Masud Khan Shujon

Act now

May 22, 2012

BANGLADESH-POLITICS-EDUCATION-PROTESTRecent events have made me realise that I have trafficked in hope for too long. I had until recently deluded myself into thinking that I did not need to participate in the public sphere, and I hoped and believed that my individual efforts to help others, along with the efforts of other individuals and groups with similar intentions and values, would stem the decay in our country’s political life and fill the gaping holes in the public services left by those who lead us.

While others baked in the sun collectively making their voices heard, I silently watched and waited on the sidelines, justifying to myself that my time was better spent on my individual activities, and hoping that my contributions were enough to somehow make a difference. I believed that individual actions and good deeds, aggregated household to household, private enterprise to private enterprise, could balance if not outweigh the ruinous effects of the public sector’s inefficiencies and inequities. I created an optimist’s bubble; until recently, it shielded me from the onslaught of negative news leaping blood-eyed and sharp weapons in hand out of the papers every morning.

In the last few weeks and months, however, my bubble burst; hope took a sabbatical, and my high expectations of the future were all but dashed and broken — like a tsunami battered Crusoeraft — on the jagged rocks of political violence, extortion, corruption and ineptitude that is rendering Bangladeshis hapless, hopeless and helpless (whenever I now think about the state of our country and its citizens’ plight, I often flashback to the time I was 6 or 7 years old and crying in my mother’s kitchen watching a maghur maach/catfish thrashing around on the floor in its death throes).  I feel this intense level of insecurity and distress at our country’s dysfunction even though I, living in my elite-verse, am relatively cushioned against the daily indignities faced by the average citizen; I can only imagine the fear and loathing that haunts the average citizen’s life as she navigates her way through her day.

The rot in our system goes deeper than the apparent dysfunction in our public space; the rot starts with our day to day actions, and deepens each time we give in to short-term temptations and cut corners, bend the rules, bribe someone or do the various ethically dubious activities we justify as things we “need” to do to survive in Bangladesh or “because everyone else is doing it”. The stench of the putrefaction exudes out of our hierarchical system that rewards chamchagiri where the “yes sir, yes sirs” of the entourage surrounding our political, business and thought leaders shut out any dissenting opinion; the puss from this rot seeps out of our past connivance in executing short term, extra-constitutional and undemocratic solutions which have stunted the maturing of our democracy and deepened our country’s scars; the gangrene yellowing of our collective skin intensifies each time we malign due process and silently cheer the deaths of those killed in “encounters”; and the slow dying of our collective souls continue as we clamour for more hangings, more vengeance, more eye for an eye justice in a land already darkened with the blood of innocents.

Just when these feelings of disillusionment started making me feel unanchored, providence brought to me a different kind of optimism, one that thrives on action as opposed to my previous arm chair variety, in the form of my eldest Chacha who has been sharing his insights and activism with me in our recent morning coffee fuelled discussions (at 82, my Chacha writes a number of weekly columns, is politically active and wholeheartedly believes that participation in the public sphere by effective and honest people will catalyze good governance over time; I may be agnostic towards my Chacha’s political views, but his attitude towards activism and his intellectual heft inspires me). If after witnessing all that has gone wrong in our land in his many decades my Chacha can remain optimistic, I understood that my surrender to despair for our future was a weak response to the events of the day.

From my discussions with my Chacha and many other like minded people, I now understand that watching the political process from the sidelines is no longer an acceptable choice, and that affecting change in our political landscape, even if that change is a generation or two away, will require the active participation of people who have the values, education, positive intentions and fortitude to effectuate such change.  I now believe that it is we, the silent majority, who need to actively participate in the political process to steer our country away from the clutches of those who view this land as their personal fief, from the stranglehold of those who believe that their right to lead is their birthright and does not need to be earned.  It is we, the until now mostly apolitical citizens, who need to intrude ourselves into the democratic process and ease the reins of political control away from those who believe in the inevitability of coming to power every 5 years; it is we who must step in the political fray to take away the control of our country’s future from the political monoliths who hold us hostage to the illusion of choice and whose politics look only backwards in complete disregard to the future aspirations of the people.

As a political conservative and realist, I oppose any short-cuts to reaching democratic maturity; I pray that we refrain from violent protests, I request that we reject calls to minus anything or anyone, I implore that we do not romanticize an Arab Spring in our country for, in my limited knowledge of history, any such short-cuts may leave a power vacuum to be filled by even darker forces of imperialists, opportunists and extremists, possibly leading to a long and sun-shuttered Winter. We do not need any more short cuts or uniformed interventions, for our country’s short and violent history is a testament to the folly of such measures.

What we need, in my humble opinion, is the active participation of the silent majority in the political process. This is the silent majority of the hard working farmers and labourers, of the honest people in and out of government who sometimes stagnate because they eschew corruption, of the dedicated NGO workers, entrepreneurs, artists, teachers, lawyers, jurists and doctors who have contributed to Bangladesh in surpassing our neighbours in development milestones and achieving respectable economic growth, in spite of the country’s misgovernance. We, this until now silent majority, must participate in the political process and, over time, build, improve and strengthen the skeletal structure of our democratic system.

In order to do so, we must first look at ourselves and align our behaviours to accomplish long-term goals and benefits; thus we must avoid those behaviours birthed by short-term temptations and “everyone does it” justifications. We must all become a nation of whistleblowers and unmask those who are breaking the law, and shame those who are engaging in unethical activities that hurt the public good or are using the public coffers to enrich themselves. We must use our judicial system to stem illegal activities of the powerful (to whatever extent we can) and challenge those who sideline the law and the public procurement procedures to obtain an unfair advantage.

For those of us who can, we must involve ourselves in our professional associations and neighbourhoods, or go back to our villages and leverage our good deeds and contributions to build a political base. We can use our efforts and political base to form new political parties, or to join existing parties so that we may demand democratization of these parties. We need to aggregate our voices using the national and international media and public gatherings so that our clarion call for change can be heard over the “yes sir-isms” of the entourage feasting on the largesse of our leaders. We must explore new avenues of campaign financing, and help raise funds for independent candidates through calls for small donations from our citizens (e.g., small donations can be collected using mobile money or even through flexi load payments). We need to use group SMS services and the Internet and build a platform through which we can connect with citizens, group ourselves into a sizable vote bank and vet, find and nominate for any upcoming elections capable and credible candidates dedicated to public service.  We must present our platform, organization, funds and services as a credible alternative to the big political parties so that the honest, dedicated and very likely disaffected politicians who are currently bound to existing political parties or alliances can regain their dignity and exit these parties or alliances, but still be competitive in elections using the platform we provide.  Dear reader, we must shed our fears and act now!

The above are just a few of my thoughts on how we can become more effective in participating in our political process. These thoughts are borne out of my own limited knowledge and experience and therefore I welcome, dear reader, your effective and specific ideas. I also welcome and appreciate any examples of individuals or organizations in Bangladesh that you know of who have bucked the status quo, so that we may learn from them. Please send those ideas and examples to [editor’s e-mail] so that we may incorporate those in our future columns.

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Masud Khan Shujon is an aspiring writer, social entrepreneur and a lawyer.

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29 Responses to “ Act now ”

  1. David Samuel on May 31, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Well articulated. Agree with everything you’ve stated. Good Job!

  2. LAWI on May 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    I have long been of the opinion that Bangladesh needs a shake-up in its political machine. Democracy is stagnating. There is a perpetual cycle in leadership, leaders, elections, governance, due process that is frustrating the people. While campaigning is going on, it all looks wonderful. The initial days (the honeymoon phase) people see a lot of activity and are content, slowly the opposition begins to infuse discontent and eventually they succeed. Some of it is over real issues, some of it contrived.

    While the current administration has really worked to add infrastructure (roads, power plants, etc), there are still many problems as you have pointed out. However, to truly move forward an infusion of new people in all roles (no matter what party we are talking about) is necessary.

    Shujon, I loved your piece! Would love to see a comparison of countries whose beginning were/are similar to Bangladesh, their political structure through time, where they stand in comparison to Bangladesh today and what were the catalysts. Keep writing, I’ll keep reading!

  3. Shuon on May 27, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    Dear Readers, thank you for your comments and opinions. I would like to follow up with a list of “act now” recipes/action plan items (most likely nothing I write is original, and some or most of it will be from feedback I have received). So, please continue to provide your input.

    Warmest Regards to all:-)

  4. Adnan R Amin on May 25, 2012 at 1:56 am

    ‘Ok’ thought …but really great writing. Writer’s class is hardly ‘aspiring’ …

    • Shuon on May 27, 2012 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks for your message–you are absolutely right. What I wrote is something many others have written about and not original in any aspect (because I prettied it up with my language, it may have stood out). But for follow up columns, I want to put in more on the “act” aspect, rather than the “thought/idea/writing” side. This is where I need help–please send in your thoughts regarding actions we can take.

  5. afsan chowdhury on May 24, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Shall we continue to have a conversation with the deaf state or look beyond the ramshackle and the unable to deliver for a new explanation of our misery and was to end it. I believe we are stuck in the conventional state model and feel too threatened to think outside the nation-state frame. Power is shared between the groups that matter such as politicians, commercial people, judiciary members, army etc- who have a common source of power, the state. What does it matter which monster in what costume reigns? Act now means think outside the box now.

    A great thoughtful piece which I have cheered as more and more people read and shared it.

    • Optimist on May 26, 2012 at 12:25 am

      The title means, stop thinking, and start to Act Now with the plans for a Brighter Future for the Nation.

      MOBILISE the opinions into action for the good of the masses. How long shall we remain an LDC, but for the mismanagement of our resources by all who are playing with our fate?

      Please help people think for themselves and not be influenced by the half-baked ones.

    • Shuon on May 27, 2012 at 12:31 pm

      Dear Afsan bhai, you just made my day (I have been a fan of your columns from years back). For years I believed that government is a necessary evil, and that we as citizens must find a way to work around the government and, in effect, make government and the powers that be irrelevant. Unfortunately, in my last few years here, I have come to the sad realization that is almost impossible, as every step we try to take towards improvement, some chap with a government title is there with his hand out using some regulation as a barrier to entry. Also, as I work more and more with kids who have been educated in the public institutions, I have realized how our education system has failed them and will continue to fail the next generation even more. Unless we find a way to privatize education (which has its own issues), we will need to look to the public institutions to educate most of the younger generation. We can all work towards making the monsters irrelevant, but until that happens, we are left with trying to work with them.

  6. Mansur Aziz on May 24, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    A nice piece of writing. I loved the writer’s grasp over the language. He has written a very simple yet pertinent piece. However I hope next time he will choose a particular topic/issue/problem and write in a more to the point piece.

    This one was a bit too philosophical for me.

    Looking forward to read his next one.

    • Shuon on May 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks for your message, Mansur bhai. I got a little carried away with the language this last time, and would like to be more specific in my next column. But this is where I need yours and others help–what steps can we take to move beyond our current state, what has worked in other countries/history, what may work, etc.?

  7. Shumona on May 24, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    We need to forget about politics and concentrate on educating people. We need to educate them theoretically as well practically. Practical knowledge of things will make them all the more productive and the nation will prosper accordingly.

    Let the politicians bicker over power politics, let us do our own thing.

    • Alii on May 25, 2012 at 11:49 pm

      Would you please care to share your thoughts and ACTION PLAN/S, as to how you intend to join the call for ‘Act Now?’
      That could be interesting and enlightening for many readers, well-wishers, affected, sleepers and the activists.

    • Shuon on May 27, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      I couldn’t agree with you more–but how do we manage to educate our people when most of the education funds/institutions are managed by the government? Best,

  8. Tanvir on May 24, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Do you really think the politicians care what the frustrated citizens think or want from them?

    • Shuon on May 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm

      They are absolutely deaf/unaware to what we are saying (thankfully, for that is why many of us can still say what we want). We can not change the way the existing politicos act; all we can do is change how we, as individuals and citizens act, to attempt to elect a better future generation of politicians (or become ones ourselves). Regards

  9. Arman Huq on May 24, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Education is the key to all prosperity. Our nation would flourish only when we have a properly educated mass.

    • Shuon on May 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm

      Absolutely agree–but how do we get to educating the masses? I would like to focus any follow up columns on specifics. Would appreciate your input.

  10. Ezajur Rahman on May 23, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Masud Khan Shujon has in essence made the case for a new force in our democracy – a viable, electable alternative to the AL and BNP. Bravo Masud! Bravo! I support your opinion.

    • Shuon on May 27, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      Ezajur bhai, thank you–would love your inputs/specifics of what we can do/action items for follow up columns.

  11. Tony on May 23, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Bravo. I applaud you. Finally someone who says what I’m sure millions of citizens want to say. Just because your father or your husband were in power does NOT give you the right to think you own the country. You haven’t earned it. There are so many men and women in this country who have contributed so much to the prosperity of the nation. They could do so much more if they had the power of a strong and non-corrupted government behind them. The government should act as an organization that works for the people and not as a party that is overwhelmed with selfish interests and concentrate more on personal vendetta than anything else. The time the politicians wasted on bickering over hartal could have been better utilised to push the country forward.
    PEACE, PLEASE!!!

    • Shuon on May 27, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      Dear Tony, thanks for your comment. As of today, we have had two BD women conquer the Everest–as a friend suggest, here’s to our “plus 2″.

  12. Syed Imtiaz Ali on May 23, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Very well said, Mr. Masud Khan. Thanks for the reflections, suggestions that are so true today that we must stop looking behind and rather look forward! The mindset is NOT and Never changing! The nation is hostage to Politics of Vengeance and real development is not resulting, especially the Human Resources Development.
    I sincerely hope the ‘elements’ crystallize and form into a true synergy to push the nation ahead, ready for the 21st Century.
    We have seen what has been happening in and to our universities! Education is also not spared, rather attacked and ‘near-diminished’!
    The nation is in crises and needs to re-think course of action collectively.
    Hope and pray for all to try to overcome with fortitude.
    Joy Bangla! PS: Do keep writing on nation’s uplifting efforts.

    • Shuon on May 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm

      Dear Imtiaz bhai, thanks for your comment–would appreciate your input for specific action items we can suggest for a citizen to take to get herself more involved in the public space.

  13. Juliette Buckingham on May 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    If you could work from the ground up by educating all Bangladeshis to the age of 17 and incorporate ‘ethics classes’ from age 5. Ethics can be taught in primary school and high school and this may well be the way to see change. Just think of the huge changes that could happen in your lifetime if Bangladesh could commit to compulsory education for all.

    • Syed Imtiaz Ali on May 26, 2012 at 12:04 am

      You have just hit the ‘bull’s eye’! The Right Recipe, although it might take time to see and feel the results. Only moral and traditional education can CLEANSE and Enlighten us. We can then become introspective, responsible and be able to judge better for others and ourselves; perhaps even overcome CORRUPTION!
      Ethics will give us moral power and courage to do the right thing.
      When we were very young at school we had moral ethics as part of our learning. It has lived life-long with us, and with the addition of the Holy Prophet’s teachings, cleansed us a lot.
      So, as suggested by Ms. Buckingham, if ‘good’ education is made more accessible our behaviour in all spheres will and must CHANGE for the Better. Alas, but today we are DECAYING in its absence!

    • Shuon on May 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm

      Absolutely agree–would like your specific suggestions on how we get there.

  14. Peter Quist Thomsen on May 23, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Dear Masud,
    A very good article, and showing the transformation which is needed to actively oppose the anti social people living in your country or in other countries as well. I live in Nepal, but have stayed in Bangladesh for 4 years working in the development world where the anti social behavior are predominant. The institutions built, the development process supported is far from the ideal which most people in the donor countries think it is. By working for donors you also have to support corrupted people both in the government, but certainly also in the civil sector, to get the results. Opposing this system is very difficult and dangerous. Do not think that anti social behavior only exists in Bangladesh and other poor countries, it is everywhere and should be opposed.

    When I read your article, I was just imagining that it was not Bangladesh, but Nepal. Nepal has same problems as Bangladesh.

    I certainly hope you can convince some other, relatively honest people, in opposing the system of corruption and other malpractices.

    Kind Regards

    Peter Q. Thomsen

  15. Golam Arshad on May 23, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Shujon: Wonderfully expressed! The political rant inverses and reverses! No wonder, tune to CHANGE and it WILL BE!! Good job!!

  16. Akhtar Shah on May 22, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Very well constructed Masud. A touch of sadness and despondency is noticeable, but very sincere and transparent.
    Now, the most important thing is to articulate an “Action plan”. Very difficult thing to do as the issues so intrinsic, deep-rooted and numerous. But possible. Not being pollyannaish, the greatest hopes are untarnished urban and semi urban youngsters and the vast majority of ordinary people living in villages eking out a meagre living. They are the hope.

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