''There is one other group almost diminished from our public life, politics and culture. They are very few in numbers and are the last men standing. One was on display the day of the incident and broke his hand whilst defending morality and humanity. We should salute him, Liton Nandi.''
20th century’s famous moral and political philosopher John Rawls’s magnum opus was the ‘Theory of Justice’ (1971). In it he coins the term ‘public reason’-the common reason of all citizens in a pluralist society. To take the Rawlsian definition literally, public reason involves justifying a particular position by way of reasons that people of different moral or political backgrounds could accept.
|John Rawls (1921-2002)|
I claim that in Bangladesh, persecuting the weak and vulnerable has reached a peak that we can say the public collectively now have accepted that inhuman, brutal and barbaric events can occur and their silence is natural and justified. The public mind in Bangladesh is coward, corrupt, abusive and opportunist.
Yes, it is a crude generalisation and the least I will argue is that the falsehood, unfairness and injustice is dominant in Bangladesh because of the public mind guilty of accepting or performing it. Though, it is totally contrary to the spirit John Rawls tried to define public reason. John Rawls’s public reason was the common agreement from between different moral and political corners of society for public good. Yes for public good.
Public Reason in Bangladesh
In the light of the recent sex assault in Dhaka University during celebrations for Bangla New Year, I see a proof in support to my claim.
Let us analyse the event. The actors were the general mass involved, the idle witnesses, the state authority represented by the police and the official of the public university. What roles were played by the public from different spectrums of society letting this inhumane act happen in broad daylight? The answer complements my claim that the dominant public reason of Bangladesh is relatively immoral.
There were three main types of people involved in this event with different levels of moral standard.
Firstly, the group that committed the assault. Secondly, the ones who let this happen without condemning it and thirdly, the one whose job it was to protect the member of the public and prevent such incidents from happening.
These three entire groups shared something in common, a common public reasoning justifying or at least accepting the sexual assault of a woman who came out in a crowd to celebrate a national event. The moral stance of all three groups differed very little. Their action or inaction can be defined as public reason in Bangladesh where sexual assault is an accepted public norm and a huge outcry about it is not expected. None of the student organisations such as the BCL, JCD or Islami Chatro Shibir has condemned the attack. That’s just the student’s political front. You are also unlikely to hear condemnation from the cultural front because they do not have their preferred enemy here. If Avijit’s murder was an attack on free speech these attacks were an attack on the freedom of movement, women’s rights and human rights.
The first group of public are the young criminals who possess low morality born out of our anti-value education system. They were probably brought up in a physically, intellectually and morally abusive society and from similar age groups. They are brought up perceiving sexuality as the biggest taboo topic not to be discussed. For them sex is an illicit act performed with certain guilt and ironically sex for them is at the core of entertainment and excitement in their lives.
These individuals are living in an immensely sexualised culture where the former porn star from the neighbouring country is the biggest sensation. Well you may argue so what? Western culture doesn’t seem to have similar incidents where a group of people will sexually assault women in public. The answer is that western culture doesn’t have the pull effect that Eastern culture have. Sexual behaviour in a country like Bangladesh and India still confronts a huge religious and cultural challenge in how sex is manifested in public culture and society as a whole. I am not talking about the clubs in Gulshan or Mumbai, please exclude them from the mainstream, my point is with general mass.
Our society is transforming rapidly with technological and information revolutions flooding youths with choices of entertainment that are sexualised on a commercial level. Bangladesh is at the receiving end of this wave, typical for a developing economy. Middle class urban society is at the centre of this wave. If you let a short skirt woman pass by in a rural village, the villagers would probably offer them tea, biscuits and directions. The same woman is very likely to be raped and assaulted in urban areas.
So once an opportunity arises for these disturbed and culturally conflicted youth, they become dogs unleashed from chains in events where they can exercise sexual behaviour, and enjoy flesh which up until then they could only fantasise. If you study closely, you will find the same young criminals enjoying raunchy Hindi cinema returning from Jummah prayers and probably beating up their sister’s boyfriend defending honour.
This group justified sexual assault in public, and it was a public act.. This group of men ‘enjoyed’ the act while the second and third public group watched. Another major reason to note on the causes of this crime isis the confidence of the criminals that their crime will go unpunished and nothing will come of it. They knew that the law enforcement agency and state is too busy with other work to be able to persecute them. As Rumi Ahmed said whilst sharing Liton Nondi’s description of the event, this is the ‘State of the republic.’
What is unfortunate is that a sexualised cultural explosion since the late 90’s through mass media, is rapidly replacing and diminishing the very fabric of our society and the values we have inhabited from it in the last hundreds of years. There were shared values or ‘public reason’ derived from the religious values of Hinduism and Islam, the old and the young, from men and women. Respecting women and protecting them where they are vulnerable were part of the lessons I learnt in the society I was living in.
That public reason is changing or has changed.Now, enjoying women and exploiting them is the fashion for men, and for women, to make themselves pretty and enjoyable to man is the fashion. The capitalist corporate culture with its growing use of social media is perfectly suited to host such a culture.
The second group of public in the incident are those hundreds of inactive witnesses present there, enjoying it as spectators I should add. They do not possess the moral value to recognise the sexual assaultt as wrong, unlawful and unjust. They are the coward public who gave silent consent to the first group to commit their crimes. They did not intervene and condemn the crime rather their moral distance shows an almost justification of it.
They will probably talk amongst friends of witnessing a ‘funny’ act as if it was another drama serial being played out live at Dhaka University. The difference between the first and second group of people is the latter group would avoid molesting girls in public but would be just as cruel and barbaric in seclusion or in a private space.
The Third group of people are the police officers in duty and the university authority. You could probably just divide them into groups one and two already mentioned. This group, ultimately facilitate crimes such as sexual assaults with their inaction and do not suffer from any guilt for that, though their very purpose is to protect the citizens. Their crime is twofold, they failed as a human being and they also failed as officer’s n duty.
Like the university proctor responded to Liton Nondi’s plea when found playing chess on his computer, he said he could not have done anything even had he been there. In essence, he actually gave institutional consent to justify the sexual assault just like the police did with their inaction.
There is one other group almost diminished from our public life, politics and culture. They are very few in numbers and are the last men standing. One was on display the day of the incident and broke his hand whilst defending morality and humanity. We should salute him, Liton Nandi.
One should be alarmed at my claim. What I mean is that these incidents are apparent in the way our society is transforming and many more will follow through. Our public mind needs to be educated with universal values and teachings to be able to live with dignity and let others have dignity. Neither our state is capable of doing protecting our dignity nor our judiciary. Our religious foundation is weak in its interpretation and has lost its credibility by failing to adjust with changing contexts in 21st century. So we are out of spirit and our culture is diminishing in front of our very eye.