Every Shab-e-Barat, I used to hear my dad say, "Oh! It's going to be the same old wine in a new bottle. So while you pray, even if you are faintly happy with what you have experienced last year, just put your palms together and say: Ditto. Amen." I followed his advice for many years. It was never more than 'ditto'. But while I grew wiser, I added: ditto and "more."
Now this "more" caused all the problems. I grew greedy with time. We all grow greedy while we age and get wiser. We want to read all the best news, the best achievements, the best pictures, the best stats, the best offers all splashed over the newspapers and the online sites. And every year God seems to be turning blinder when he looks at our clasped hands in prayer. Maybe we just ask for too much; maybe we just want more without working hard enough; maybe we just need to appreciate what has been and what has not been. Let's put our 3D lenses and begin dissecting…
The Kathaler Amshotto Episode:
The country saw an amendment to the constitution this year. The amendment was sort of a "Kathaler Amshotto." Till the 15th Amendment came through, amshottos were always made of aam (mangoes). On the 30th of June, 2011, the Bangladesh Parliament amended the Constitution, scrapping the caretaker government system for holding polls, restoring secularism yet retaining Islam as the state religion and truly stamped the Constitution as a rare combination of jackfruit (Kathal) and mango (aam).
The constitution also re-instated a few principles, which were deleted by military rulers, declared Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: the Father of The Nation, and banned terrorism and militancy. The Bill catered to secularism yet held on to Islam and was passed with a majority of 291-1 for the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling alliance.
The cheapest price tag:
Bangladesh happens to be one place where the price tag of human beings perennially keeps on dipping to new lows. On July 11, Bangladesh witnessed the worst tragedy with 44 school children dead after their vehicle crashed into a pond in Chittagong district, as 60 boys were returning in an open truck when it skidded and fell into the pond.
On August 13, the country watched another tragedy unfold while filmmaker Tareque Masud, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ATN News Ashfaque Munier and three others were killed when a passenger bus hit their microbus on the Dhaka-Aricha highway in Ghior upazila of Manikganj.
Mid-November, we had a hero amongst us. On the 11th of November, Farzana Yasmin, an insurance company executive, divorced her newly-wed husband during their reception celebration when Farzana's in-laws demanded a TV set, refrigerator, motorbike and a few more things as 'gifts' from the bride's family in presence of the guests.
Another achiever, Wasfia Nazreen, a young development activist quit her job and decided to climb the seven highest mountains of the world's seven continents.
Stats don't lie:
A timeline of Bangladesh is listed in a website detailing 2011. Just out of curiosity, I pressed the 'ctrl' F key and searched for the key word. In that site, Nizami popped up for 15 times, Justice for 4, RAB had 68 mentions, Army had only 4, Detained had 27, Sheikh Hasina: 28, Militancy: 6, Terrorism 29, and Governance had none. Even statistics can help an objective assessment…
Quite objectively, one could say that the government has done a decent job with militancy. The year began with the arrest of four women militants of Hizb-ut-Towhid in Panchagarh District while they were distributing Islamist books and leaflets. In January itself, nine cadres belonging to Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), including two students of Dhaka University (DU), were arrested in Dhaka. By Jan 20th, six militants belonging to the HuT were arrested by the RAB at Jhigatola area of Dhaka. March saw more arrests starting with eight Hizb-ut Tawhid cadres being arrested along with Jihadi books and leaflets.
In 2011, the government was limping with ICT with arrested leaders like Salauddin Quader Chowdhury threatening to exact revenge on the investigators; by May, investigators handed over to the prosecution team the final report on the allegations against detained JeI 'chief' Delawar Hossain Sayedee in connection with committing crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War and …the war goes on with the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina telling Parliament, "Permanent and qualitative change will come by in the country's law and order if the war crimes trial ends."
The Elephant Episode:
2011 also had visits from foreign dignitaries marking the bilateral relationships of Bangladesh. The Indian Premier, Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh left the mark of the year in the minds of the Bangladeshis. I remember an old story I used to hear years ago. Apparently an entire village was evacuated as the villagers told each other that a particular elephant was going to release intestinal gases on a particular day. The villagers fled in fear while only one dared to stay back to witness the unique experience. The next day, the villagers all returned to ask the brave one about what had actually taken place. The brave one innocently replicated and hissed instead.
Manmohan's most talked about visit may aptly be compared to the elephant incident. The Teesta Treaty fell apart (thanks to Mamata Banerjee) but on September 6th, India and Bangladesh did sign an agreement on the demarcation of the entire land boundary between the two countries resolving the status of 162 adversely held enclaves.
Only in November:
The human rights organization, Odhikar has published a report documenting human rights abuses throughout the month of November where 15 deaths relating to political violence are listed along with the figure of the injured standing at 759. The most discussed murder was that of Lokman Hossain, the mayor of Narshingdi municipality, who was shot dead by a gang on November 1st.
In November, 11 meetings and assemblies were stopped by imposing section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure…all within the month of November, seriously violating Article 28 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly.
In November alone, three Bangladeshi citizens were allegedly killed, five injured and two abducted by India's Border Security Force (BSF), while seven were victim of extra-judicial killings, with eight falling 'ill' and finally dying in jails, 20 dying by public lynching, 14 journalists being injured, three threatened and 10 attacked, 41 women raped, 31 teenage girls and women being sexually harassed, with one victim committing suicide later, 32 women being subjected to dowry related violence, and two women being victims of acid attack.
In less than a month from now, in January, we will once again remember Felani, the 15-year-old girl who was killed by BSF. Hopefully 2012 will not have any unpleasant repeats; hopefully, Bangladesh in 2012 will not be subjected to convenient compromises; hopefully, as a nation, we will be stepping into our 41st, with the lines in our palms looking straighter, our fists closed in strength, negotiating with passion and winning with faith.
Cheers, Bangladesh 2012!
Rubana Huq, Managing Director, Mohammadi Group