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Do not enter

  • Published at 12:36 pm November 12th, 2014

There’s a photo making rounds on Facebook, of a sign posted by Mohakhali DOHS authorities, stating the rules for entering and enjoying a park located in the DOHS premises. Rule no 4 is this: House-servants and buas are prohibited from walking on the park walkways. This rule follows rule no 3: No dogs are allowed in the park.

Facebookers have been commenting in droves on this image. People are sharing it widely, and it was good to see most of the comments being condemnatory. A few (fortunately, from what I’ve seen, a minority) have argued that the DOHS authorities have the right to put up whatever rule they feel is right for that area, that the park isn’t a public place to begin with, and that the very first rule (ie the park is only for the use of DOHS residents) makes that clear.

Of course, this raises the question of why household help who live in their workplaces are not to be considered residents. Or, will the authorities ban or penalise residents, who, say, bring non-resident guests (as long as they are not buas) along for a quick walk. 

The online blog Women Chapter (http://womenchapter.com/) quotes a DOHS official (who preferred to remain anonymous) as saying that the reason for the prohibition is because “the families of army officers usually walk in that park. The rule was put into place to safeguard their children from eve-teasing and other incidents.” So according to the DOHS authorities, street harassment perpetrators are only those belonging to a certain class?

Brig Gen (Retd) Mosharef Hossain is quoted as saying: “Since the children of officers usually walk in the park, the servants or buas do not have permission to enter.” For many of us, the first part of this statement does not necessarily lead to the second, (ie why the presence of the offspring of army officers must preclude the presence of domestic help) which leads us to wonder what happens in the DOHS households where both officer-offspring and household help live: Whether they are allowed to be in the same room at the same time, what happens if the twain do happen to occupy the same ground simultaneously, etc.

There are more questions. But we’ll leave those aside for the moment. We can leave aside trying to parse the logic or suss out how exactly these rules would play out because we all know where these “rules” really come from. The class privilege inherent in such a sign is mind-boggling.

I’ve been sitting at my desk trying to imagine being at a committee meeting, no doubt where all members were educated, moneyed, and bhodrolok or bhodromohila. Where these people drew up these rules, wrote them down, and assigned someone to actually make a sign that proudly proclaims: We are superior, and the people who work for us do not deserve the same rights and privileges that are inherently ours; they are no better than dogs. Because that is, essentially, what the sign is saying. 

It isn’t that surprising. This attitude is not uncommon among us privileged Bangladeshis, and I’ve lived in or seen several apartment buildings with signs banning house-help from using lifts. A similar sign, briefly, was displayed in the Dhanmondi building where I lived for several years. I won’t go into the really horrible and irrational arguments other residents put to me when I tried to bring up why this was wrong. Or, how what I said made no difference because I was merely a tenant and not an owner.

The sign also proudly proclaims: “Courtesy of Banglalink.” My question is this: Why is a corporate entity proudly sponsoring such discriminatory behaviour? Cellphone technology has been a great leveler in Bangladesh. The cheap and reliable services provided by the phone companies have revolutionised communication and access to information like nothing before. A bua or a grihobhrityo or a rickshaw-driver is just as likely to be carrying a cellphone, as is a homeowner in a posh part of the city.

But shouldn’t these telecom providers, an industry which prides itself on customer service, accord the same respect to all customers? Or, are buas and grihobhrityos worth less respect and rights?

It’s quite likely that Banglalink is unaware of the content of the DOHS signboard they’ve sponsored. Such signboards, proudly displaying various corporate sponsorships, are to be found all over the city. While it seems counterintuitive for companies not to scrutinise exactly what they’re sponsoring, it’s understandable as these signboards are not part of any “official” advertising campaign. 

A quick perusal of Banglalink’s website details projects they’ve undertaken to serve the underprivileged, such as providing aid at orphanages, setting up computer labs in underprivileged schools. Would a company like Banglalink, which self-describes as “a responsible corporate citizen,” whose Customer Service page proudly states: “Apnar jonnoi amra!” (We are for you!), knowingly endorse such an elitist standpoint evident in the DOHS signboard and follow-up response?

The DOHS authorities or board is a different creature. Banglalink, however, as a responsible corporate citizen is accountable to its customers, to its community. A customer base of us, the aamjanata, comprises of impecunious writers, salaried workers, homemakers, rickshaw wallahs, factory laborers, factory owners – all sorts.

How about it, Banglalink? Here is the moment you can make real your slogan: Apnar jonnoi amra. Here is the moment when you can show your customers that you are for them, for all of them, not just the privileged ones. 

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