Having spent the first decade of our lives in the Middle East, my sister and I grew up listening to stories of home, the historical and cultural significance of our land- of love for language, of songs of freedom, of beauty of the rivers, of people’s power and of revolution. It was our parent’s way of making sure we were in touch with our land despite the distance. We were always told, desh is not just a piece of land, or a geographical location. It is what you carried with yourself, wherever you go and wherever you maybe.
My parents spoke a lot about history, literature and revolution. The history and revolutionary stories were not just limited to the birth of Bangladesh, and the various movements that the country went through, but it extended to insignificant stories of young men and women, who through their own expressions of freedom, sought for a change mechanism in the country. My mother would tell us stories of college friends who would go all out, defy norms, and display their beliefs through mediums such as different forms of art, writings, and more.
For them, the societal issues were important, and they believed it was in their hands to change minds, change society, the psyche of people and only then real change would come about.
Coming back to Bangladesh at the age of 10 did not really feel that different then. But, growing up did bring that realisation to life. The stark realities of the society, the way it is shaped, the way it is administered and the way it is moulded became much more distinct and harder to look past.
After all these years of living here, living through many developments, events and socio- political changes, desh is really a hard place to be in. There is a vacuum, a gap that makes one feel incomplete and disintegrated.
Over the years, a deep sense of mistrust has developed among us regarding politics. It is not just the politics – there is a profound disconnection between the way this country is run, and the romanticised version of democracy we learned from books and western news. Is it the flawed governance, the lack of transparency, or the sheer absence of any form of accountability – be it in development planning, public expenditure system, or policy implementation? Ever since we learned the phrase “people power”, we’ve known that we elect our governments through a democratic system – yet when it comes to access to minimum rights, or even information, we are suddenly not as important as we were during elections.
Bangladesh’s politics remains characterised by political power built upon family legacies, a lack of connection to those families disenfranchises us from the basic rights we assumed we had when we voted. And once this realisation sinks in, it brings with it a malaise that softly blends into apathy. Is it still a wonder that many analysts continue to ask – are we, the young generation, at all interested to bring change?
Across the world, there are several cases where the young generation has come forward to bring change in societies and countries. For them, it is not about recreating the halcyon politics of generations ago, but the recognition that new patterns of citizenship call for new processes and new institutions that reflect the values of the contemporary public, while keeping the essence of their land and what it stands for alive.
Last year, on September 17, 2011, the world saw a people powered movement representing a significant number of youth start ‘Occupy Wall Street’. The movement began in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally. This movement is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.
This movement was followed after the extraordinary uprisings that the world witnessed in Egypt and Tunisia, and it aims to fight back against the richest 1 percent of people that are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is impacting the future of the young generation.
Aside from revolutionary movements, the young generation is bringing revolution through changing societies. Take the example of the Greek society, which is experiencing significant economic, political and social change. While there are various changes at work, one of the remarkable phenomena is the change in the society through the young generation. The Greek young generation is now called to resolve social anomalies inherited by older generations. Young Greeks experience enormous uncertainty and insecurity about the future and they are trying to create their own mechanisms to cope with the unknown, and they are really coming forward and bringing reforms in the way the society’s behaviour was administered for decades.
In Marxist terms, increasingly, all across the world, subjective conditions are beginning to align with the objective conditions. The young generation, led by those in the Middle East, is beginning to wake up to the realisation that they are living and consequently inheriting a world that is simply not sustainable. It is said that, when subjective conditions align with objective conditions, revolution generally ensues. And, increasingly, as world based on these objective conditions continues on, it is inevitable that revolution will spread to other countries. The young are, and will begin to wake up to the lack of sustainability in every country across the world, including Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, while it is true that we notice a certain degree of disengagement of this generation in politics, there are a wide range of ways in which the young generation is making its voice heard beyond the election and political processes. These people have held their own voices, through mediums such as social media platforms, electronic and print media, groups, networks for various causes to express their opinion. Increasingly, this generation is seen to be participating in protests, signing petitions, expressing their opinions through steady movements.
In this regard, the stereotype of a politically disengaged younger generation is not fully accurate in Bangladesh. This generation in Bangladesh is increasingly finding other ways to be involved in public life through their very own voices. Having said that, it is also true that this is represented only by a small segment of the larger number of youth in the country. This small segment of the population is spread around, spread out, as though they are separated atoms, unable to come together and stand together, and represent a singular strong voice.
There are various factors that are at work here, one of them being the need for change in mindset, which is characterised by stern practices, jealousy, pettiness, norm of silence due to stigma, gender inequality and the lack of acceptance of the young generation and its abilities.
This need for change in society is not an easy task to achieve. There is a need to reach out to a wider range of the young generation across all socio-economic backgrounds, those who have a minimum or no access to basic necessities and those who represent what they call a ‘post-emotional’ generation, who lack the anger, the edge, the passion, and have the principle desire to live lightly. The latter segment, despite having access to education and almost all the priviledges of life, seems to focus in the material comfort and move through a selective process of seeing things, perceiving them and acting on them.
So, in this context, how do we change minds, and in the end, change societies? It is perhaps in the hands of those segregated atoms to come together, as much as they can, and perhaps the rest will follow the lead.
The time has probably come, to reshape this land that we call desh- perhaps it is time for the subjective condition to align with the objective condition. The road to revolution may be the longest and the hardest one, but it would surely be worth it, for it would be for a dream that we are yet to achieve – a truly independent Bangladesh that we are yet to experience, for us, and for many generations to come.
(The writer works for an international development organisation in Bangladesh. Earlier to this, she worked as a writer, editor, and researcher for media and other institutions.)