As a citizen of Bangladesh, whenever I travel abroad I am always on the alert about being belittled. In my younger days when I was studying in the Soviet Union, we would tour Europe during the holidays. As I would doze off on the train, I would be rudely awakened every hour as we passed through the many borders. The guards would turn my green passport this way and that, reminding me that I was an unwanted guest. While my legal passport and visa was subject to such suspicious scrutiny, a teenage American girl opposite me sat with her legs propped up on the seat opposite her, her passport barely peeping out of her pocket. The guards didn’t give it a second glance. It never crossed their minds to question her. It was all to clear that uneducated backward nations were not the only ones who looked up to brutal power; civilised Europe was no different.
1. There was a time when Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building. As I walked around one of the lower floors of the building, I came to stand in front of a large circular area upon which the names of about 100 different cities of the world were written. The name of any Bangladesh city was nowhere to be seen.
2. When you fly in from Singapore or Bangkok, most of the passengers are Bangladeshis. When you open the newspaper on the flight, certainly not any Bangladeshi newspaper, you will find the weather of so many countries listed, except that of Bangladesh. Bangladesh doesn’t have any weather to report, one would presume. They have the weather reports of Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Delhi, Colombo and Kathmandu. Even Pakistan comes into their sights. Perhaps since the majority of the passengers are Bangladeshi and must be well-informed about the weather of their own country, they can enhance their knowledge with the reports of other lands. It’s not just about weather. The country’s share market doesn’t warrant attention either, nor does our sports or anything else. Once I caught a piece about our golf champion Siddiqur Rahman. What a glow of pride I felt!
3. Small countries of the Arab world are amassing wealth by carrying our passengers on their airlines, while our Biman is plunged in loss. Our uneducated and educated people toil long and hard in these countries, a large chunk of their earnings spent on airfare. Yet there is no warmth in the service, language and hospitality offered to them aboard. While 90% of the passengers are Bangladeshis, the crew squawks out information over the speakers in Hindi. Our hapless workers are given to think they need to understand a foreign language to merit service and hospitality. Long ago I once read in a newspaper that Biman could be one of Bangladesh’s most profitable sector. Why are we seeing Biman immersed in losses? Is there no leader among us who has the courage and capability to show that we can do it too? We don’t even need foreign passengers; we need to encourage out own people to fly Biman, our flag-carrier. In India it was compulsory to fly by their national airline if travelling on government expense. Why can’t we put a little dent into our ‘democratic’ rights and have a similar rule? In places like Europe, America and Australia, you have to enroll you child in the school of your locality, not just anywhere you please. They don’t feel that their democratic rights are being encroached upon. This is not a matter of personal choice, but of national interest.
4. Why look abroad, even in our own country our hard working people are subject to neglect. They toil endlessly in foreign lands, sending home remittance to boost our economy. Their remittances kept our economy afloat even when the rest of the world had sunk into deep recession. The least we can do for them is offer adequate facilities in the airports when they travel abroad or return home. There should be enough people to help them fill up the forms and cards. These simple people shouldn’t be harassed and terrorised over their passports and visas. The officials of Bangladeshi diplomatic missions abroad should be reminded that their salaries come out of the remittances of these workers. They should serve them with speed and efficiency. If these people are caused any harm due to the negligence of the our embassies, then we must realise that Bangladesh is being harmed.
5. Way back in 1998, our boys had excelled in an online programming competition organised by Valladolid University. The Prime Minister at the time gave them cash prizes as incentive. Even then, the pull-down menu of that site had the names of a few relatively unknown countries, but no mention of Bangladesh. Even now, Bangladesh’s name is absent in many important pull-down menus. Australia has moved their visa programme away from Bangladesh and so has Canada. Bangladeshi citizens have to go to Delhi or Bangkok for their visas, sometimes even to Colombo.
The citizens of Bangladesh are being bogged down by all sorts of limitations, rules and regulations. The people cannot voice their sufferings, the government simply turns a blind eye.
As a nation, we need to stand up and establish our self-respect and dignity in the international arena. We must establish relations with other countries on equal footing. We must consolidate our self-confidence or else all our national efforts will go in vain.
Mohammed Kaikobad: Professor, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and Fellow, Bangladesh Academy of Sciences
Our nation and a matter of self-respect