Bangladesh: Falsification In the Name Of Progress

Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.

—-George Orwell

Sabria Chowdhury Balland   17 April 2019

If there is one thing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party repeat incessantly, it is that they are the only party in the country that can bring about progress and development. This has been their motto, their rationalization to obliterate their main political opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, imprison its leader Khaleda Zia and launch a massive mechanism of terror in the country. This mechanism of terror includes murders, rapes, kidnappings, imprisonment and torture…anything and everything in order to establish a dictatorship, without any possibility of opposing the slightest wishes of Sheikh Hasina first, and her party second. 

The progress which Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League gloat about would seem extremely prominent as it is solely focused on infrastructure. Bangladesh has already been indebted to China for over $24 billion for projects focusing on infrastructure.

On a superficial level, the progress and development seems very impressive, and it is. The GDP growth is to hit a record 8.13% in the fiscal year of 2018-2019. At this rate it could beat India’s GDP by 2020.

Unfortunately, infrastructure projects, Chinese loans, GDP figures, etc. are not what concerns the vast majority of Bangladeshis in the last few years with the situation deteriorating over time.

The lack of free speech and any semblance of a functioning, healthy democracy is, without a doubt, one of the most agonizing issue on the minds of the majority of Bangladeshis. Furthermore, it is the realization that Sheikh Hasina’s continuous rhetoric about how much the Awami League has done and continues to do for the progress of the country is largely hyperbole.

In a population of 166 million people in 2019, 31.5% are deemed to live below the line of poverty. In other words, they live on $1.90 a day. Despite the much-bragged high rates of growth and fabricated statistics of poverty reduction, the condition of the ordinary people of Bangladesh are in a substandard state, thus presenting a sharp contradiction between the economic growth numbers and quality of life of ordinary Bangladeshis.

The annual rate of inflation in Bangladesh rose to 5.5% in March of 2019 from 5.47% in February of 2019. This is the highest rate of inflation since 2018, rendering the increasing cost of food inconsistent with salaries. This is particularly worrying for the unemployed population in the country. The unemployment rate in Bangladesh at the end of this quarter is expected to be 4.30% according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). According the BBS, around 2.68 million youths are unemployed. Among them, 1.36 million youths are between the ages of 15-24. The number of unemployed youths is rising in the country, while the government remains completely oblivious to such grave economical concerns for the future of the country.

In recent times, there have been rampant fires in various parts of the capital city of Dhaka. One such fire occurred in a modern skyscraper in the heart of one the most affluent areas of Dhaka, causing 25 casualties. This incident exposed the fragility and illegalities in the manner in which buildings, even modern day skyscrapers, are constructed. There was an absence of fire alarms, sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and the fire exits were locked.

The obvious question which follows is: if a modern skyscraper in an affluent area of the capital city does not have any fire safety measures, what can possibly be the condition of other buildings such as schools, hospitals, apartment complexes, etc.? From this one incident we can easily perceive the chain of events which constitute very much the opposite of what Sheikh Hasina considers “progress”.

The skyscraper most certainly had more floors than the construction permit allowed. This is common practice in Bangladesh and the government agency which oversees these matters is well known to be the most corrupt agency in the country, which is saying a lot. The building is then constructed without even the minimum safety measures against fires. The firefighters have a very difficult time navigating the completely congested roads. In the meantime, the Awami League government, in the process of claiming “progress” and taking billions of dollars of loans for grandiose projects such as nuclear power plants, satellites, etc. from a foreign country which is looking for opportunities for the country to default (as did Venezuela and Sri Lanka just to name two two in a long list) fails to fathom that its definition of progress is majorly flawed.

When government agencies can be bribed, when there are no safety measures in construction, when roads are broken and congested with bumper to bumper traffic nearly all day, when unemployment soars with no vision of how to create jobs, when millions of youths do not have any guidance for their future, when the percentage of rapes skyrocket with no measures from lawmakers to hold the perpetrators accountable, etc. the big question remains: where is the progress?

Sheikh Hasina is referred to as a “visionary”. In reality, she has proven to be anything but. Quantifying what renders a nation developed solely on numbers is what is, in fact, destroying what Bangladesh fought for in the War Of Liberation in 1971. The key factors, which Sheikh Hasina either refuses to acknowledge or ignores the existence of, are qualitative. The quality of healthcare, education, employment, air, water, security, road safety, freedom of choice and speech, etc. are what constitutes progress.

Sheikh Hasina is making the same mistakes every dictator in history has made: holding their own people hostage for personal wealth, glorification and ego. As seen time and time again, this has never ended well in dictatorships. Bangladesh will be no exception. 

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