Monday, March 21, 2005

Days and Nights in Bangladesh


It has been about five months that I have been in Bangladesh now. Indians living and working in Bangladesh have mainly restricted themselves to the two cities – Dhaka and Chittagong. I decided to venture into the unknown. The city of Cox’s Bazaar is known to the average Bangladeshi, being the premier seaside town with a heavenly beach stretching for miles. My employers told me only as much when they contacted me in Kolkata. I came down to Cox’s Bazaar for a recce. Yes, the beauty was impressive and the hotel that I was supposed to head was even more so. My risk of relocation was lessening by the day. I started with Seagull Hotel here in August 2004. But did I know the country, the people and their natural suspicion of us Indians?

Here lies another story altogether. Firstly, I saw that Hindus ( Sanatanis, as they are called here) were not very involved in the political landscape of the country. In fact, there are not too many Hindus who matter in this country. Now, the Muslims, through their religious antipathy, have come to view any Indian with suspicion and that is very much understandable. But the Hindus here are of a very mean and cowardly variety. I have tried to understand the reasons and the oppression faced in the past seems to be the only answer that comes to mind. These people have a presence on both sides of the border. They are working and living in Bangladesh and awaiting the day when the powers that be here tell them to go over the border. I have met people who have it all planned and are hoarding their wealth bit by bit across the border. In fact, I met a doctor from Firozepur yesterday who has his brother in law in Kakdwip, West Bengal, India from 1992 onwards, in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid riots. He has very meticulously planned everything including the requisite ration cards in India. He holds a Bangladeshi passport and travels to India every three months to look at his benami holdings in West Bengal. He may be residing in the fringes of the urban world but he is exceedingly wealthy. What does my average countryman say to all these schemes!

On the other hand, the Muslims, with a clear majority in the country have not been able to regroup themselves after the liberation in 1971. The country has not gotten ahead in Education ( the urban population totally depends on other countries for receiving a good education, visit colleges in Pune, Bangalore, Chennai and Trivandrum and you shall know what I am talking about). Because of this subsistence on foreign education, the youth of the country are disconnected from the orthodox elders and have no idea about nation building. The political class consists mainly of businessmen who have their own causes and prerogatives to pursue. The space left in the middle has been taken up illiterate touts and agents of all hues who do not have anything to give back to the country. The rural and urban divide is at an all time high. Migration from agriculture to Manual labour in urban areas and India has been continuous thus fuelling another economic disparity. I find that this disparity is getting to be the real cause for a massive migration towards Indian cities in the last fifteen years and this has been continuous in the face of abhorrent living conditions in some areas in Bangladesh. In many ways, this has not been different from the migrations from Bihar, UP, AP, Jharkhand and Orissa in India.

Manual Labour exists at many levels. But primarily, it exists at the various manufacturing factories. Bangladesh has a very poor manufacturing infrastructure. Here, even plastic goods are imported! There is no white goods, car, electronic goods, leather goods, machine tools, or heavy Engineering items manufactured in the country. The dependence on Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian, Thai and Indian good s is so high that they devalue their own goods. It is like what used to occur in India during our fathers’ times. So, smuggling constitutes a hefty part of the country’s economy. Custom Inspectors are millionaires having 3 to 4 houses in best locations of Dhaka and paying hefty sums to be at the check posts for duties. So, the Labourers needing to earn well have been finding the safe refuge of India.

Has India understood the entirety of this problem? - coming up.

No comments: