2012: The year we would much rather forget

Afsan Chowdhury
Published : 1 Jan 2013, 11:03 AM
Updated : 1 Jan 2013, 11:03 AM

The year 2012 has just passed by but we will not look upon it with fondness. Our achievements and good moments are overwhelmed by the tragedies and agonies in our public life. The overriding image sadly is that of a young person being butchered by a group of ruling party activists even as media and the public looked on. It was the defining image of the state of Bangladesh and no matter what happens this is going to be the identity marker of the state of the country in the year of 2012.

Good news of course is that retail corruption has gone down a bit which means the poor are less prone to corruption but as TIB also says, it doesn't make much of an impact as the corruption level of the rich is unaffected.  And it's this type of corruption that ruins a country. In 2012 the rich, as usual, were happy, healthy and safe.

Two major cluster of scandals erupted this year drawing public attention. One, Destiny and Hallmark Group scandals and the other was the Padma Bridge affair. While one is limited to the financial sector, the other affects the entire political structure of Bangladesh.

The Destiny-Hallmark affair showed that public money placed in banks is not safe. Banks — staff and the directors — all seem to think that the money in the till belongs to them and so can be taken at will. The fact that the scammers were able to loot so much and for so long was possible due to cooperation of the bankers with the cheats. But this is a sector without much credibility and 2012 confirmed what everyone had suspected.

The Padma bridge mess began with allegations of corruption which were roundly denied by the authorities. The Government reacted to the suspension of the loan by trying to look for local resources and mobilizing other partners which never took off. Some alleged that the ruling party leaders were forcing people to donate. Barely six months later are several of those named by the World Bank as being part of the corruption conspiracy in custody and several have been suspended though bigwigs continue to be protected. The AL government abused the WB as much as possible but has had to eat a great deal of humble pie. The man who symbolizes corruption in Bangladesh Minister Abul Hossain has lost his job but not the political umbrella that shades him. At least for now.

In this matter what Bangladesh damaged was its own reputation and maybe realized that many in the rest of the world are smarter than we are. While it's easy to fool "bhodai" like us, it may be different with rest of the world particularly international finance institutions. 2012 made us look like international idiots due to the Padma bridge affair.

I will not even discuss Suranjit Sen Gupta's bag of tricks but somehow the whole affair was so ludicrous that it both angered and amazed us. 2012 made us realize that just about anything can happen in Bangladesh and the powerful can get away with it.

It was also a year of murders.

Journalist couple Sagar-Runi was murdered amidst mysterious circumstances and although the then home minister remarked that the killers would be caught in 48 hours, nothing has happened in nearly 48 weeks. Despite the media community's demands, no one has been caught and the universal perception is that for one reason or the other the killers are being protected. The way the government behaved has reduced whatever little credibility it had in this sector.

The Ramu incident was a significant reminder of the high level of administrative incompetence and the equally high level of public intolerance. When land grabbing instincts mix with political clout and mob instigation, we get the Ramu incident where mob attacked Buddhist temples, vandalized and laid them to waste. If it was a shameful sight but it was also an image of reality. Protest against it was high too but the acrimonious environment remains.

To this was added the Rohingya refugee affair when these victims of Myanmar ethnic violence were denied entry by the Bangladesh government on several grounds including that they were close to Islamic extremists. For once, public support for this policy was high and both the people and their government were united in this ethnic and anti-humanitarian policy. In 2012, we asserted that our declared policy of 'humanity for all' was as superficial as one could get.

The Tazreen garments fire that killed over a 100 workers was a reminder that the unregulated and unsupervised garments industry may be bringing millions to Bangladesh but the situation is different for the workers. The way the matter disappeared from the public scene and no significant action was taken shows the reality of power relationship in Bangladesh. It was interesting how the RMG sector mobilized an effective defense of their fellow owner and in the end, only the scars of injustice that is seen on the soil continues in Bangladesh 2012.

The death that deeply affected us the most was that of Bangladesh's most eminent writer Humayun Ahmed who passed away leaving fans washed in grief never seen before. His death was not just that of a writer however eminent but a person who had connected with the soul of Bangladesh. In losing him, so many of us lost our voice and in burying him, we buried a part of ourselves. Rest in Peace Humayun Ahmed. It was the most significant loss in many lives and in some ways united everyone though of course the unseemly family squabble that followed his demise took away some of the shine.

Sadly there were not too many victories and the constant load shedding and utilities rate increase have many people look to the past, way past like to the 16th century rather fondly when electricity was not part of life.  The sea boundary treaty was good news though the political hoopla around it made it a trifle less sober.

But Nishat Mazumder and Wasfia Nazreen brought us cheers the size as big as mountains and the two mountain climbers made us proud beyond all measure. The kind of reaction they got showed how hungry we are for good news and the adulation they received made us happy. You didn't have to belong to either the BNP or the AL to celebrate this victory and that's why it was such significant good news.

To me the greatest happiness was provided as always by cricket. In that very well-lit Dhaka Stadium the Bangladesh cricket team after losing the Test series won the One-Day series 3-2 against the West Indies in a way that drove us nuts in despair and nervousness and anticipation. In the end the Bangla boys prevailed driving everyone to revel in wild celebrations. What a wonderful moment that was and shall always be.  It was the best memory of 2012.

Good bye 2012. Please don't come back again.

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.