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Before you shame my people

  • Published at 12:02 am November 6th, 2019
Passport migrant worker female
She’s just a victim Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Blaming migrant workers for their own abuse is superficial 

Hayre Bangali: We hear these two words, or their variants, over and over in our public sphere. 

Whatever happens, we find a way to express our disgust of our own community and blame something innate in us that is causing the trouble. To us, we are innately corrupt, stupid, whimsical, cruel, uneducated, and unworthy.

Often, elites and educated exempt themselves from that rhetoric of self-deprecation, but sometimes, they do not. They hate themselves as much as they hate the others. We are all idiots to us all. 

This is a classic case of internalized oppression. We have been so oppressed for so long that the means of our imagination have been stripped. 

The colonizers had successfully implanted the idea of inferiority within our public psyche and we have run with it. 

Because we think the worst of ourselves, we hail those who are no better as our leaders, and the leaders, in turn, re-implant the self-deprecating image.  

This helps the rulers, because, under that rhetoric, the blame of any problem falls on the shoulders of the people and the system that produces the injustice is spared. Shaming the people is the easy target, both for the people themselves, now fractured into serfdom by the narrative of their own inferiority, and for the rulers. Nobody raises their fingers towards the top. 

We, of course, are no more inherently corrupt or stupid than any other human on the planet. Our system, however, designed for subjugation and extraction and thereby unreformed, is inherently oppressive.  

This same rhetoric is being employed in the public discourse regarding the migrant workers. Even when I, myself, have written and attended activism events for the rights of the violated female workers in the Middle East, people, from the average passers-by to bona fide activists could not help but express, implicitly or explicitly, that they thought that the tortured migrants shared the blame for going to these countries, knowing that they would be tortured.  

They said that there must be something wrong with these women that they do not try to find employment in the country and choose to go to the uncertain abroad. 

This same sentiment was mirrored in an op-ed written by a revered colleague of mine, which was published in Dhaka Tribune past Monday. 

The article titled “Buying death with dollars” expressed the sentiment that our migrants choose to go into the uncertain abroad because they have a “foreign bug” and that they have an irrational desire to go abroad when they could use the money they spend on their passage as capital for a small business.  

The main focus of the article, much like the public rhetoric on the matter, surrounds the sentiment that the migrants perceive the foreign life as necessarily better, when, in fact, it may not be. 

The fact that I am calling the article out does not mean that I am directly refuting the argument made. It is true that many Bangladeshis want to go abroad simply because of the perception of the life abroad and the social status that comes with it. 

However, I will point out the limitation of the article in that it did not engage the root causes of such mentality, possibly because of the limitation of the scope.  

Therefore, I will try to venture into the oppressive origin of the “foreign-bug.” 

We are, undeniably, stuck in a loop of self-deprecation. Our national consciousness has never been solidified and our comparative advantages have not been cultivated. Culturally, we are still stuck in the mindset that our oppressors were necessarily better than us. 

Most of us think that they are more civilized than us. Therefore, we venture to migrate to a more civilized country.  

This is more of a middle class sentiment, but it affects the lower classes too. What affects the lower class more is the lack of economic opportunity for those below the middle-class line. 

The article mentioned before cites the example of setting up a small business, but it overlooks the challenges that come with going down that route.  

There are political extortions, bribery, and oligopolistic competition (yes, even in the small business market). These are risks that many cannot afford to take. 

This risk, mixed with the self-deprecation presented before, encourages someone to take the drastic decision of selling their belongings and voyaging to the uncertain abroad. 

And there are the frauds who loom our villages and underclass communities. These predators prey on the precarious nature of the underclasses’ existence. Piggybacking off of the structural self-deprecation, it is easy for them to paint a perfect picture of the foreign land. 

They cite hundreds who have become successful by taking the gamble and hundreds who are stuck in poverty for not taking it.
Under all that gross propaganda, it is easy for a precarious person to buy into the bargain.

Why do we need to take all this to account? We need it to draw our path regarding this problem. The underclass wants to take the gamble because of the following structures: Lack of social mobility and economic justice at the root level, lack of employment opportunities within the country, self-deprecating culture perpetuated by colonial and post-colonial rulers and elites, and shameless propaganda by fraudsters who are unchallenged by the state. 

These issues must be taken into account before directly shaming the migrant workers for their abuse. They are not responsible for their sorry fate, the system is. 

Our state has outsourced its duty of facilitating employment of its citizens to foreign countries and has outsourced its duty to ensure a safe passage to those countries to brokers, who are often frauds.  

A state dedicated to the citizen’s welfare has never been built in this country, and therefore, the citizens must gamble for their welfare. 

And when they lose, it is not enough to simply shame them, but the system that forces them to gamble with their lives must also be challenged, and it should be done before pointing fingers at the victims. 

Anupam Debashis Roy is the Editor of Muktiforum. He can be reached at [email protected]