Hefazat activists allegedly set fire at Sur Samrat Alauddin Sangitangan in Brahmanbaria during the 28 March hartal.
Hefazat activists allegedly set fire at Sur Samrat Alauddin Sangitangan in Brahmanbaria during the 28 March hartal. Prothom Alo

Over the past two weeks or so, so many things turned topsy-turvy in the country. Of course there was no major upheaval. It was a big upheaval that took place in the African nation Niger. Mohamed Bazoum won the ‘election’ there and on 2 April was sworn in as the country’s head of state. In 1960, Niger gained independence from being a French colony. And now 60 years hence, for the first time power has changed hands through an election. A few days before the swearing-in, gunshots had been fired at the president’s official residence. That’s almost norm of power changing hands there. So the peaceful change of power through an election and oath-taking was certainly an ‘upheaval’ for the country.

Back to the topsy-turvy factor. On 17 March the celebrations of Bangabandhu’s birth centennial and the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence began with due festivity. And on 26 March we were awed and floored by the messages from great heads of state and government of so many important countries of the world. Our ambassadors to those countries did well. Other than Pakistan, the heads of state and government of all countries of South Asia turned up at the events. We were pleased. After all, over the past five or six years we haven’t had such high ranking guests. The celebrations were going well. But the programmes were becoming rather monotonous. But on the last day, Narendra Modi’s presence ushered in expected and unexpected sensational events.

Of course, these sensational events were certainly not a part of the organisers’ plans. They surely had not taken the presence and programmes of the left-wingers and Hefazat into cognizance. The celebratory event had been possibly organised solely by the government and ruling party people. There were restrictions because of corona and so that is why no one outside of the government could be included in the event. The singers, musicians, guests, participants, audience, speakers were all of the same camp. A massive part of the entire nation remained outside of the celebrations. But things turned topsy-turvy when the leftists and Hefazat tried to obstruct the event. The police and ruling party men just made matters worse by tackling the matter in a manner as they are prone to do.

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Yet again we saw the frenzy of Hefazat, particularly in Brahmanbaria. The government must understand that things that are important to us, like books, music, government offices, the railway, are not at all important to them. In fact, that which is dear and valuable to us, is completely destructible to them.

The turmoil reached such a height that the police saw fit to file 43 cases against 20,000 people. Clearly the police’s views have no similarity to what we perceive as criminal code or our perception of the objectives of law. In a democratic country if the police file a criminal case against 10 persons and 7 of these are acquitted in the trial, the police’s jobs will be at risk for subjecting seven innocent citizens to the harassment of legal rigmarole. But in our country, many of those involved in the criminal system of justice, particularly those of government, have quite a contrary view. The more people you can harass with cases and trials, the better. So many things are turning topsy-turvy.

And it is spreading from the country outside too. Along with seven other countries, the defence attaché of our country attended a grand event of the Myanmar military, the force so extremely dedicated to the country. We were so eager to prove at this juncture how close the great army of Myanmar is to us. Over the past two months this great army of Myanmar killed over 500 citizens of that country, including at least 40 children. We are erecting barbed wire fencing along our border with Myanmar and that is why this week hundreds of oppressed people of Myanmar are fleeing to Thailand this week.

Bangladesh voted against UN investigations into Sri Lanka’s war crimes. India and Nepal abstained from voting, but Bangladesh joined hands with Pakistan, voting in favour of the Sri Lankan government. Former foreign secretary Touhid Hossain on 31 March wrote an excellent column on ‘two strange diplomatic moves of Bangladesh.’ The very next day the home minister’s statement, possibly in reaction to Touhid Hossain’s column, was also rather haphazard. Actually, there are things that just can’t be covered up.

The government helplessly has extended the closure of educational institutions. This is not anything haphazard, but the government seems oblivious to the long-term upset in the education system. Over the past few months the education ministers has made a very few appearances on the television news, speaking a bit about exams, admission tests, opening and closing of halls and hostels, etc. Other than during the Liberation War, our educational institutions have never been closed for so long. Students have never stayed away from schools, colleges and universities for so long. The teachers are in an equally pitiful plight. Many private educational institutions have closed down. There are no visible signs of any discussion or planning about how to make up for these losses and assuage this unprecedented and grave problem. Are the government and those involved in the education system unable to grasp the gravity of the situation?

I have been teaching at the university level on and off for 40 years now. Now if you hand a book to a Masters student and ask them to guess how many pages it has, unfortunately most of them will respond with a blank stare.

The education system is seriously in a topsy-turvy state.

All cricket-loving readers are well aware of the results of the Bangladesh-New Zealand cricket series and T20 results. Our cricket is all awry too. The number of Covid cases has crossed 5000, 6000, 7000 and will probably be hitting 8000, 9000 and even 10,000 in the days ahead. Hospitals are bursting at the seams. People are not following the health and hygiene guidelines. The reasons is obvious – the people have no confidence or belief in what the government says. We all know why they lack this confidence and belief, but not of us say anything other than in oblique hints.

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The prices of essentials are going up. Feasting goes up too in Ramadan. It is said that when the demand for certain consumer items at normal times is 100,000 tonnes, during the month of Ramadan it goes up to 200,000 to 300,000 tonnes. So prices inevitably will go up further. And the syndicates get smarter by the year. Extortion will increase too. The syndication and extortion are historically the ‘right’ of the ruling party. And the longer a government is in power, the stronger this ‘right’ becomes, and this will hardly be any different in the days to come.

The excitement that began from 17 March, has turned topsy-turvy. It will not be prudent to turn a blind eye to the turmoil that lies ahead, to bury one’s head in the sand like an ostrich and simply parrot the lines that it is some others who want to disrupt the country’s peace and stability.

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

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