Looking back at 2020

Nahid Riyasad | Published: 00:00, Dec 27,2020 | Updated: 10:37, Dec 27,2020


The pandemic COVID-19 that has turned the world up-side-down and continues to take lives across the world left little room for celebration, but the lingering hope for a better, corona-free new year is there. Nahid Riyasad looks back at 2020

THE tumultuous 2020 will soon come to an end and another year is about to make its foray. The pandemic COVID-19 that has turned the world up-side-down and continues to take lives across the world left little room for celebration, but the lingering hope for a better, corona-free new year is there.

The impacts of the COVID-19 has reorganised every dynamics of business, politics and education in this year. Much of what has happened during the outgoing year they are directly or indirectly related to the outbreak of novel coronavirus. For Bangladeshi youths, the year that has started with a movement against gender-based violence seems like ending with the same However, Bangladeshi youths have started the year by raising voice at gender-based violence and the struggle continued which says a lot about women’s safety and freedom of movement in Bangladesh. The subsequent months were mostly about students finding their feet in the online operation of academic activities during the pandemic.


Youths call for an inclusive movement against gender-based violence

THE year started with a string of rape and sexual violence. Concerned youth groups and human rights activists took to the streets with a call for an inclusive and sustained movement to curb such crimes.

On January 5, a student of the University of Dhaka was raped in Dhaka. On January 6, a school girl committed suicide at Patgram in Lalmonirhat after being sexually harassed by a boy. In Pabna, a man was killed by someone who stalked his daughter.

The High Court, on January 5, asked the foreign secretary to explain why he had failed to take action against three diplomats for sexually harassing a junior colleague in foreign missions in Tokyo and Mumbai.

Rape survivors’ family, activists and legal researcher unanimously urged the government to address the pervasive institutional misogyny to put an end to this pervasive culture of impunity that the perpetrators of sexual crimes enjoy.


Save the Sunderbans

SINCE 2001, the 14th of February has been celebrated as the Sunderbans Day to create awareness among mass people to protect the biodiversity of the forest. And, it has been nearly a decade now that people from all walks life are in movements to save the Sunderbans.

As part of the movement, on February 14, students from across the country has celebrated the Sunderbans Day focusing on the effect of industrial activities around the forest. Ion 2020, the day also coincided with the first day of spring in Bangla calendar. In the festive exchange of flower, dance and songs, the greatness of the Sunderbans was celebrated.

Deforestation and industrial development activities have progressively appropriated and encroached forestlands. The Rampal Power Station, a 1320 mega-watt 1.5 billion USD coal-fired power plant is set to become the country’s largest power station, just 14 kilometres north of our mangrove forest.

Rampal Power Station is not the only project that is currently threatening the Sunderbans. The national committee on the environment of Bangladesh, chaired by the prime minister, cleared as many as 320 industrial projects within 10 kilometres radius of the Sunderbans and without any cumulative impact assessments.


DUCSU fails to fulfil students’ expectations

THE 2018 Dhaka University Central Students Union polls were held after thirty years. Most of the seats in the central and hall committees of the March elections were ‘won’ by the ruling party Awami League’s student wing Bangladesh Chhatra League. Widespread irregularities in the polls were reported in the media.

As the student body completed its term, New Age Youth talked to general students to understand their perception about DUCSU. Most of them said DUCSU has failed to create a meaningful impact.

All the participating panels unanimously promised that they will work towards ending the culture of ragging in residential halls and ensure that the control of the seat allocation is returned to the administration. New Age Youth learnt that the Chhatra League leaders are still in control of the seat allocation process and ragging continued unabated.

When asked about the next elections, the vice-chancellor of DU said that this is not the time to talk about DUCSU as the world is going through a pandemic. The polls were a landmark because of the time-gap but it will be meaningful only if the process is continued.


Youths stand beside home-locked people during the COVID-19

WITH the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 in Bangladesh on March 8 the country into ‘unofficial’ lockdown by April. It was different youth-led organisations and platforms that started raising funds and delivering essential supplies to the people who were in need.

The government’s stimulus packages were tailored for industrialists thus ignored people in the informal sectors. Citizen volunteer organisations like Bidyanondo Foundation collected huge sums of donations, supplies and properly channelled the items to the needy families.

A few gender rights activists sourced supplies for sex-workers, hijra and transgender communities. A group of young doctors from a private university arranged 24/7 online COVID-19 help line.

As the government was slow, in some cases inactive in responding to the needs of the public at large, youth from all walks life rose to the occasion, created platforms, formed groups to help people survive the economic hardship.  Different student organisations have also taken to streets demanding transparent and accountable distribution of relief and cash aid during the pandemic.


Students struggle with online classes and the cost of education

WHEN the government closed all the educational institutes in mid-march, the talks of effectively offering lessons online was publicly debated. For private university students, the question of online classes raises a set of other concerns including increased educational expense, lack of students’ representation in decision making during the COVID-19 outbreak.

On April 19, New Age Youth published a story titled ‘COVID-19 and the conundrum of online classes’ that shed light on how online classes are increasing their educational expenses in the form of smart devices and expensive data packs. Such classes are also limiting the scope of interactive learning as students do not have chances to ask questions.

Meanwhile, meetings in the top education authorities, where private university owners’ representatives were present, took place without any student representation. Meanwhile, tuition fees remain the same despite online classes. The University Grants Commission data shows that many universities have steady income flow, an income that contradicts the claims of the private university authorities that they are incurring a loss.


No focus on education in the national budget

ON JUNE 11, the national budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 was proposed in the parliament amid an epidemic outbreak of the novel coronavirus. From students, teachers to parents, all concerned parties thought that the budget for the education sector has failed to respond to the crisis the sector is faced with

The demands for increasing budget in the education sector is not something new but amid COVID-19 outbreak when the whole sector is going through a great crisis, a particular need for increased budgetary allocation and policymakers’ attention was crucial.

The proposed budget imposed a supplementary five per cent duty on the mobile phone and data plans. This increases the cost of online classes.

International research bodies warned that the low and middle-income countries may witness an increased school drop-out rates owing to the immediate and long-term consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. The government failed to announce a robust education budget to address these issues.


Indigenous youths’ response to the COVID-19

NEW Age Youth attended an online session where young organisers and cultural activists from indigenous communities shared their experiences of how their community is handling the situation.

Some of the main concerns addressed in their discussion include youths facing lay-off from workplace, accommodation crisis for students in the city, food security and access to health care in remote areas.

They elaborated on youth-led initiatives to address the crisis.

Speakers also talked about human rights violations against the ethnic minority communities during the COVID-19 outbreak. A Shantal woman and two Garo women were sexually molested, two Garo families in Dhaka were tortured over house rent.

In a separate event organised by Bangladesh Adivasi-Chatra Sangram Parishad on July 10, young indigenous women talked about the hurdles they have faced so far in the current crisis.

The panellists elaborated on student issues like loss of time, accommodation crisis and overall conditions of their respective communities. They also discussed different student initiatives targeted to help marginalised communities.


Tiktoker’s arrest ignites social media debate exposing class-snobbery

YEASIN Arafat Opu, a Tiktoker popularly known as Opu Bai, was arrested on August 4, 2020, from Uttara, Dhaka on charges of assaulting, harassing and beating three youths in a public place.

Social media platforms were flooded with comments ‘othering’ the performers of Tiktok with homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic slangs. During the backlash in social media, the socio-economic status of the commentators influenced the direction of the conversation. It was also evidenced during Opu’s arrest when people called him ‘fokinnir put’ (son of a beggar) and tried to cut his hair with scissors.

Tiktok contents need very minimal-set ups thus allowing access to the economically marginalised people to take part in the cyber-entertainment world and create contents.

Many popular performers of Tiktok are fashion conscious and are eager to try new trends and fashion.

Instead of reading these fashion signs and symbols as a dissenting expression of the mofussil youth, who does not have easy access to mainstream youth cultural spaces, many netizens were trashing their cultural expression and, in a way, contributing to an othering process. The entire episode made the rural-urban divide more evident in youth culture in Bangladesh.


Changing spaces during the pandemic

HEALTH care experts around the globe urged people to maintain social distance thus effectively restricting peoples’ access to public places and activities. As a result, different social media platforms have emerged as a prominent space for the public to gather and share their social lives.

This is a paradigm shift in our behavioural pattern.

On the one hand, people become more reliant on social media platforms and the other hand, authorities cracked down on people for expressing their opinion on social media intensified.

On May 6, eleven people, including a cartoonist, two journalists and a writer, were accused in a case for ‘spreading rumours and carrying out anti-government activities’ under the Digital Security Act.

A glance through the recent issues that emerged in different social media platforms is proof that young people have adopted the virtual world as a temporary replacement for their known outside space.


Students protest with jute mills workers

THE government on June 28 announced 25 state-owned jute mills closed. Top authorities indicate that the mills will eventually be privatised.

Since then the jute mill workers are protesting against the decision, students have lent their voice to their struggle. Student organisers in different areas of Bangladesh became active and mobilised their resources opposing the implicit privatisation attempt and the closure.

Student-workers solidarity, although historically celebrated, it is not that common in present struggles. So the jute-mills protests are albeit an important juncture in students’ politics in recent times.

Even amidst the COVID-19 financial crisis, when most of the industries of Bangladesh endured loss, the jute industry showed 5.74 per cent growth.

The government’s reluctance to hold meaningful talks with the workers, repression on the leaders and student activists and police aggression on the protesters are indicating that the power quarters are very interested to hand the state property to private owners thus allowing them to rip the profit and deprive the workers.


Apparel workers struggling during the pandemic

READYMADE garment workers who lost their jobs or did not get their due wage during the pandemic COVID-19 are passing the days in severe economic hardship. A large majority of these workers are young women.

In August, a report of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies’ revealed that about 3, 24, 684 readymade garment workers have lost their jobs and 1,915 factories have been shut since the beginning of the outbreak in March. The report also says that some 26,500 garment workers have been terminated by 87 factories without following the provisions of labour laws and rules.

The apparel exporters association since the beginning of the outbreak have been making claims that the industry losing international order and it would require government support to pay the workers.

Once the stimulus package worth of Tk 5,000 crore was announced by the government, they seem to have been more interested in laying-off workers and resuming factory operations than paying workers their due wages. Young apparel workers have been on the street demanding their wages since March.


Feminists organising on a single platform

‘FEMINISTS across Generations’ is a recently formed platform that has been organising rallies and online discussions particularly to incite rage among people against the rape culture that has normalised sexual violence.

The first public event organised by the forum was on October 10, when activists gathered in front of the parliament building in Dhaka with their 10-point demands. From the event, organisers declared gender-based violence a national emergency recognising the fact that the business-as-usual approach to the cause will not bring the expected social changes.

This platform’s primary strategic intervention is against the tendency of the state and society that has normalised rape to the extent that we don’t get angry at the injustices done to women. They are talking about a right to feminine rage, a rather unconventional but significant move that unsettles the stereotypes of women being docile, silent and always a victim.

The 10-point demands of the platform revolve around rape law reform, social transformation and insist on breaking the taboo on sexuality that exists in our society. It advocates for specific reforms in the perception of rape as the Penal Code 1860 gives a vague definition of rape.

Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth.

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