July 22, 2024, 4:43 pm

Does the silence of civil society help a society progress?

Dr. Murshida Binte Rahman
  • Update Time : Saturday, June 8, 2024

Bangladesh’s civil society had organized strong protests against Pakistani exploitation. It can be said that the representatives of this civil society were the architects of the birth of the state called Bangladesh. This civil society has also led every movement in independent Bangladesh. So where is that civil society in present-day Bangladesh? If asked – does civil society only organize protests? Is it the sole duty of a state’s civil society to build anti-government movements? The pro-independence forces are running the government in Bangladesh, so isn’t it natural for civil society to remain silent?

In reality, the activities of civil society contribute to the overall development of the state, improve the quality of life, and ensure that the voices of different segments of the population are heard and considered in policy-making processes. To be more specific, one of the key activities of civil society is:

  1. Promoting policies and laws that protect human rights, the environment, and social justice.

2. Liaising with government officials to influence policy decisions and implementation.
3. Providing social services such as education, healthcare, and housing.
4. Conducting activities for the development of society and the eradication of poverty.
5. Monitoring government actions and policies to ensure transparency and accountability.
6. Conducting research and publishing reports on government performance, corruption, and human rights violations.
7. Providing training and resources to increase the skills and capacities of community members and other organizations.
8. Empowering marginalized communities through education and skill development.
9. Organizing campaigns to raise public awareness on issues like environmental protection, health, and human rights.
10. Educating citizens about their rights and responsibilities.
11. Promoting mediation and reconciliation at the community level.
12. Implementing peace-building initiatives in post-conflict areas.
13. Encouraging citizens to participate in democratic processes such as voting, public consultations, and civic activities.
14. Organizing community meetings, forums, and workshops to engage citizens in decision-making.
15. Preserving and promoting cultural heritage and diversity.
16. Organizing sports, arts, and cultural events to enhance community spirit and social cohesion.
17. Engaging in conservation projects and advocating for sustainable development.
18. Addressing problems like pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss through grassroots initiatives, etc.

Given the importance of the ongoing activities of civil society in a state, it is not impossible to understand the current existence of civil society in Bangladesh. To begin with, the change in the fundamental principles of Bangladesh after August 15, 1975, has not yet been corrected. We have not returned to the 1972 constitution. Civil society in Bangladesh has no voice to bring the country back to its own identity. Furthermore, there is no representation of civil society to influence the state’s policy decisions and implementation. The way the state is run by the military-civil bureaucracy leaves no room for civil society to speak.

On the other hand, the representatives of civil society have also become opportunistic and self-serving. As a result, they are busy competing to establish good relationships with the bureaucracy for personal gain. The ‘dominance of bureaucracy’ is a Pakistani notion. Bangabandhu had prioritized the representation of Bangladesh’s civil society against this dominance. His struggle was against the dominance of bureaucracy. But today, we are witnessing with astonishment that the government of Bangabandhu’s ideology has broken the backbone of Bangladesh’s civil society and established a bureaucratic-dependent state system.

It is said that ‘education is the backbone of a nation,’ and teachers are one of the key representatives of this civil society. They are always engaged in building the young generation of the state into skilled individuals. Over the ages, these young people have raised their voices against injustice and advanced civilization. But what is the current state of Bangladesh’s education system? From primary to university level, there is no standard education system in place. No specific and firm plans have been adopted to improve the quality of education. Various training arrangements are made domestically and abroad to improve the bureaucracy. However, no standard training arrangements have been made to improve the quality of teachers. The education sector is currently considered the most neglected sector in Bangladesh.

The education system has been turned into a ridiculous system. On social media, primary education and teachers are subjects of various humorous trolls. A new curriculum has been introduced. But how will teachers who do not understand the curriculum explain it to students? On the other hand, the situation of higher education is most alarming. About fifty public universities have been established nationwide.

Teachers are being appointed to various positions in these universities. Who is responsible for ensuring the quality of these teachers? The vice-chancellors are busy showing campus peace and external development during their specific tenures. Are they practically able to contribute to the formulation of a quality education system? Teachers, in turn, are busy with business, part-timing at private universities, or involved in government projects while having the facade of teaching. Of course, not all university-level teachers are like this. However, they are cornered. Those without principles are always united for communal interests in every era.

Observing the condition of private universities compared to public ones presents another picture. Undoubtedly, except for a few private universities in Bangladesh, the quality of education at the rest is questionable. Private universities are adopting better strategies than public ones considering global rankings. However, a strategy is just a strategy, it does not contribute to the overall improvement of the education system.

The goal of a country’s education system aligns with its broader socio-economic and cultural objectives, encouraging both individual development and collective progress. In contrast, private universities consider education solely as a marketable product. Education is viewed as a commodity that can be bought, sold, and traded in a market. This perspective emphasizes the economic value of education and its role in meeting the demands of students (consumers) and employers (market demand). Thus, national interests fall behind the demands of the international market. This way, the significant segment representing civil society in Bangladesh is on the verge of destruction. They lack the mindset to build the state and society. Consequently, the bureaucracy has become stronger against civil society in the state system.

Due to the weakness of the education system, the young student community is also directionless today. There is a large segment representing the youth community on social media who are devoid of real education and values. Their knowledge about the history and heritage of the country is very limited and is more influenced by Middle Eastern and Pakistani cultures. However, when the youth of the western world are on the streets against the brutal massacre by Israeli forces on the common people of Palestine, the young society of Bangladesh, let alone being on the streets, the so-called Islamic ideologists on social media also fail to show their vocal presence.

Their consciousness is more manifested in anti-India and anti-Awami League sentiments. They are never seen taking a stand against the policies of the Saudi Arabian government in protecting the rights of the Muslim world. Moreover, the ideological followers of Pakistan, who governed Bangladesh from 1975 to 1996, have created a crisis in national interests and culture, which the pro-liberation government has not been able to overcome. The government has not taken any initiative to inform or make the new generation understand the history of the state. A course on the history of the liberation war has been introduced at the university level.

But the question is, who will teach this history? What is the situation of the history or political science departments at the university level? If the teachers have a Pakistani mindset, then which aspect of the liberation war will they teach the students? Will they refer to the 1971 war as the ‘liberation war’ or the ‘civil war’? What ideal state will they present to the students? Of course, the big question now is whether the government wants the correct history of the liberation war to be propagated from generation to generation.

Evaluating the government’s work plan leaves us pained. The government has shown extreme negligence in the practice of national history. Has the government felt the need to monitor which ideology is leading in the recruitment process of universities? Maybe the government wants the true history to be erased, and a ‘hybrid’ culture to develop. However, a nation that wants to forget its own history will face a crisis of self-identity.

Ignoring everything, if staying in power is considered the primary aspect, they will be evaluated accordingly in the pages of history. However, they might think it is not their concern how they are evaluated after death; enjoying power until death is preferable. The current state and political policies of Bangladesh give such an impression. There are thousands of such aspects that prove how indifferent the government is to formulating a firm and quality education system in line with national interests.

Consequently, the young society is as ruined as the ‘hybrid’ culture of politicians. National interests are trivial in the context of building society and the state. With extreme sadness, it has to be said that currently, not a single student of the history department of Jagannath University is associated with left-wing politics; progressiveness does not attract them. Conversely, I won’t explain how extreme the reactionary tendencies have become. This is where the student society’s major failure as a representative of civil society is observed.

Politicians are also significant representatives of civil society. In this context, the main question is, why do the politicians of Bangladesh engage in politics nowadays? What is the purpose of their politics? A democratic state system cannot be run only centered on government party politics.

Political activities are conducted in line with the state’s ideals for the development of society and the state. Political parties, as primary representatives of civil society, work for the interests of the people. But Bangladesh is a country where political parties and people with both pro-independence and anti-independence ideologies coexist. The new generation is not aware of the ideals of Bangladesh.

Due to a party being in power for a long time, a ‘hybrid’ culture has emerged where the forces supporting and opposing Bangladesh are blended together. There is no ideal left in politics now. Moreover, as the people have no confidence in the election system of Bangladesh, believing that the administration rigs the elections, they have no faith in the elected representatives either.

After the recent incident of the murder of Anwarul Azim, the elected representative of Jhenaidah-4, the public has clearly understood the unprincipled side of Bangladesh’s politicians. And since elections are people-less and controlled by the administration, the bureaucrats do not have much respect for politicians either. Politicians have become ‘domesticated leaders.’ Their values, ideals, and judgments are all destroyed. They lack the determination to build the country, so they are indifferent to whatever system comes or goes.

Moreover, in a business-dependent political system, there is no voice to raise concerns for the interests of ordinary people. As a result, the prices of essential goods and all market products are rising uncontrollably and irrationally, but there is no voice of protest against this system, nor any drama, song, movie, or gathering.

Another major medium of civil society is the press. Newspapers have played a crucial role in the struggle for the rights of the people of Bangladesh. In the current age of technology, newspapers and electronic media have expanded significantly. Hundreds of journalists have been employed. The question is, how capable are they in addressing the state’s crisis or contributing to policy-making by revealing the truth?

The media is a very sensitive medium. It plays an important role in influencing public opinion. We witness both positive and negative roles of the media in Bangladesh. Recently, the way the media has accused a respected teacher of Jagannath University in connection with a student’s suicide reflects an extremely negative role. The media’s recklessness in standing with the killers of the BDR during the 2006 Pilkhana tragedy is a repetition of the conspiracy we saw in 1974 when Basanti was made to wear a net to conspire against Bangabandhu’s government. What has been done with a respected teacher of Jagannath University in the name of a media trial (on the country’s famous channels) shows the extreme irresponsibility of the media. They have failed to firmly highlight the real crisis of the country. Hundreds of journalists then, what benefit are they bringing to society and the state? What role are they playing as representatives of civil society?

In this way, not only teachers, politicians, or journalists, but every sector of civil society in Bangladesh is stagnant today. Practically, there is no position or voice from any segment. The country cannot progress solely through economic growth or GDP increase. Whether doctors, engineers, or businessmen, the young society today is aimless. They are not engaged in any activities for communal development. There may be no political movements or instability in the country, but does that indicate any positive aspect of the situation? Absolutely not. The government is extremely indifferent in creating a proper state structure and long-term development plans. And this lifelessness of civil society has pushed the country far back. There is no immediate possibility of overcoming this crisis. However, the very party that brought the civil society movements of Bangladesh to light has today strengthened the military-civil bureaucracy against civil society. The most unfortunate aspect is that in determining policies in education, no representation of teachers is kept, and various policies are imposed. Can a country with a neglected education and teacher society be determined solely by concrete structures? Does the silence of civil society give a firm shape to the state’s development?

Dr. Murshida Binte Rahman Professor & Chairman Department of History, Jagannath University


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