Development pales outside of Dhaka

Matishagor area of Zajira on Dhaka-Shariatpur road.Satyajit Ghosh

The people to whom simply ‘Dhaka is Bangladesh’, have a very different perception of politics, economy and society than the people living outside of Dhaka. If any incident occurs in Dhaka, we create a hue and cry over the matter, stir up a storm in the newspapers or the TV talk shows, but the people in the villages hardly give a damn. They do not believe a word of the rehearsed rhetoric of the leaders in the capital city. Even the loud noise being made for the elections resonates feebly for them.

This Saturday I had gone on some family errand to a remote village in Damuda of Shariatpur. This was the area of the once powerful leader of Awami League, Abdur Razzak. His son Nahim Razzak is now the member of parliament from that constituency. After crossing Padma Bridge, the expressway goes straight up till Bhanga in Faridpur. Then to the left, the narrow road stretches 27km to reach Shariatpur. It is like a shadow on one side of the bright expressway. It is difficult for two cars to pass each other on this rut-ridden road. After proceeding for some time, we had to halt. Several cars had stopped ahead. We learnt that a truck has fallen on the side of the road at night and attempts were being made to retrieve it. Some local youth advised us to take a detour by Ganganagar and we proceeded accordingly.

The difference between the two neighbouring districts is glaring. The roads in Madaripur are almost gleaming. The roads in Shariatpur are in a pitiful state

At a restaurant near the Shariatpur bus terminal, I sat chatting with some locals over a cup of tea. I raised the issue of the electricity crisis. They said, we are as far from development as we are from the capital city. The hike in fuel prices and load shedding has hit us hard. In the town, there is three to four hours of load shedding every day. It is even worse in the villages.

On either side of the road en route Shariatpur, jute was hung up to dry. Jute grows in abundance in all the districts of greater Faridpur. The local cultivators said they had received a good price for their jute the last two years and the crop had been good too. They grow three crops on their land. They grow jute when there is water in the fields. After jute is harvested, they grow rice. After the rice is harvested, in winter they grow vegetables.

I also got to speak to a grassroots leader of Awami League there. He had even contested once in the union parishad election. I asked him, how is the party doing? He replied, Awami League has two groups here. Nahim Razzak is leading one group and the other group is headed by Parveen Huq Sikder, MP of the reserved seat. They even observed the 15 August mourning day separately.

And everyone is aware of the division in Awami League in the neighbouring district Madaripur. There is Shahjahan Khan on one side and Bahauddin Nasim on the other. Now it is apparent that even in Shariatpur the party is not free of rifts. Most of the families there have members who are migrant workers, working overseas. If one goes overseas, he arranges to take any relation too. Nowadays they are even trying to go to America and Europe.

When asked about the state of affairs in Shariatpur, another journalist said that after prime minister Sheikh Hasina, the second person from greater Faridpur in the cabinet is Enamul Huq Shameem of Shariatpur. Yet Shariatpur remains as neglected as always.

The difference between the two neighbouring districts is glaring. The roads in Madaripur are almost gleaming. The roads in Shariatpur are in a pitiful state. I noticed another thing along the way. The local Awami League leaders had put up signs and posters of themselves, their fathers and grandfathers. They were all actively establishing their names in history. What they don’t seem to realise is that one doesn’t need to engrave one’s name in stone to win a place in the people’s hearts.

My co-traveller had already told me he would visit Bangabandhu’s mausoleum at Tungipara on the way back. I called the Prothom Alo Gopalganj Bandhushava president and editor of Kashbon, Mintu Huq. He said we could reach Gopalganj from Shariatpur via Madaripur within two hours. But it began to rain heavily just as we headed out and it was seven in the evening by the time we reached. We arrived at the Gopalganj club after seven only to be informed there had been no water at the club for the past five days. Load shedding, though, was less there than in Shariatpur and Madaripur.

The people with whom I interacted along the way, do not spare much thought to national politics or the election. They are more concerned about their own lives and livelihood. They are concerned about the future of their children. They want to know how much more they will have to spend to sow rice this year, whether this will be covered by the price they receive for their crops. They want to know if they will be able to run the family with the money sent by their sons working overseas.

Mintu Huq had already cautioned us against travelling to Dhaka late Thursday night. There’s a huge traffic jam caused by trucks Thursday night on the Dhaka-Mawa highway. But we had no alternative and started off at nine in the night from Gopalganj. It is 151 km from Gopalganj to Dhaka, which should take around two and a half hours. Even if we estimated it would take three hours at night, we should reach Dhaka by 11pm. But it took us a full five hours. We fell into the jam of trucks at Abdullahpur. It was terrible after crossing the Buriganga bridge. Hundreds or cars and trucks all stood at a standstill. At midnight we were on Hanif flyover and reached Gulistan at one. It is hard to guess how long it took those who did not use the flyover and used the road below.

The further we move away from Dhaka, development pales.

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet.

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir