After the death of the longest-serving monarch of the British Empire, Queen Elizabeth II, at the age of 96, on 8 September last year, many countries irrespective of being a member of Commonwealth or not mourned. Paying respect to a historic figure like the queen is courteous though anyone could question, as many in India did, why countries outside that of the UK would mourn.
Though I could not find out whether all of the Commonwealth states mourned at the death of the Queen, the government of Bangladesh, a member state of Commonwealth, announced a three-day state mourning between 9 and 11 September. Despite the colonial past, the gesture was somewhat acceptable to most of the people, especially considering the global order, and diplomatic and economic relations. India also announced state mourning for a day but the death prompted mostly indifference among its people while some raised questions, in social and mainstream media, of the move in that country. But that was not the case in Bangladesh.
Even amid the 10-day mourning in nowhere else but the UK, and many people queued to pay their respects to the Queen, some people said their feeling towards the queen is not so simple. In a video of an interview of two women by The Guardian, one of the leading newspapers of the UK, one was seen saying, “The Queen, it’s like, I care but I don’t …” When the interviewer asked them to clarify the care part and don’t care part, one of them said, “I care because it’s our queen.” In the middle of her sentence another woman chimed in and said, “Our Queen is a person, who died, like, it’s sad.” Explaining the "don’t care" part, the second woman in the same video said, “She ain’t done nothing for us.” The point is many people from the Queen’s own country were not so interested in the pomp and spectacle with which the death was mourned.
However, though the announcement of the Bangladesh government did not raise many such questions from the people here, some of them asked why the government did not announce state mourning, even for once, when at least 120 people died in two massive “accidents” – 51 deaths in an explosion at a chemical depot in Sitakunda, Chattogram on the night of 4 June last year and 69 deaths in a boat capsizal in Panchagarh on 25 September that year.
The government did honour the memory of the Queen and it’s, to some extent, alright considering the diplomatic, political and economic aspects of the decision. But why did the government not think about the citizens of its own country, about the dignity and value of their life? Otherwise what could be the explanation of not announcing any state mourning for so many deaths?
But these are not the only evidence that the government attaches little value to the people. If we see the statement the foreign minister made in the first week of February last year after some UN bodies had handed a list of the victims of enforced disappearance, it would become clear. He said, “Some UN bodies gave us a list of the disappeared people. It was later found that many of them actually drowned in the Mediterranean.” What type minister would say something like that?
We could brush up our memories and recall another incident that took place at the end of the year. Engineer M Enamul Haque, a former director general of Bangladesh Haor and Wetland Development Board, was slapped by a Krishak League leader, who was attending the national council of ruling Awami League at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka. Enamul Haque was distributing leaflets criticising the government on behalf of his party in the city’s Shahbagh area on 24 December. However, no central leader of the ruling party was heard addressing the issue. Even police did not consider taking action on their own but they took initiative to check mobile phones, a completely personal electronic gadget, of people during 10 December rally and 30 December mass procession of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party in Dhaka. The law enforcement did so assuming the people are going to attend the rally.
Among many other things, maybe, a formal announcement of state mourning would bring everyone’s attention to the incident, would pose questions about the role of the government, its ministries and officials, and would prove the futility of the all tall talks of the authorities. The deaths already do so, whether the government announces state mourning or not, but by not announcing that the government keeps its slate clean in terms of any authoritative statement, in this case absence of it, and it will always have a path open to explain the deaths differently. After all statics is a matter open to all sorts of explanations.
In a nation state, different bodies including the political parties observe different days, both across the country and locally, be it a watershed moment or a not-so-significant events, as those help the organisation maintain solidarity, unity, its identity, and above all its existence in the face threats from within and outside.
This happens in the case of a state too. Citizens across sex, age, religion, ethnicity, political ideologies and any other difference observe some common days, and respect some common images, metaphors and memorials and ascribe meaning to some colours, which forms and enhance their national identity and memory. Through this the state tries to make them faithful to the national flag and a unique identity. Bangladesh is no different from this.
When any organisation including a political party, the government and the state are always in this process of reproducing the fellow-feeling and sense of faithfulness among the people to a set of ideas calling it nationalism, why does it not observe their mass deaths? In other words, why does the government overlook the value and dignity of human life, especially when it is the heart and memory of that human being that the government and the state, and the ruling party try to win always? It seems the people have become the least important element in the current nature of “democratic” practice in Bangladesh.