The government, non-governmental organisations and all have to work together to establish equality, human dignity and social justice as the state alone cannot do that, Selina Hossain, writer and honorary member of the National Human Rights Commission, tells Shahin Akhter in an interview with New Age
New Age: The ‘proclamation’ of Bangladesh’s independence, made on April 10, 1971, promised citizens ‘equality, human dignity and social justice’. Now, 44 years into the country’s independence, where does Bangladesh stand in terms of ‘equality’ — political, economic and cultural — of the citizens?
Selina Hossain: When I look at today’s world, I see that the proclamation of Bangladesh’s independence, made on April 10, 1971, which promised citizens equality, human dignity and social justice, exists more on paper than in reality. This is the truth for all citizens. If we look at the eight countries of South Asia, it puts us in shame that there is no social justice.
These words should exist in any legislation that is created from the perspective of honesty and justice. But if we look at social status and the masses, we will understand that even after 44 years of the country’s independence, equality has not been established.
We have to consider the economic system that governs our state. One of the main principles of the constitution was socialism. But the rules and regulations needed to administer socialism has not been established as yet. We are still victims of class discrimination and capitalism. There is no place of equality and socialism in our state. If we cannot overcome this, how can we say that we have kept our promises of equality, human dignity and social justice for citizens?
It is right to raise questions about the state of equality in Bangladesh. We should raise these questions to create awareness for the next generation as only then, they can try to establish equality amongst the masses.
It is also true that after 44 years of independence, there have now been changes in the economy and agricultural production. Many people in the past could not afford two meals a day and the north of Bangladesh had been famine-prone. Changes have taken place in this sector. But class discrimination did not change in the state’s management system. The state is governed by a capitalistic system, not a socialist system. At present, thousands of women are making contributions to the economy while they are being repressed by their employers and on the streets. How can then we say that these women have achieved equality?
Even in agriculture, when farmers produce agricultural goods, they cannot get their proper share because of intervention by middlemen.
All these indicate that we lack moral honesty. There is also plenty of corruption. When people’s morality and honesty are destroyed, beginning with the governance of the state to the grass roots, then equality, indeed, cannot exist.
New Age: Do you think that ‘human dignity’ of citizens, particularly of the poor millions, has been established in Bangladesh? If not, why?
Selina Hossain: No. Human dignity has not been established. I have doubts whether we even know or understand the meaning of the word ‘dignity’. We do not even create the space for respect for people. It is not very difficult to establish human dignity. We can teach the next generation not to disrespect people because of their economic condition and profession.
Not only the poor people, people with disabilities, the Dalits, the Harijans, the hijras, refugees and even we are repressed in the absence of basic human dignity in society. We treat the Dalits and the Harijans as if they are not human beings. Even the assistant of a bus driver today sexually harasses female students of universities. A driver’s assistant with no education has no respect for a highly educated woman. The government has also failed to ensure dignity for national minority people.
There is no worse form of torture than child marriage. It causes marital rape. A child is forced to have sex with people through marriage. We do not consider children’s dignity. If I talk about the South Asia, the situation is quite similar in all countries of the region. One reason for all of this is that there is no proper education about human dignity. Such education is absent from the family, society, schools and even universities.
Poverty is not the only factor harming human dignity, lack of awareness, consciousness and lack of education are also contributing factors as well. The idea that we need education to administer dignity is also absent from society. It is not possible for one person to change the current situation. The entire society has to protest against such a situation. The administration must also play an important role in establishing the dignity of people.
New Age: What is the state of ‘social justice’ in Bangladesh?
Selina Hossain: I would again say that there is no social justice in Bangladesh now. In fact, the current lawlessness has damaged the country’s position in terms of social justice. Perpetrators are not brought to justice for punishment. Many of them obtain bail and do the same all over again. We have to sort out these issues to establish social justice. If we do not sort them out, it will be very difficult to come out of the situation.
We need social justice, especially for women and children. The situation is now not as bad as it was in the past. I always consider child marriage as the worst form of torture as it affects girls’ reproductive health, education and ruin their lives. If authorities stuck to 18 years as age of marriage for women, the country will have, indeed, progressed towards social justice to some extent.
New Age: What are your recommendations for materialising the ‘proclamation of independence’ at all levels?
Selina Hossain: The government, non-governmental organisations and all have to work together to establish equality, human dignity and social justice. The state cannot do that alone. There are many laws, some of which are not enforced. People who break laws roam about freely. We have to stop this and consider certain principles and respect them to build a better society. The government, however, must play a major role in implementing the pledges of the proclamation made for our independence in all sectors. If the masses can facilitate the process by drawing it to themselves, it could be possible.