On September 7, the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, said, ‘The people of all classes of society, the administration, members of law enforcement agencies and elected public representatives will have to know why youths are choosing the wrong paths like extremism and drug addiction.’ She again called on all to always stay alert so that no one could slip into the wrong path of extremism and mobilise public opinion against these two menaces. (New Age, September 8, 2016)
Yes, not only the prime minister, the question why youths are choosing the wrong paths like extremism and drug addiction has become a constant concern for many in the country. Guardians, sociologists, psychologists, and political and social leaders have been talking about this for long. I would like to put counter-questions to all of them: when do youths want to do otherwise when they want to become responsible, sensitive human being? Do you allow them? Do you appreciate that? I know, for most of them, the answer is ‘no’.
In fact, the youth in this country have been under severe pressure from multiple sources since their very childhood. They are being bombarded by the books and examinations but not enough teachers and teaching facilities. They have overloaded books, they have lot of examinations, and additional burden is high expectations from their family and friends. Therefore, since their early age, they fell into the multiple traps of commercial machine, coaching centres, private tuition, guide books. A big portion cannot continue, they are just left out, abandoned.
Urban children from wealthy and middle-class families have been hooked for 18 hours to run from here and there to ensure GPA 5 — the prize for the best performance in everything! But the essential part of childhood has been missing: playground, free vacation and creative childhood activities. Most of the schools do not have playgrounds but only multi-storey buildings — little scope for free-mind questioning, only selected books and memorising. Here we see a robot in the making.
In private universities, students are not allowed to become politically active and critical of the real power structure. In public universities, politics is allowed but dissent is not. There government student organisation uses muscle and influence to ensure their absolute control over student activities. They rule the campus as the lone political power and also control the administration run by teachers. Their role is usually extended to that of henchmen of political leaders for grabbing land, rent-seeking and so on. Since the early 1990s students were not allowed to form student unions probably to ensure absolute reign of the ruling party. This suffocating situation has been created and entertained by the government itself, who has become increasingly intolerant of dissenting views.
Practically, guardians want to see their children to be devoted to the structured process of getting degrees to make successful career; the government wants them to be loyal, uncritical follower, who do not disagree and do not raise questions; and teachers want them to be uncritical memoriser and obedient students. The market demands youth to become mad consumers and mindless workers for the capitalist machine. Religious leaders demand unconditional, uncritical belief in their authority in the name of God. Therefore, options are very limited before the youth: either you become believers of social/religious/political/economic lords without raising any question or you become left out of any good fortune in the present world or after life. In this scenario a fertile ground is available to make degree-holder youth either mindless corporate workers or cruel ruling party mastans or blind hate activists in the name of religion/race/ethnicity.
Along with extremism and drug addiction, there are other questions too. The extent of primitive accumulation goes beyond historical limit; therefore, along with GDP growth, we see land, forest and water bodies being grabbed; we see dying rivers, polluted cities, lost open space, unsafe factories, capital flight and so on. The speed of privatisation and commercialisation of education in Bangladesh has been one of the highest in the world. That contributed to GDP growth but has increased the cost of education and lowered the quality and also has increased social tension and inequality. The same thing happened with health care. As a consequences, the majority of youth in this country suffer from lack of quality education and health care. Most of them cannot reach out to regular decent jobs; they join the informal sector or desperately look for overseas job. As a whole working class youth work under unbearable workload and insecurity; young women move with constant fear of assault. Majority of the young women and men, therefore, do not have any settled life, only insecurity and uncertainty.
Philosopher Alain Badiou pinpointed the crisis of the youth in present time as a crisis of vision, he said, ‘Our ills today come from the historic failure of communism.’ He continued, ‘A life that does not limit itself either to obedience or the satisfaction of immediate impulses…. My wish for the youth is that they traverse these four conditions: to encounter art in all its forms; to be loving in fidelity, and for a long time; and to participate in the political reconstruction of a world of justice, as against the world such as it is. And not to be as ignorant of science as they currently are, so that they do not leave it in the hands of technology or capital.’ (‘Alain Badiou: Corrupting the Youth’, interview by Juliette Cerf, translated by David Broder, Mariborchan.si, September 4, 2016)
Discussing the danger of Islamic terrorism without bringing the whole picture is meaningless. We mustaddress the global (dis)order and its ‘war on terror’ mantra propagated by the US only to spread terrorism and to occupy countries and their resources. This mantra has been used as clearly a provocation for unfolding hate politics and creating fertile ground for corporate grabbing in association with racist communal right wing politics in different parts of the world. Moreover, governments in different countries have taken the mantra as a justification to curtail democratic rights in an extremist way, usurp political power, give free hand authority to public resource grabbers and corporate lords. Bangladesh is a leading example of that.
It is a common concern in the country that how we can create space to make a difference, to create a condition for youth to become a strong force to fight extremism in any form. In this context, one question remains crucial that how it can be done when the state itself becomes extremist, when the law enforcement agencies become unregulated instrument of coercion, when the judicial process becomes redundant, when people are deprived of free expression of opinion. If this scenario remains, then other extremism will surely flourish.
Only breathing space can be created by the youth who, despite disapproval and repression and fear, continue questioning the hegemonic power, continue thinking in open mind and remain active to fight injustice and discrimination, and remain active and creative in favour of public rights and resources and environment. I know ruling classes at home and abroad, despite their rhetoric, would be happy to embrace extremists and drug addicts to destroy the new youth of hope. Now, nevertheless, I find hope with them who stands to demand justice for Twaki, Tonu, Afsana, Mitu, Dipon, Avijit; who stands to save the Sunderbans from a disastrous mad project; who stands against repressive laws and coercive actions by law enforcement agencies; who stands with majority of the workers for their rights and security; who stands against ethnic religious gender violence; and who stands against extremist attacks on public by the different visible-invisible groups as well as by the state.
Anu Muhammad is an economist and member secretary of the national committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and ports.
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