EDUCATION has almost everything to do with changing, modifying, and improving the levels of people’s culture (although ‘improving the cultural level’ is a loaded and controversial expression). To remain politically correct, we may assert that education helps us broaden our world view, liberate ourselves from age-old, prejudicial ideas and practices promoted and nurtured by pre-modern feudalism, colonialism, and stagnating postcolonial states in the third world, which are still clinging to many feudal and colonial values to the benefit of the postcolonial ruling elites. However, the systemic neglect of education at every level by all the post-liberation governments in Bangladesh — the allocation for education being one of the lowest in the world, much lower than Sri Lanka’s — has not improved the cultural level of the bulk of the population.
There are three mediums of instruction in the country, Bangla, English, and Islamic or madrassah, which respectively in general create underemployable, employable, and unemployable graduates. While the lower middle classes send their children to Bangla-medium schools and colleges, the upper classes send their children to English-medium institutions at home or abroad and the poor can only afford madrassah education for their children, who grow up as fatalist, unemployable, angry and frustrated adults.
Last but not least, the official policy of promoting only Bangla-medium education by almost classifying English-medium education as anti-national and unpatriotic (albeit it is grossly hypocritical and dichotomous to what the elite do with regard to the education of their own children) is mainly responsible for massive unemployment among ‘educated’ and unemployable graduates in the country; their number is in the neighbourhood of 30 to 40 per cent. The consequential employment of tens of thousands of English-educated Indians in the private sector costs the country very dearly, to the tune of almost three billion dollars a year, remitted to India by the Indians, mostly working illegally in Bangladesh.
The education system that produces semi-educated, and even virtually illiterate people, cannot produce politically conscious citizens to question, let alone resist autocracy and extrajudicial killing, which are the building blocks of an overpowering deep state. Bad education is possibly worse than illiteracy as it destroys traditional values that nurture civility, honesty, mutual love, trust and respect among people without building any better alternatives.
Postcolonial states like Pakistan and Bangladesh — as studied by Hamza Alavi — are glaring examples in this regard. As Alavi has pointed out, in the post-colonial Pakistan and Bangladesh, over-developed military, bureaucracy, and police run the state where civil society, being underdeveloped, remain dormant, ineffective, and irrelevant. In recent years, while the situation has substantially improved in Pakistan, Bangladesh has virtually become a police-state run by the overdeveloped military, bureaucracy, and the police. Since January 2007, the deep state is actually running Bangladesh where the so-called elected governments are virtually at its service. The deep state is also known as a state within a state, a clandestine government runs the show.
As David de Leon pointed out in 1903, private corporations had been running the United States to the detriment of the best interests of the people (David de Leon, ‘Imperialism in Imperio’, Daily People (editorial) June 4, 1903), so do modern scholars point out that several deep states like the CIA in the US, the ISI in Pakistan (its military intelligence outfit) are examples in this regard. The deep state is made of covert networks of power such as the military, intelligence agencies, the police, bureaucrats, and big business, who operate independently of a nation’s political leadership in pursuit of their own agenda and goals.
In Bangladesh today, the culture of the deep state is more powerful than the collective mass culture of compliance, apathy and dejection. The slow and steady rise of the deep state was inevitable after the government in 2004 had introduced the dreadful Rapid Action Battalion or death squads à la Hitler’s Gestapo or secret police, and the Schutzstaffel, or SS troops, and the last Shah’s SAVAK in Iran, initially to get rid of hardcore criminals, which by early 2007 became the fearsome and unaccountable death squads. Initially, a cross-section of Bangladeshis, including educated people, welcomed RAB as their last hope for restoring order to Bangladesh. It is time to understand people’s unconditional support for extrajudicial killings by the dreadful RAB actually symbolises people’s diminishing respect for the police and the judiciary. This culture of lack of faith in law enforcers and the judiciary is an age-old tradition of Bengal, developed out of pragmatic reasons, or people’s experience of living under brutal pre-colonial and colonial regimes for centuries, from the Palas to the Senas, and the Mughals to the British. This culture of admiration for RAB, which is a powerful organ of the deep state is very pertinent to the study of the cultural dimension of underdevelopment, or the absence of democracy, freedom, and human rights in Bangladesh.
Again, thanks to the excesses of RAB — in a killing spree since 2007 — which has forcibly made many dissidents and others disappear across the country, the vast majority of Bangladeshis want a way out of the state of fear. In sum, Bangladesh is not only a fractured polity today — which is roughly divided between the Awami Leaguers and the anti-Awami Leaguers — it is also in a state of confusion, fear, and uncertainties. How long the so-called myth of prosperity will keep the underdogs — at least 70 per cent of the population live below the poverty line drawn at more than $1.90 per capita income per day — is an embarrassingly loaded question. Nobody wants to answer it, economists, development practitioners, human rights activists, let alone the government.
I end this submission with an old Urdu story, which goes like this: One a poor widow invited four maulvis to pray for her dead husband. She prepared a good meal for them as well. Incidentally, all the four so-called maulvis were illiterate, even did not know any prayers. The first one came and while eating halwa and paratha, started murmuring in subdued voice, ‘Main kuchh nahin janta’ (I don’t know anything). Then came the second maulvi and sat next to the first one. He wanted to follow the first. He was shocked, and started chanting in low voice, ‘Jaisa tu, waisa main’ (I am like yourself). Then came the third one and, after discovering what was going on there, was very worried and started chanting in low voice, ‘Yeh kab tak chalega?’ (How long will this last?). Then came the fourth one, who was illiterate but smart. After listening to all the three maulvis, he just grabbed the bowl of halwa and parathas and started gulping the food and started chanting, also in low voice: ‘Jab tak chale chala jaye, halwa-paratha khaya jaye’ (Let us all eat halwa-paratha as long as we can). I think the situation in Bangladesh is very similar to what was going on at the old lady’s house that day, ignorant but powerful people are busy ruining the country with their crude culture, ignorance, and brute force.
Dr Taj Hashmi is a historian, analyst, and author of several books. He is an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Austin Peay State University, Tennessee.