Where the phoenix isn’t a fantasy

Ayesha Kabir | Update:

We’ve hit rock bottom in the past, not once, not twice, but a multiple times over and we’ve always managed to bounce back! Call it resilience, call it spunk, or call it karma, nothing keeps us down. The days of Basanti have gone, along with the haunting spectre of famine. The people have propelled the nation forward, first inch by inch, and then in leaps and bounds, armed with perseverance, diligence, courage and confidence, and, above all, the all-encompassing spirit of hope.

As we enter a brand new year and look back over the one that is about to slip away, the picture certainly is not a rosy one. No, 2016 jolted us with a shock of harsh reality. The brutal attack on the Holey Artisan café is not something that will be forgotten any time soon. In a country so proud of its communal harmony, moderation and tolerance, the vicious militants swooped down in a mindless massacre, leaving behind blood, death, gore and a nation reeling in pain, shock and anger. The nation was shattered. This was not Bangladesh. But was all hope lost? Were we to give in to fear? No.
Like a phoenix from the proverbial ashes, Faraaz Ayaz Hossain rose up in courage, loyalty and fearlessness, defying the cruelty of the inhuman assassins. He stood up for his friends. But it was more than that. He stood up for all that is human. He left us standing tall and proud instead of cowering in fear of the evil forces.
It is this staunch spirit that has enabled us to survive the storms, literal and figurative, down the decades. Whether it is due to the successive governments, or in spite of them, Bangladesh has been on an upward curve in so many socio-economic sectors. We have not emerged from the poverty cycle completely, but we have come a long way.
Food is field where we have made great strides. Our farmers have replaced famine with food autarky. Not to be complacent, malnutrition and stunted growth are still areas of serious concern. There is still a long way to go before we can pat ourselves on our backs.
Exports have soared to exponential heights, thanks to the predominantly women workforce who toil ceaselessly in the readymade garment factories. Their skill and labour coupled with the acumen of the industrialists have raked in foreign currency in no insignificant terms. On the flip side, bureaucratic bungling and infrastructural deficiencies have stymied the inflow of foreign investment. Industries from other countries of the region had begun to relocate to Bangladesh for various reasons, including the obvious low labour costs. But political instability, corruption and the fear of militancy put an end to that. An outflow of capital replaced the influx of investment. The issue needs urgent redress.
Corruption, unfortunately, has become part and parcel of national life. It is omnipresent, infiltrating the top echelons of power to the lowest rung. The problem lies in resigned acceptance of corruption by all of us. It is only when the authorities say enough is enough and deal with corruption mercilessly, that things can change. It will be difficult, because the taste of money is hard to resist. But until zero-tolerance against corruption is translated from rhetoric into tangible action, the curse of corruption will persist.
Education is the backbone of a nation. Clichéd it may sound, but it cannot be truer. This is our Achilles heel, the weakest point in our national makeup. We see brilliant results being churned out year after year at the school-leaving exams, successful students displaying V-signs in the media and proud parents stuffing sweets into each other’s mouths. However, it’s all about quantity, nothing about quality. Critics say that the authorities in the education sector want to see flying colours in the exams as a reflection of their job well done, and so the colours fly high. But when it comes to ground reality, when it comes to applying for jobs or seeking higher education, the true colours are exposed. These hapless young ones have been duped by the system. They have learnt nothing. They are unprepared. That may sound harsh and unfair, but they have been dealt a harsh and unfair deal. In this age of globalization, instead of meeting the challenges with our own skills and efficacy, why do we have to hire foreign nationals for expertise and fire our own ones for inadequacy? It’s all about education.
Health is a sector Bangladesh can be proud of, despite the glaring deficiencies in the system. Given the South Asian context, we have done well. Immunisation is exemplary as has been reproductive health services. Maternal mortality has been brought down significantly. Healthcare at the grassroots is doing relatively well, thanks to the efforts of the government and the NGOs alike. There still is a lot to be done. Children still suffer from malnutrition and stunted growth. Integrated health programmes need to be upped to meet the demands of the day.
Infrastructure is vital to development and Bangladesh has made strides, or rather is still making strides. Unless this sector is given the priority it demands, desired development can never be achieved. This calls for long-term sustainable projects, including elevated highways, flyovers, inter-district roads and highways, urban and rural infrastructure development, bridges, multipurpose structures and more. Padma Bridge, all said and done, stands as a symbol of Bangladesh’s will and determination in infrastructure development. Maybe it has been embroiled in politics, corruption controversies and other factors, but this can be taken as evidence that we can do it. Let’s not stop at Padma Bridge, but span the many chasms that need to be crossed with belief in ourselves.
Actually, the list of what we have achieved and what we need to achieve can go on forever, but the bottom line is good governance. Without good governance, we can never even reach a fraction of our potential. With good governance in place, miracles become reality.
So as we enter the New Year, we are imbibed with the spirit of hope. We have a whole new generation before us that serves as inspiration. We have Faraaz in our hearts, Mustafiz at the crease, Mabia with the gold and the Kalsindur girls bending it like no one’s business! Bangladesh is where the phoenix isn’t a fantasy.

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