip a cup of great coffee at North End in Bissho Road, you would have to wait patiently for a long time to take a right turn and eventually by the time you arrive at that place, you may be dead and drained from the slow commute and your great cup of coffee may just end up being a “was-it-worth-it” moment. For many in this country, we have been sipping great drinks after having traveled long distances. These distances cover our struggle for freedom, justice, and survival. Many within us have traveled distances to achieve these and many within us have also just uprooted fences to create short cuts. Not all turns are favourable and not all are disappointing. In 1420 (BS), unfortunately, we have had unexpected events that call for serious reflection and remedy.
In our very own country, some have earned democracy and some have just faked it; some have earned a living and some hijacked it; some earned identity and some assumed one. But at the end of it all, through all the long rides and short cuts, we have in reality, earned a free country, aspiring for an unquestionable democracy, credible economy and a gratifying culture. Have we achieved this so far? How is Bangladesh being perceived now?
One needs to resort to memory, logic and endorsements while analysing perceptions. How does one know that one knows? How does one form perception? If memory is a tool, then one must admit that it has prompted knowledge, and if human beings perceive and infer based on memory, then memory-cognition must be recognised as relevant in providing basis to the perceptions. If memory does form perception then, indeed, we do need to examine a particular perception that came into existence in the Bangla year 1420 that will be plaguing this country for a long time and which will not be forgiven by memory for the longest time possible.
One such perception of the nation is based on our latest memory of a big chunk of it being filled up with the collapse of Rana Plaza. Will the Bangla Noboborsho 1421 be able to change that reality? How can this nation come together and change that negative perception? With April 14, Pohela Boishakh, we may be dreaming of turning a new leaf, but in order to do so, how can the blood stains on the page be remembered with a positive pain? Only ten days after we celebrate the first day of Bangla New Year, the nation will come together to mourn the loss of the 1,129 lives lost under the rubble of Rana Plaza.
While we send corporate gifts to one another, while we wear our reds and bangles, let us also come together as a nation and pause for a bit to think that all this could have been collectively spent on paying the compensation for the Rana Plaza victims.
If the entire nation can come together and sing our National Anthem and make it to the Guinness Book of Records, then why shouldn’t we be able to build a collective national fund and pay tribute to the fallen? With less than 10 days from the first year anniversary of Rana Plaza collapse, perhaps the government can urge the citizens to raise a record level of donations for contribution to the fund for those who succumbed to the tragic collapse on April 24.
The World Bank’s Bangladesh Development Update begins with the most positive and promising paragraph. (And let us not question the concept of ‘endorsement’ please as we do need reports to validate our reality.) It says that the target of reducing extreme poverty to 22.5% by 2015 is closer now as Bangladesh has sustained “healthy” GDP growth; it also commends the country for having a “sound macroeconomic management;” praises the country for having maintained “an adequate level” of official foreign exchange reserves; states that the monetary policy has “remained prudent;” and then finally moves on to analyse how political “turmoil” of 85 days of hartals has cost us a value added loss of $1.4 billion.  And yet, in spite of all that, RMG has grown by 17.7% in the first seven months. It also says: “Managing the transition in garments will be critical.”
Indeed, it will be. Managing the safety standards is only one side of the game. Managing the perception of the world audience is a much larger part. While in the last one year the industry has seen a lot of revisions and has experienced worthy local and international initiatives to strengthen the sector, a lot still remains to be one in terms of managing our image. Whether or not anyone believes it, trust me, Aminul Islam is not going to be a lame memory. Trust me, the replay of Rana Plaza footage after ten days will not be easy for the nation to handle.
No matter how many criterion we may fulfill in terms of compliance, the nagging and unsettled issue of Aminul Islam will be on the US’s GSP list that will ultimately impact their GSP decision. The time to come clean is now. Instead of committee reports to represent a formal response, the sincerity of the government must surface through a cleaner investigation, which may implicate much bigger players and agencies in the process. But so be it. This is the time to tell the world that Bangladesh is truly trying to be the becoming the world’s biggest apparel hub through meaningful engagements in best practices of justice, law and conscience.
The time to set things right is now. The time to see things as they are is now. If we fail to tell the difference between a snake and a rope, then the fault lies with our defective sense organ. Whatever we do on the 10th day of the Noboborsho, we can’t change the ‘truth’ even if we think it is hybrid. Ironically, the world perception on the first year anniversary of Rana Plaza will be negatively heightened. And we can’t afford to play the 1641 Cartesian “evil demon” anymore, where the “evil demon” is none other than a personification of someone who is “as clever and deceitful as he is powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleading” people.  While the “evil demons” play a very tricky part by stimulating several people’s brains with multiple electrodes and engage in the process so perfectly so that the victims experience a grand dinner while no food is actually laid on the dining table, there may be greater post performance dangers involved in the process.
On the first day of the Noboborsho, we certainly don’t want evil demons and we don’t need magic or illusion based on which the world audience is expected to become naïve realists. 1,129 have died and many are missing. We certainly don’t need short cuts at this point of time. We need to take one long hard look at the road, which challenges our transparency, integrity and intent. Celebration of Noboborsho will not place us in the global map, but unfortunately April 24, the 11th day of Boishakh will.

The writer is Managing Director, Mohammadi Group.

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