They work hard but their fates remain unchanged. They catch fish the whole night, struggling on the choppy waves of Padma, but they don’t get a fair price for the fish in the morning—that's the saga of these fishermen.
To describe these fishermen's unbearable agonies, Manik Bandopadhyay penned in his novel 'The Boatman of River Padma' that the 'god' lives in civilised society, you will not find him here. That is a scenario quite similar to contemporary Bangladesh.
There is a section of people in the country, the bourgeoisie, who have assets in the 'civilised' realms of Canada, Dubai, Malaysia, Singapore and UK. They are becoming richer by the day, while another section, the proletariat, works relentlessly on the field, but fortune betrays them time and again. They drift in flood water, they run after the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) trucks to buy essential commodities at fair prices and they take to the streets in demand of their wages and bonuses.
Since the bourgeoisie lead a lavish life in 'civilised' societies under 'divine blessings', they have no idea about what is happening here at the grassroots. Instead of helping the poor survive, they push them to the verge of extinction, adopting some unjust, unrealistic measures--a kind of game for bourgeoisie.
As the bourgeoisie possess a hefty amount of money, they can 'purify' their sins with a little of that they earned by illicit means. Let's look into the veracity of these claims.
Amnesty for money launderers
There is nothing for the middle class in the proposed budget for fiscal 2022-2023, but there is everything for the elite class and for the money launderers.
For the first time in the country’s history, unscrupulous people who siphoned money out of the country are getting amnesty as the government has allowed them to whiten their black money by paying 7.5 per cent tax.
Our finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said, if they pay the fixed portion of money to the government, they will not be questioned and no action would be taken against them by any law of the country.
People from all social strata censured the government and its finance minister for such a 'suicidal' move, saying it will definitely discourage the honest taxpayers and would facilitate money laundering in the future. Even the economists said it will not be useful for the nation, citing past experiences, while Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) termed the scope unacceptable politically, economically and ethically.
Despite the hue cry, the minister didn’t budge from his stance. He said he will do what he says. He has never returned halfway.
But the minister should have identified the launderers and then questioned them as to why they siphoned off money abroad or proposed an act to stop laundering money in the future.
The minister didn't do any such thing. This gives a message to the launderers, that you are allowed to launder money abroad and I’m here to grant you the amnesty! What an amnesty that is!
Highest growth in Swiss banks in South Asia
When the country is experiencing the highest inflation in 8 years, at 7.42 per cent, when the forex reserve is decreasing month-to-month, when the government is taking initiatives to reduce the expenditures in almost all sectors, then we heard the ‘good news’ of the country’s bourgeoisie's deposits in 2021 in various Swiss banks hitting a record high in the past two decades.
At the end of 2021, the total amount of money deposited in the Swiss banks stood at 871.1 million Swiss francs (87 crore 11 lakh Swiss francs). Given the exchange rate of Tk 95 per Swiss franc, this amount stands at around Tk 82.76 billion (Tk 8,276 crore) in local currency.
So should we chant 'Bravo'! Long live the bourgeoisie! Long live your misdeeds! Long live the government amnesty granted to you!
We all read a story when we were in school, about boys playing by a pond who noticed frogs in the water and began to throw rocks at them. They killed several, whereupon one of the frogs cried out: "Please stop. What is sport to you is death to us!"
We all remember the story but the authorities do not. Let's see some instances.
Foreign minister's unrealistic proposal
Recently, the country’s foreign minister Abdul Momen came up with a proposal attending a discussion in the parliament over the proposed budget 2022-2023. The minister proposed to make the submission of tax returns mandatory for all national identification (NID) card holders, which the economists termed unrealistic and illogical.
According to the law, those who have income over Tk 300,000 yearly, have to pay tax. Why will the people pay tax with income less than that? Apart from this, the country has nearly 120 million NID card holders.
If the foreign minister's proposal takes effect, they all have to collect the Tax Identification Number (TIN) from the National Board of Revenue (NBR). Then all have to submit the tax return at the end of the year.
The economists said the existing administration doesn't have the capacity to deal with the bulk of taxpayers’ data. So, isn't this playing with lives, when the common people are struggling to manage their daily meals due to the inflation?
Flat owners are black money holders: Finance minister
On 15 June, the finance minister termed the people who have flats and lands in Dhaka 'black money holders' for not disclosing the actual costs of their assets [flats and lands] while selling and purchasing.
When the newsmen asked him about granting amnesty to the money launderers, he came up with this claim. Is it true? Absolutely not…
Because there must be some flat and landowners who show the exact prices of their assets while selling and purchasing. Nobody expects such a generalised comment from the finance minister. But the question is why is he making such a comment? Is he trying to legalise the amnesty granted to the launderers? If so, it is a game to kill the poor.
Relief from sky
It was disheartening to see on the television on Monday (20 June) that a group of people in flood-affected Sunamganj was rushing to catch the sacks of relief thrown from the helicopter. The very next day (21 June), I saw the news that a person died and eight were injured after being hit by the sack falling from above--what an uncivilised way of distribution!
Can it be a right way to feed the people who have been starving for several days marooning in flood water? Or was this to game with them. Definitely, it was a game. We forget that they are human beings battered by floods which is the reason why we throw foods at them from the sky like we do in the zoo while feeding caged animals.
If the dignity of human beings is valued minimally, the government cannot extent its helping hand in such a way. Was it difficult to hand over the relief to them in queues on the ground or using boats?
They also should have thought whether the approach [throwing from helicopter] would ensure equal distribution among the flood affected people. Because when you throw a bag to the ground from the sky, then there will be some people who would collect more than one using their physical strength while there will be some elderly who receive nothing—but the massive flood hit all of them equally. They all are proletariat, they all are sufferers.
Surely these claims have now been proved true.
NH Sajjad is a sub-editor of Prothom Alo. He can be reached via [email protected]