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OP-ED: Unmasking the plain truth

  • Published at 03:19 am July 1st, 2021
A woman police officer urges a man to wear facemask during an awareness campaign
AFP

A fearless nation cannot be forced to muzzle up

Muzzling a nation that isn’t used to it is a no no! Yes, we’ll prevent cattle and horses from grazing in inhabited territory lest a zealous official arrests it! Keeping the peace is not engrained in our psyche, coming as we do from distant villages where conversation just has to be full-throated. 

Constrained speech is not conducive to vocally find our way through traffic jams. It can’t be acceptable that one’s conversation on cell phones are drowned out by other din and bustle. How else would we know that the unknown person on the street is devastating the truth by stating he is somewhere else when in Gulshan? 

For all the advice, all the awareness promoting messages and illustrious people’s exhortation, we refuse to be muzzled. No matter what our icons or leaders say, we refuse to cover our faces. No one has any apparent answer to why people don’t wear masks. In general, red-faced individuals mumble excuses about having forgotten, having it on moments ago, lost it, torn it, and above all “people don’t understand what I’m saying.” 

Talk about barking up the wrong tree! They won’t, don’t, have an answer, because they are all too distant from their backgrounds.

Those who ask the question should try to drive a rickshaw in the hot, sultry weather, or in drenching rain. Pose the question to the farmer in the paddy fields. Enquire of the bus or CNG driver, the small trader selling goods in kitchen markets or exposed to the climes. Above all, the person selling vegetables and fruit from vans. The man trying to buy old computers and IPS, and so on and so forth.

No one is used to it. No one likes the restrictions to breathing, many can’t adjust to the perspiration that results and others feel it hampers their lifestyle. That they may get infected or worse, infect others, has not been drilled into them. 

Outdated communication methods are partly to blame. Word of mouth is critical. In addition to fining someone who hasn’t worn a mask, reward someone that reminds the person. Some are trying. Groups, police, and local administration are handing out masks as an incentive. A Tk2 mask is being continuously supplied to health institutions for Tk625, so availability is not an issue. 

There are vendors everywhere, many of whom have found new ways of earning. School-teachers and students selling vegetables, some even plying rickshaws, are also examples of how people adapt and adjust. So when economists in air-conditioned comfort berate the finance minister’s view, also in similar comfort, that the government doesn’t have data on the reported 25 million that have become poor, we can hem and haw. 

AHM Mustafa Kamal has a valid point. These newly poor are only temporarily so. The shopping craze during the last Eid is an indicator that money isn’t short. The coming Eid will be another indicator that money won’t be an issue. 

Could any of these have happened if people stayed at home and covered up when leaving them? Half of the fun of shopping is the good-natured banter of bargaining. An impossibility with a mask on. Shop-owners and public transport associations pleaded for allowing them to open up and run their businesses by observing the rules. 

They can’t be blamed for customers and passengers not following the safety rules. They can’t be held responsible if passengers are willing to pay double the fares affixed. Nor can district administration and police be blamed for allowing private vehicles to pass blockades. 

One can’t be inhumane, nor can one ignore the lure of money changing hands to gee-up the economy. A resilient and fearless nation cannot, should not, be forced to muzzle up. It affronts our existentialism. It also goes against that which political gurus preach but do not follow, whether it’s about masks or social distancing. After all, death is an inevitability. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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