“Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without.”
Sabria Chowdhury Balland 19 August 2019
Choices are for the privileged. There is an adage which states, “Beggars can’t be chosers”. In other words, only the privileged, the wealthy and the powerful are entitled to having choices.
Hobson’s choice is defined as a free choice when no other altrenative is offered. That is to say, it is a “take it or leave it situation.” In Bangladesh, we are seeing Hobson’s choice very clearly, much more so than we would like to.
During the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971, the freedom fighters sacrified their lives for the birth of a new nation which could uphold democracy, the frreedom of speech, equality for all and the freedom of choice. The question is: forty eight years down the line, do Bangladeshis have these rights which their constitution guarantees as inaliable rights?
On the surface, it may seem so. However, only on the very superficial surface, if merely the Awami League led government’s consistent talk of development, progress and GDP figures were to be believed. However, the global statistics tell a different story.
Bangladesh is poised to achieve the third-fastest growth in the number of high-net-worth individuals in the world in the next five years, but it is also 148th out of 157 countries in the latest Oxfam Global Inequality Index. Simply put, there is an enormous disparity between the rich and the poor and it is strikingly apparent.
In January of 2019, a new report from the wealth research firm, Wealth-X found that Bangladesh ranked third on a list of the fastest growing high net worth countries, with an average increase of its high net worth population increase at approximately 11.4% per year. These figures are astounding, particuarly considering that hardly any, if any at all, of this money is being circulated back into the economy. In fact, considering that most of the banks, nationalized and private, including the Bangladesh Bank, the central bank of the country, are bankrupt, it is obvious that funds are not being injected back into the economy. The ruling party may give the illusion of a trickle down phenomenon but it is just that…an illusion.
As things are evident in today’s Bangladesh, a rich, politically well-connected elite benefits from development projects and policies, while the poor are neglected. Therefore, those who are not “in the loop”, so to speak, do not have the privilege of choice. To add salt to the wound, being a fully autocratic regime, the government of Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina has stripped its people of all democratic rights. There is no opposition to counter balance and argue policies in the parliament, there is no freedom to vote, no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press or media, no freedom to even like the slightest anti-government statuses on social media for fear of being hounded down by the government’s intelligence forces and arrested, kidnapped or killed.
Thus this lack of choice and freedom has rendered a politically fearful and apathetic mindset. In other words, why would a people risk their lives for things they cannot change under any circumstances, knowing their voices will not be heard? Democratic priciples such as freedom of association and expression are far fetched and nebulous concepts which will only bring forth severe retribution from the state. It is far better to adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy under such circumstances.
It is thus apparent that Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League have offered the people of Bangladesh nothing short of Hobson’s choice, a take it or leave it situation, or rather, take it or face the dire consequences. Historical accounts of previous governments, (except of course for the dictatorship of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Hasina’s father), even miitary dictatorships show that the circumstances in the country had never been so stringent, so limited and so lacking in choices.
History has shown us repeatedly that if there is any course of action for a government to take which will most certainly head towards failure, it is oppression. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Bangladesh will certainly be no exception to this fact.