Words are no longer spoken, but chosen
It has never been more difficult for someone to describe Bangladesh’s current situation with a consistent set of connotations. Have we made progress or are we headed for disaster?
Or, are we, as our beloved nation has always hinted at, doing both?
On one hand, you have (the idea of) Digital Bangladesh, which has genuinely made life easier and more efficient and, on the other, you have the authorities.
Note how our language has changed, replacing governments with authorities, criticism with quaint back-handed compliments, praise for progress like it genuinely means anything if we are to sacrifice freedom and security.
Words are no longer spoken, but chosen. We choose our language, ever so carefully, so that we may provide the pretext of free expression, but never quite get there in reality, and stay safe from the discontented wrath of the “authorities,” who may do what they do out of pure whimsy.
The passing of the Digital Security Act has made it clear where exactly our fears lie, as elections loom large, and a people, perhaps desperate for change, cannot be trusted to preserve the status quo. Watch what you say, it implies, or we’ll watch it for you.
And, soon enough, the Narcotics Control Bill is passed, which has the death penalty for dealing yaba pills.
On the surface, it is easy to support these laws, which seek to control “bad things” from happening to our society, such as the proliferation of drugs and other substances, keeping your poor, poor 20-something child in check, so that he doesn’t get too high and steal money from your wallet.
But this could very well be just another law that gives power where it isn’t due.
While the rest of the developed world moves towards genuine social progress, legalizing marijuana and gay marriage, ensuring equal representation of all sexes and races in politics, we have our eyes on the past.
This past isn’t our own, for our foundation was not on such regressive terms, but of the world, when barbarism and cruelty reigned, and the powers-that-be, increasingly authoritarian in nature, hung on to power desperately, and failed.
What it comes down to, at the end of the day, is that the current situation of governance promotes selfishness and self-preservation. Whatever earns you the most money, or provides you with the most power, is enabled.
You dangle a few fast internet packages and a few other ride-sharing apps, and a bit more money in your bank account, and a bridge that helps you cross a gigantic river, and the people remain too distracted and satisfied to care about the fact that their freedom has been set on fire.
And if you’re in government, and you don’t like what someone’s saying, highlight something they’ve said online and say it’s anti-government, anti-state, or anti-religion, and have them put in jail. If you can’t find anything online, plant a few yaba pills on their person during a “random” check-up, and shoot them down in a “crossfire,” or again, simply put them in jail (they’ll get the death penalty anyway).
All this ensures that what we say, and against whom, remains strictly controlled, not by the authorities, but by us, for the potential consequences of saying the wrong thing, or the right thing the wrong way, or the right thing the right way, but someone just does not like the cut of your jib.
Who knows where we’ll be, come next year? Will anything change, or will one figurehead be replaced by another, lesser-desired figurehead?
Will the words we wish to say see light? Or will these words be the last thing we ever say?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.