An Uncomfortable Centre Stage

 Published in: The Daily Star on October 28, 2015

So, what are you telling your buyers?”- A colleague of mine called me at an ungodly hour past midnight and asked. I couldn’t blame him for the late night call, as he was calling from the U.S where he was facing a microscopic questioning on the status of the security in Bangladesh. His buyers have not travelled and hence the meeting was taking place there. The next morning, another colleague called me and said, “We have to have the same message when we speak to our buyers. Don’t you agree? I mean…we can’t create panic, can we?” To both my colleagues I had a straight answer. I told them both that Bangladesh has never needed any defence and added that we would all tell the brands that it is, has been and will continue to be a safe haven for foreigners and one isolated killing does not demean Bangladesh’s security. We cannot and will not shy away just because some boro bhai (elder brother) somewhere thought killing an innocent Italian national would set Bangladesh off its course. We cannot and will not stay away from telling all our buyers that killers like Bidyut (=Power) Rasel, Kala (=Black) Rasel, and Shooter Rubel do not define Bangladesh. These elements can at the most skip the surveillance of the 32 closed circuit television cameras, explode bombs, kill one, injure scores, but they will never have the satisfaction of being the force behind “destabilising” the country. These incidents are, however, grave testimonials of an unhealthy psyche of deprivation and restlessness that is fast gripping our land.

Right after the day of Eid, in Kazinagar of Sonaimuri, Noakhali, three brothers were hacked to death just because of a controversy around the number of goals scored in a match. On April 13 this year, in Khilkhet, a 16-year-old Nazim was tortured to death by seven to eight people because of being suspected for having stolen a pigeon. Last year, in Mirzapore, Tangail, a deadly report on a man having burnt four members of the same family just because the girl in the family refused to marry him, sends shivers down all our spines. On October 10, 2014, in Jatrabari, a six-month old baby was brutally murdered because of his mother’s infidelity.

There are also reports on the public beating people to death all over the country. On July 5, this year, two men, Miron and Forhad, both rod and cement suppliers, were beaten to death by people in Boalmari on suspicion of being dacoits.  In Aliabad, Faridpur, on February 22, Masum Mridha, an ambulance driver was killed on the same grounds. On June 24, again in Faridpur, in Koijuri upazila, three innocent men, assumed to be robbers, were beaten to death, once again. Countrywide, the percentage of violence is on the rise. According to police sources, incidents of murder and violence are on the rise. In 2011, number of murders was reported to be 3966; in 2012, it was 4,114; in 2013, it was 4,393; and 4,514 in 2014.

There is no denying the fact that the recent incidents of a blast and two murders have, indeed, taken Bangladesh to an uncomfortable centre stage. It’s almost like a dark setting with a single spotlight on the middle. And the whole world is watching. Some from the audience are stoning the crew, some casting aspersions, and some are even springing to its defence. But unfortunately, there is not a single, cohesive narrative that describes the Bangladesh that has spun itself around and has evolved as an economic and a human miracle. While there may be apparent observations on the lack of democratic space in Bangladesh, while there may be apparent suspicion around governance, there is a definite and an acute lack of telling a complete story of the millions of secular souls who stand up for the spirit of 1971.

People who commit these crimes may not be reading English dailies. Many columns in English may just be for the eyes of the policymakers and the civil society. But the trends and the stories must continue being narrated. We can’t just close our eyes and pretend that there is no violence, no extremism, no militancy, but the truth is that instead of outright ruling these all out, it would perhaps be better if we narrate our own stories with transparency so that the next time around, whatever we say or uphold will be deemed as credible.

Last week in London, way before I knew about another embassy updating its alert, a buyer had pointed the same to me and said: “It’s unfortunate. I have myself lived through most of the 22 years of Civil War in Sri Lanka and I was never scared.” But what he meant was in spite of a full-on war, the element of panic was missing there, while in our case, it’s just the opposite. The fear button is instantly triggered in our case. What Bangladesh has done to deserve this, is another political consideration. Buyers may cancel trips this season, the orders may get placed elsewhere this time around, but at the end of it all, Bangladesh will win its share back the very next season. After all, Bangladesh has been and always been a case of an eternal phoenix and nothing is ever lost in this land.