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OP-ED: 50 years on, what are our challenges?

  • Published at 05:33 am March 21st, 2021
munshiganj village
A village in Munshiganj inundated MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

As we develop and prosper, it would be unwise to ignore the looming threat of climate change

Fifty years of independence is a significant milestone for Bangladeshi people. Since the invasion of the East India Company in 1757, too many civil rights movements were crushed and human rights were savagely violated. 

The birth of Bangladesh came in 1971, long after the British left East Bengal as part of Pakistan in 1947. Bangladesh, known as East Pakistan and at that time, had leaders like Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Sher E Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, Maulana Bhashani, and of course, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who fought for the rights of Bengalis during the separation from British rulers. 

However, West Pakistan’s leadership completely violated all the civil rights and human rights of the Bengali people and seized Dhaka in 1971 after losing elections to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his party Awami League. Under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bangladeshi people fought a remarkable war against the Pakistani military and its collaborators and won its independence. 

Besides India, Bangladesh didn’t have much global support while fighting for its independence. Most countries, including the Middle Eastern countries, supported West Pakistan. 

While 2021 is such a significant year to celebrate for Bangladeshi people, it seems to be an agonizing year for those who didn’t support Bangladesh. Those who care for Bangladesh are celebrating today. Last year, my article in the Dhaka Tribune highlighting Bangladesh’s success in providing food, health care, and education to its people was complimented by Indian Nobel prize-winner development economist Dr Amartya Sen. This is because friends of Bangladesh are always cheering for positive outcomes.

There is nothing wrong with offering information to improve human lives, and reasonable criticism is healthy for a democratic system. Bangladesh still has a lot to do in providing justice and improving human rights like the rest of the world, but that should start from every household in Bangladesh. Practising bribery or abusing authorities and power is a chronic social problem in Bangladesh that won’t go away just by pointing fingers at the government. 

Civil rights movements made independent Bangladesh a reality. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the founder of Bangladesh through those civil rights movements which he led from the front. A fair and clear justice system is a must to ensure that civilians are not oppressed by law enforcement agencies that generally follow the elected officials’ orders. It is a key pillar for democratic systems. 

Just as governments around the world have been criticized for not doing enough to ensure the safety of their citizens, many media outlets are also blamed for lighting flames among various political parties and their supporters. The most recent example comes from Myanmar. If Aung San Suu Kyi had not collaborated with the military which violated the human rights of Rohingya people and instead opted for creating a fair justice system, then the second choice would have been a safeguard for the country’s democratic system. 

While Bangladesh has been improving on its human rights conditions, the country is now also up against a tremendous challenge -- climate change. Natural disasters have been a major setback for the last five decades for economic development. Powerful cyclones and floods took hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions of people. The intensity of natural disasters is expected to increase in the coming years, and Bangladesh needs more development projects to handle them. Bill Gates’s recent book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster mentions that seawater levels will be rising two feet by 2100, which will submerge 20% to 30% of Bangladesh. 

Experts from all disciplines can work together to find solutions. Bangladesh seems to be seeking regional cooperation too. One of the greatest regional issues Bangladesh has with its most trusted neighbour India is in water-sharing. India has not been fulfilling its obligations in sharing water, which has been leaving Bangladesh vulnerable to disaster. However, India’s PM Modi has been promising more environmentally sound choices. 

Bangladesh needs environmental justice and it is reasonable to expect that India, which sacrificed greatly for Bangladesh’s independence, will once again cooperate with Bangladesh in its efforts to fight climate changes and prevent significant harm to the country. 

Indian PM Modi will be a guest in celebrating Bangladesh’s 50th anniversary of independence this month. We hope that Bangladesh and India will build a prosperous future with a focus on climate change issues that could possibly affect hundreds of millions of people in this region.

Mazher Mir is the Adviser to Roybi Robots, Mountain View, California, USA.