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OP-ED: Rambling thoughts and distant memories in lockdown

  • Published at 10:04 pm August 20th, 2020
Photo: Dhaka Tribune

Why has so little punishment been delivered to Health Ministry officials?

A couple of days ago, while eating breakfast in Banani during this Covid-19 time, I scraped out the last bits of peanut butter from the plastic jar. Before throwing it out, I peered at the small print on the label. 

It was not possible to read the very small print, so I needed to use a magnifying glass. I was so pleasantly surprised to see that it was made in an industrial unit in a place called Jhagadia, Bharuch District, in Gujarat in India. 

In 1972-73, on behalf of Oxfam, I visited Jhagadia on a number of occasions during a very severe drought. This is when I turn the clock back …

Monsoon rains

In 1972, the monsoon rains had failed and a severe drought was sweeping through Western India; Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. At that time, Oxfam was working closely with Spanish fathers and sisters in different places in the field of village agricultural improvement and basic community health. 

At Jhagadia, we were working with the Jesuit father, Father Larumbe, who was the father in charge of the Broach Social Service Society. 

At the time, Father Larumbe wrote about the Adivasi families “who have passed from the state of no hope into a very encouraging future. 

“They have a land from which they will be able to get the necessary income to educate their children, to live without the spectre of what they will be able to eat for the next meal.” 

Land was seen then, as the answer to Adivasi poverty. Certainly, I remember the farmers considering hybrid cotton seed, jowar (sorghum), bajri (millet), and peanuts, and it is the peanuts that gave me the connection to my breakfast table 48 years later in Dhaka! Maybe I can believe in “development magic.”

Long before we had heard of microcredit, we had, with the Jesuits fathers and Gandhian leaders in Gujarat, started a number of revolving loan funds with their organizations: Wells, seeds and fertilizers, pumps, camels and camel carts, sewing machines, and buffaloes for milk production. 

And it was the programs with buffaloes that connected with the very well-known milk union, Amul, a movement with which Oxfam had a close connection from the 1960s.

After the Liberation War, I started visiting Bangladesh or living in Bangladesh on a very regular basis, and altogether I have lived and worked in Bangladesh for almost 30 years. 

I remember in the 1980s when liquid milk was very difficult to find -- but now the picture is so much better, even though there is a long way to go before we can say that imported milk powder is not required. 

As electricity goes to all parts of this country, more and more people, it is hoped, will be able to store milk safely. 

Corruption continued

Over the last over 50 years, I have usually been working with the extreme poor be they the “untouchable” Harijans in Bihar or indigenous people in Gujarat or the Chittagong Hill Tracts. 

In this connection, and on behalf of the Red Cross, I worked in the Chittagong Hill Tracts immediately after the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Treaty, and it is a matter of great regret that so little progress has been made as a result of corruption and killing that has continued.

A distant ancestor of mine was a policeman in the 19th century who, incidentally, wrote the first “The Constables Manual” which was issued in English, Bengali, Hindustani, and Urdu.

 It was written in a question and answer format and one regarding corruption written over 100 years ago is so relevant still today. 

Question: What is the greatest fault a constable can commit?

Answer: The taking directly or indirectly of a bribe or any article of value (money or money’s worth) from anyone for the purpose of being induced to perform or to refrain from performing the strict letter of the duty.

At the moment I am a very angry citizen, that as a result of corruption in the health sector, very little punishment has been delivered to the Health Ministry officials.

Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.