Monday, July 18, 2011

A nation in moral crisis

The Independent
As I See It column,
July 16th.,2011
M. Serajul islam

My driver had been nagging me for quite some time that the car was consuming a lot more fuel and the mileage per liter had fallen substantially. I thought the driver was talking nonsense because the car is comparatively new and the mileage could not just have fallen like that. But the driver persisted with his complaint and after a while I also found out that I was paying more money on oil than before.

I sent the car to the repair shop. The owner is educated and articulate in explaining the working details of a car even to someone like me who is not well conversant with the workings of a car engine.
He said that my car is in perfect condition; almost as good as new. The problem is with the petrol pump/s from where I have been buying petrol. He said most of the pumps are supplying adulterated fuel. Even the brand new cars are having the same problem as I am having with my car.

Where are we going as a nation? Such fraud in public life is now common place. Four of my sisters who live in the US together with a number of nephews and nieces are now in Dhaka. They have come to attend the marriage of my daughter. When I extended invitation to them to come for the wedding, I had told them that this is a wonderful time to visit Bangladesh as this is the season of mango, the king of fruits.
Soon after they arrived here, there was news on how the mango traders are ripening mangoes these days by spraying dangerous chemicals. One leading English daily showed truck loads of such poisonous mangoes being destroyed.

My sisters asked me what have the authorities done to the traders responsible for poisoning. I said nothing, then paused and said that there could be some fine ones perhaps although I also added that I had not read of any such punishment being meted out to these criminals.

I wrote in the past articles here about formalin used by the fish traders. When I was growing up, I could never go to the fish market because of the flies. Thanks to our fish traders, the fish markets are now fly proof. It is for a “small” price of poisoning the customers. On mangoes, a group of traders to prove their honesty have advertised boldly in front of their shops that they sell only “poison-free” mangoes!
There is a serious disconnect here. The advertisement by these mango traders suggests that all other mango shops other than theirs sell poisonous mangos! More importantly, how could the authorities allow such advertisements to be publicly made?
Imagine what foreigners would think if they could read Bangla or someone interpreted the ads for them. Surely the would think they are in a place where law of the jungle prevails.

It is not with just the mangoes and fish that these unscrupulous traders have put the people at risk; chemicals are now openly used in most types of fruits and vegetables to keep them fresh. Apples can be kept in the open without any fear of rotting as long as one wishes. Even bananas are not wasted when left for days in the open.

One understands that in a poor country, there would be unscrupulous traders who would be greedy and try to make money by foul means. However, it is incredible that these traders would use chemicals on edible commodities knowing full well that by such use they would be poisoning innocent people slowly and sending them to their deaths.

This is something perhaps unique for it is hard to imagine that traders in any other society would stoop so slow as to do what they are doing in Bangladesh almost nonchalantly.It is even more incredible that so far little action has been taken by the authorities to deter these unscrupulous traders from slow poisoning the people. Even the mobile courts that were sent to catch and punish these traders have ceased going after them.

It seems that evil has won after all and the authorities have given up going after them for mysterious reasons. Is it just possible that there is an evil nexus working here so powerful that nothing can be done against those slow poisoning the people?
It is just not among the traders that we see such a moral degradation. The way the authorities and the people in general are accepting such action of traders without much protest or action also hints at a moral degradation in rest of the society.
Such moral degradation is now visible all around us; in almost all spheres of our public and private lives. Although the last CG committed many excesses; on the issue of corruption in public life it had succeeded in creating public corruption. Unfortunately, with the return of elected government, corruption has returned in full fury.

The assault on the school girl by her teacher of one of Dhaka’s top schools is another sign of the depth of moral degradation to which we have fallen. It may not have been very unusual that a school teacher has committed such a detestable act; it happens in the best of societies. What is incredible here is the action of the school authorities who have tried to keep it from coming into the open.

In fact, this school’s moral degradation started earlier. There was a time when merit was the only criterion for admission to this school. It is now an open secret that students are being admitted to this school for a hefty amount of money.
As a girl’s school, this institution used to have only two male teachers. But the school now has 6 male teachers and politics is very nearly ruining the school by hitting where it hurts most; its moral foundation that once made it a pristine girls’ school in the country.

The government that is so indifferent to the slide of the country towards moral degradation is by no means incapable of taking punitive measures where it wants. Recently, I was dumbfounded listening to a RAB official in a talk show defending the extra-judicial killings as if there is no harm done there.

Human life seems so dispensable in Bangladesh! He also proudly claimed that there is peace in the country because of the 8000 plus RAB officials who are serving the nation dedicatedly!

When it comes to beating up the opposition, the police can be ferocious as we have seen with the beating given to the Opposition Chief Whip. Why can’t this law enforcing forces act with the same dedication with the criminal traders under the purview of the law, traders who sell poisonous mangoes or the petrol pumps that sell adulterated petrol or the teacher who violates his student or the school authorities that admits students for a price?

The civil society that plays a fundamental role with problems of moral degradation in all societies has lost its value in Bangladesh because of its role during the last Caretaker Government.

Its support for a third force that brought the military into politics has hurt its credibility. Hence we are not witnessing any serious efforts by the civil society to deal with the moral crisis in the country..

That leaves the politicians to do the needful. Unfortunately, the politicians are busy fighting themselves. They have no time to deal with the deteriorating moral crisis. In fact, the nature of our politics is one major cause for the moral crisis we are in. Unless our quality of politics improves, the deepening moral crisis could destroy us as a nation.

The writer is a former ambassador to Japan and Egypt

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