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A Journey to Bangladesh After Ten Years -23.02.2016

A Journey to Bangladesh After Ten YearsM A Hadi Faisal, writes from London.

It was a very common trend among young people of my time to escape from Bangladesh to any of developed countries of the World such as UK, USA, Canada, and Australia. The word escape I used for the fact that most people I knew who decided to settled abroad including myself not always out of choice or desire but out of harsh reality of the country. The reality of corruption, political instability, insecurity, cruelty, police brutality, injustice and financial difficulties. Eventually I settled in the UK, one of the most decent, civilised and developed countries in the world. I have been living in the UK for 10 years and have nothing to complain about it. At least I feel that I have been living in a society where I can get justice and security. However, having said that I have to acknowledge that life is not as smooth, comfortable and bed of roses as many of us used to think, life is indeed very hard and challenging. As a foreigner someone has to go through many obstacles and challenges and put ten times more efforts to achieve goals than a regular citizen. But at the end of the day you feel happy when you know that you have achieved something without paying bribe, when you see that you didn’t have to become a subject of police harassment and brutality, you didn’t have to face blatant discrimination and favouritism, you didn’t have to see people are being killed, murdered, tortured, assaulted by mindless political violence and conflict. If anyone work hard and abide by the rules and regulations can easily maintain a decent and dignified life.
However this is not my intention to describe how good life is in the UK or elsewhere, but my intention is to write my observations and how I felt after visiting Bangladesh. I didn’t realise how deeply I missed my country until I have been there after ten years. I was feeling so refreshed and happy that I wasn’t feeling to complain about anything. But essentially there were some good and bad changes took place since I left my country ten years ago.
First of all I should start off by describing my experiences and how I felt after boarding on Bangladesh Biman Airlines. I was feeling like a large family is travelling together. The food was good and services were satisfactory. The most importantly people were travelling with their children, family and elderly in a very reassured and familiar kind of environment where they were acting and behaving in a way that it seemed to me that they feel the ownership of the airlines and sense of pride which I believed that they wouldn’t have felt the same ways as they felt with Bangladesh Biman Airlines. I think that the authority of Bangladesh Biman should acknowledge and nurture the feeling of pride and sense of ownership of passengers and promote passenger’s rights and empower them by giving them an opportunity to have their say in a form of feedback and taking into account of their concerns and complaints so that they continue to feel reassured and sense of pride and ownership.

If they can do this, I don’t see why authority has to be afraid of being opening to the market for other airlines to start direct flights from the Heathrow International Airport to Sylhet International Airport. If they can ensure their accountability and good customer services, I am 100% convinced that people will choose Bangladesh Biman to travel Bangladesh even if they open the market for other airlines because of the good services andmost importantly as I mentioned before that people’s sense of pride and ownership. I think that it’s not only immoral, unfair and unethical to run monopoly business without ensuring good customer services and giving customers options of choices of airlines and by holding passengers as hostage without giving them an opportunity to make choice from different options, but it is also unsustainable in terms of an efficiency, effectiveness and profitability of the Airline’s in itslong run’s future business. If it continues as how it is continuing, eventually the future business of Bangladesh Biman will be collapsed as passengers will start revolting against its unethical monopoly kind of business.So therefore I expect that Govt. of Bangladesh will look into it and open the market for other airlines from Heathrow International Airport to Sylhet International Airport.

Secondly, once I landed at the Sylhet International Airport, I noticed that the passengers had changed their behaviour who behaved completely in different manner in Heathrow Airport. They were disciplined, quiet, not breaking the queue, not engaged with private conversation with officials in Heathrow Airport whereas at Sylhet International Airport the scenarios were totally opposite. People were shouting, talking loudly, breaking the queue, engaged with private conversations with officials, some were making bad comments about officials etc. I was trying to figure out what makes them to change their behaviour and came out with several points such as it might possible that people were over excited, exhausted and tired, it might be their mind set that this is how it works here or might be a psychological power game.

But with my surprise I got my answer as soon as I approached immigration officer who was taking awfully long time to process people’s papers and asking for money by saying ‘make me happy’. I then realised that people didn’t have respect and positive attitudes towards our officials and system because of their inefficiency and unethical and unfair demand on them and this was the reason why passengers were behaving in such strange manners to show their disgust, disrespect and no care attitudes. I think that Govt. should put monitoring system in place so that they can ensure that any officials can’t make unfair demand on customers and harass them unnecessarily and make them accountable by giving passengers an opportunity to have their say in a form of feedback, complaints or concern about the services and authority should deal with this seriously.

Thirdly, as soon as I came out from Sylhet International Airport, I saw that curious people were waiting outside to receive and welcome their family members, relatives and friends. It was such a good feeling that I felt so refreshed and completely forgot what happened inside. I felt the sun light, open sky, looked all around and took the long breath by saying in my mind ‘oh my beloved country I have come back to you again, I am so happy, I love you so much’. I also felt the strong bonding, caring and warmth connectedness of people that had brought them here to receive their loved ones.

Fourth, once I was settled I was trying to contact with some of my friends over the phone, but for some strange reasons some of my friends were not picking up my phone’s call, eventually when I gave my identity over the text messages they picked up my call and explained the reason why they didn’t pick up my call at first hand as because they don’t pick up calls from unknown numbers because of fear of harassment by government’s agencies due to their political affiliation with oppositions political parties. Besides all social networking and means of online communications system such as Whatsup, Viberetc. were closed by Govt. I felt the ominous political reality of Bangladesh. I felt the people’s silent anger, frustration and pessimism over political reality of Bangladesh. I observed that Bangladesh has made progress in different areas such as in education, infrastructural development, employment particularly in banking sector and use of mobile phone and Internet.

But unfortunately our political reality has become worse than before. I sensed that people are living in fear and anxiety as state has become more controlling and intolerance towards oppositions and dissent as it seemed that they were living in a police or dictatorial state, some compared this situation with North Korea’s Totalitarian Dictatorship. This is very dark and negative side of Bangladesh for which I think our innocent people and beloved country will pay price very badly. In my view nothing but our corrupt and selfish politicians and political system will make our state as fail state.Therefore, I would like to urge the Govt. and the opposition political parties to think about it and must address this urgently and come up to a political solution through consultation, mutual respect, compromise and understanding and establish a fair political system where each and every political party will play their role fairly and will be treated equally and inclusively, where every individual will exercise their political entitlements such as right to assembly, right to freedom of expression, right to vote freely, where every individual will be treated by rule of law without discrimination and ensured equal opportunities, human rights and diversity of views and opinions, accountability and transparency of our politicians and officials. In fact without establishing these values and principles of Democracy and ensuring political stability, it would almost impossible to sustain the economic development of the country.

Fifth, as part of my plan I went to my village. As I mentioned before that our country made progress in different areas such as education and using cell phone and internet, I found that evidence from my village. Few years ago what were almost unthinkable to think will take place in my village, all these things have taken place by now such as each and every individual got smart cell phone with internet connection including elderly people, most young people are connected with Facebook and other social networking sites and use email as means of communication. Literacy rate of my village is almost 99%, where there were no graduate few years ago in my village, now there are so many graduates and particularly female graduates are noticeable. Education has been decentralised, where few years ago we had to travel 4-5 miles to go to secondary school, 8-10 miles to go to college, but I noticed that there are many primary and secondary schools are built in my local areas with private and public initiatives. People are planning to transform secondary schools into college, even some were thinking to establish university at Thana level. There are many private schools are running alongside of public schools. If this is the reality of the entire country, I must say our country made a real progress in these fields. But having said that I have to say that still the number of institutions are not adequate compare to the number of young people I noticed and also in terms of providing quality education and training.

I also noticed that farming system has also been transformed, traditional cultivation system by using cows and ladder has been replaced by using machine. But the sad part of it is people don’t raise any more cows or domestic animals! Some farmers raised concern with me that eventually farming land will be unfertilised as lack of natural fertiliser as once source of natural fertiliser was cow’s dank and also due to increasingly using of artificial fertiliser.

Another negative changes that have taken place in village. Once people used to resolve their conflict and problem through informal justice system which was called ‘Salish’ which was restorative in nature. But now instead of using informal restorative ‘Salish’ system, people tend to use traditional criminal justice system such as police and court. As a result of this tendency, I noticed that almost every household has got at least one police case. Police and other agents from criminal justice system are making money through bribery and by imposing other unfair charges on them and simple villagers are paying the price!

As I mentioned before about political crisis in Bangladesh, I noticed that this political crisis has expanded even at village level, people are now extremely divided with the line of the bitter national political division. Instead of working together for local development regardless of their political affiliation which was the case once, people are bitterly divided and fighting with each other with the national political line of division which has a very negative impact on local development, stability, peace and social cohesion.

Sixth, I have also noticed that living expenses are very high as the prices of daily essential and necessary commodities and other products are very expensive. I don’t know how low income people have been coping with this. There has no changes in road safety, traffic rules, transport system, it seemed to me even it worse and more chaotic now as there are more transports and people are in the road without proper monitoring and planning system in place. But I should mention that Rickshaw has run with electric battery system, drivers don’t need to peddle anymore! There are many high raised commercial and apartment buildings and markets are built and city is expanding very rapidly, traditional villages are transforming as modern villages. But the environmental situation in the city is very bad as open drains, filthy smells, pollution, unplanned urbanisation, no open spaces, overcrowded and unbearable mosquitos. Comparatively villages are far more healthy and environment friendly. More alarmingly what I have noticed that our society is growing very rapidly but unequally and unsustainably. Some are becoming super rich through illegitimate means, whereas some are remained or becoming poor. Privileged sections of the society are getting quality education, health services and other citizen rights, whereas vast numbers of people particularly slum and poor people are remained disadvantaged and marginalised. I believe that as a society we need to address this collectively and should work alongside with government to ensure equality, equity, equal opportunity and sustainability as govt. can’t resolve all these massive problems alone.
Finally I would like to conclude by telling how I experienced on my way back to the UK. My flight was at 7pm from Sylhet International Airport to Shahjalal International Airport, but unfortunately plaine didn’t turn up until 11:30pm. What was shocking for me that not a single official bothered to update that delay verbally or by changing the digital display board, all passengers were looking through the glass windows helplessly to see if plane landed? What a disrespect and careless attitudes of our officials towards hard working people who worked hard and send their remittance for country’s development! By the way I was asked by an immigration police officer to pay him money as he was filling up my departure form, even though I told him that I don’t need you to fill my form, I can fill my form, but with my utter shock he refused to give me a blank form!

Eventually we arrived at Shahjalal International Airport at 13:00am, we then had to go for transit checks and hotel booking, and all these process took place by 3am in the morning. We were transported to I would say very cheap hotel by 3:30am and with my surprise we all single passengers were told to share room! When I told the hotel manager that it’s not possible for me to share a room with strangers for my privacy reason, I was told that he had never heard of this kind encounter in his 13 years of hotel job and I have to share room with others as this is the rule of Bangladesh Biman Airlines! Eventually manager allowed me to stay on my own, but after long waiting and arguments which was utterly frustrating and disrespectful. After couple of hours of rest, we had to go to Airport again by 7am in the morning. At last Bangladesh Biman took off by 11:00am for heading towards Heathrow International Airport UK in a very rush without even properly announcing, all of a sudden I noticed that plain were moving, I asked next to my passengers, do you think plain has just taken off? He replied that it seemed that plain was moving. We then laughed together very loudly!

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