BANGLADESH: Dangerous Decline of Values

Friday, June 3, 2011
The Daily Star
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

In recent times, Bangladesh has been witnessing a sharp and steep decline in social and moral values -- values that dignify and distinguish a society. Everyday newspapers carry series of harrowing, gruesome tales that were unheard of a few decades ago. What has happened that the Bangladeshi society is sadly sliding into such a social and moral depravity?

A homogenous nation as we are with rural root and common culture, the society is now in the process of gradual disintegration into a fragmented, greed oriented, selfish entity. This gradual degradation of values make our society less humane and we become poorer in social capital.

What is causing this slide? Is it the politics of hatred and confrontation and toxic relations between leaders that is vitiating the society? Is it the immoral accumulation of wealth at meteoric speed by some in the society which is spawning the seed of hatred and animosity? Is it the intolerance of social and political peers that is permeating into the social fabric? Or is it the oppressive poverty that drives people to the point of utter desperation?

We do not know how a sociologist or a social psychologist will interpret and analyse the phenomena. But we are aghast to notice the pervading cruelty and callousness, the deviant behaviour in the society. How can a nation be called happy and peaceful if everyday the society experiences gruesome murders, dozens of deaths in a series of accidents, multiple suicides across the country, violence against women, abuse of children, and vicious vendettas.

Rate of violence against women in Bangladesh, say the activists, is among the world's highest, and rising. "Everyday 17 out of 100 women become victims of violence at home or at workplace, and 25% of them die," says Rosaline Costa, an activist (Hotline Human Rights, Bangladesh).

Figures released by Acid Survivors Foundation show that 338 attacks were carried out in 2005 throughout the country -- 50% more than in 2004. 41% of the victims were under the age of 18.

According to an official report, 3,401 women and girl children were raped in Bangladesh between March 1991 and March 1996. The same source reports that 1,843 women and girl children were raped between March 1996 and December 1997 (Janakantha March 28, 2008). UNICEF observes "child sexual abuse permeates all levels of Bangladeshi society."

We do not have the figures of suicide on our hands, perhaps because suicide is self-inflicted and therefore beyond the purview of official statistics. But the number of suicides is staggering if one notices the news appearing in the newspapers everyday.

It was the French sociologist Emile Durkheim who observed that the suicides are committed because "some people lose their sense of belongingness, the feeling of participating in a meaningful social whole. Such individuals feel disoriented, frightened and alone." This is a condition of "normlessness in which values and norms have little impact and the culture no longer provides adequate guidelines to behaviour."

While we observe this sad spectacle of the society on the one hand there is on the other hand a corrosive culture that undermines the society. A section of young men and women are driven to drugs --be it yaba or phensydyl or such other substance. The bane of this scourge is felt at all strata of society. The number of "clinics" mushrooming in the cities for the healing of such sickness is a testimony to that.

Another section of young men and women who go by the name of students bloody each other in their craze to catch hold of tender business, or they fight for leadership with guns and machetes. Criminals terrorise the innocent citizens for money over phone, invoking "Subrata Bain" or "Kala Jahangir." There is hardly any affluent citizen in Dhaka who has not received such a call in the last couple of years. There is widespread hijacking of helpless men and women on the streets everyday.

Bangladesh has the dubious distinction of being at the top of the league of corrupt countries. We may officially question the statistics but we cannot deny its disagreeable existence in the society.

Then we find parliament members abusing political opponents in the foulest language, and political leaders insulting the national icons -- the latest victim being Professor Mohammed Yunus, a Nobel Laureate. It seems we have infinite capacity to belittle ourselves.

The gross result of such social deviations is the loss of respect and values in the society for the persons who are to be held high in esteem. It is not that only individuals suffer in the society; the society as a whole suffers, resulting in the gradual devaluation of social and moral standards. I am tempted to quote a few lines which Professor Amartya Sen quoted in his book "The Idea of Justice,"