‘My critic, my enemy’

Mohiuddin Ahmad | Update:

Prothom Alo illustrationBack in the days when we would read love stories, there were so many tales of love at first sight, secret letters, the pangs of rejection. We would hear of suicide due to unrequited love or betrayal. Perhaps all that drama still happens.

The word ‘rejection’ is cropping up again nowadays, albeit in a different context. Recently there have been two particular areas of rejection. Both are rejections of reports by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB). One was about the fall in wages of readymade garment industry workers. The apex body of readymade garment manufacturers and exporters BGMEA rejected the report, insisting that the workers’ wages had increased, not decreased.

The second rejection came from WASA, the authority in charge of water and sewerage. It rejected the TIB report which highlighted the polluted water being supplied to the public. The WASA managing director immediately asserted that the water was a hundred per cent pure. Later he retracted and said that it as pure at source, but got contaminated in the supply pipelines. The question remains, whose pipes are these? Who installs the pipes? And how has he been the MD of WASA for so long? What backing does he have?

As far as I know, TIB doesn’t deal with the corruption of individuals, but with that of institutions. Their research and data reveals where corruption is taking place and how. Sometimes it is the education sector that tops their corruption list, sometimes it is the police department and sometimes it is the health sector. And the concerned institutions reject the reports in no time at all.

The world over, civil society groups act as watchdogs or pressure groups. The countries with strong groups of this ilk, advance ahead further. In our country, government bodies never ever admit that they err. Take for instance, 21 February 1952 when police opened fire on demonstrators and lives were lost. The authorities then issued a press note. The authors of the press note have probably passed away long ago, but today we see press note written in almost an identical manner. The police first used batons to bring the unruly crowds under control, failing which they resorted to tear gas. Finally, in self defence, they had no alternative but to open fire. Such press notes are all too common.

A few years ago one of our ministers imported wheat from Brazil for us. Critics claimed that the wheat was rotten. The minister rejected the claims outright. He remained minister till the end of the term.

Not too long ago there was a devastating fire in Churihatta of Chawkbazar in the old town. It was learnt that all sorts of spurious substances were made in the areas, but our government is business-friendly. Investigations began, but then the industries minister came up with the statement that the fire actually came from the explosion of a gas cylinder by the roadside. Later it was learnt the fire began in the second storey of a building there. No one accused the businessmen of intentionally starting the fire. It was said that the fire spread rapidly because of the chemicals stored in the warehouses of the locality. The question raised was, why are inflammable chemicals being stored in such heavily populated congested areas? The industries minister had no need to get involved in the matter.

Our rulers cannot accept criticism. That is nothing new. Back in the days of Pakistan rule, the country’s first prime minister Liaqat Ali Khan had said he would chop off the heads of the critics. The language is a bit changed now. Initially it would be said that such criticism would not be tolerated. Now it is downright ‘rejected’.

Those who work in the media fear that there is no longer scope for investigative journalism. Yet they are duty bound to reveal the facts. There is social demand for the truth. We see errors, discrepancies and crimes around us every day. We see criminals strutting around freely. We want people to know this, we want to mobilise public awareness. It is the task of the media to provide the people with the facts. They must do so with professionalism. But they are obstructed. The government intervenes everywhere.

A few years ago, Professor Rehman Sobhan wrote some columns. One of the titles was, ‘My critic, my friend.’ But actually the authorities see things opposite – ‘My critic, my enemy’. In fact, persons within the government have even made distasteful remarks about a personality like Rehman Sobhan. They may have forgotten, or perhaps do not even know, that it was Rehman Sobhan would added the ‘people’ in the name ‘People’s Republic of Bangladesh’. That was back in the first week of April 1971. Out leaders hardly bother about such matters.

Media isn’t there to please the government. If that was so, then the party newspapers would be the most popular. But even the party people don’t read the party newspapers. Bangla Bani has closed down. Dinkal limps along. The newspersons of such government mouthpieces do not receive wages for months on end. The readers hardly glance at the government-sponsored supplements in the newspapers. These are mere self-promotional advertisements and how many people bother to read adverts? How long can one last going against the tide of what the people want to know, want to read?

At the behest of the information minister of erstwhile Pakistan, Altaf Gowher, the country’s ‘ironman’ president Ayub Khan commemorated a ‘decade of democracy, 1958-68’. Within three months of all the fanfare, he had to step down from power. But even then there was no dearth of conniving Chanakyas with their abundance of advice. I read in Kamruddin Ahmed’s book, “Those who are in politics, create history. They do not read history and so do not take any lessons from history.” The question is, how many politicians or decisions-makers have even heard the name of Kamruddin Ahmed or have read his writings?

* Mohiuddin Ahmad is a writer and researcher and can be reached at mohi2005@gmail.com. This piece appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir

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