Saturday, 3 June, 2023

Independence Day Celebration

Bangladesh Has a Long Way to Go

Capt. Hussain Imam

A Ganges delta, caressed by the splashes of salty water of the Bay of Bengal and more popularly known to the world community for flood, cyclone and tidal bores, Bangladesh with a population of over 170 million is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

The country was first partitioned from India as the eastern wing of Pakistan in 1947 and then emerged as an independent state in 1971 through a 9-month-long liberation war at a colossus loss of life and property. Apart from the massive destruction of bridges, power stations and sea ports and other important installations of the country, three million people, including men, women and children lost their lives and more than two hundred thousand women were either raped, tortured or molested by the Pakistan army.

It was an act of genocide of unprecedented scale that went almost unrecognized to the world community mainly because this barbaric act of crime against humanity committed by the Pakistan military regime had the tacit support of the superpowers like the United States and China. Centring the liberation war of this country, however small the country is in size, the world superpowers got involved in the conflict to the extent that the USA was about to deploy its seventh fleet to the Indian Ocean in support of Pakistan, the Soviet Union had to use its veto power in the UN Security Council more than once to help Bangladesh win the liberation war.

Not to forget, India, the largest democracy in the world, bordering Bangladesh from three sides, gave military as well as diplomatic support to Bangladesh to the extent that it helped Bangladeshi freedom fighters with both military personnel and armoury and at the same time gave refuge to more than 10 million people who were forced to flee the country and take shelter in India to escape the genocide.

Finally, Bangladesh won the liberation war with 95,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendering their arms to the joint command of Bangladesh and India at the then Race Course Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan) on 16 December 1971 and the USA and China swallowing the bitter pill of a humiliating defeat as fait accompli. 

52 years have passed since then. Bangladesh which began its journey as a war-ravaged country with an acute shortage of food, medicine, electricity, roads and bridges, industry and a volt almost empty had to go through a multitude of political turmoil and economic hardships before it could reach a position as it is today.

The country that began its onward journey with the task of rebuilding a war-torn nation from almost zero and serving a population of 75 million people (in 1971) whose literacy rate was hardly 20 percent and almost half of the population living below the poverty line with a per capita income of less than one US dollar a day, is now in 2023 is considered a role model for development by the world community.

Bangladesh, once sarcastically called by no less a person than Henry Kissinger, the then (1974) US Secretary of State a ‘bottomless basket’ is now a country that can rightly take pride in being one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It has had an enviable GDP growth hovering around 6 percent for the last decade or so. Its per capita income of $ 2854 has surpassed the other countries in South Asia including India. It has made commendable achievements in improving social indices like maternal mortality, infant mortality, life expectancy, literacy rate, poverty reduction and empowerment of women, to say a few among many.

The country’s literacy rate which was less than 20 percent in 1971 is now 74 percent. Enrolment in primary education has crossed 95 percent. Poverty has reduced to 24 percent from 80 percent in just about 50 years. Participation of women folk in education is now more than their male counterparts. Gender inequality, usually a bad name for third-world counties, is no longer applicable to Bangladesh.

Women in Bangladesh are no longer confined to household activities only. They are taking part in every sphere of economic, social and political activities of the country. The country’s prime minister is a woman. So is the speaker of the parliament. There is hardly any field, be it civil service, police, business, industry, banking, education or judiciary, where a woman is not occupying a formidable position. Needless to mention, more than 3.5 million women are now engaged in the RMG sector alone.

The country has made remarkable progress in its infrastructural development work. Mega projects like Padma Bridge, Dhaka Metro Rail, Elevated Expressway, Karnaphuli Tunnel, Matarbari Thermal Power Plant, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, Payra Seaport, Matarbari Deep Sea Port, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport extension and the massive increase in the production capacity of electricity from 3000 megawatts to 24,000 megawatts in just about 25 years will remain as a landmark in the history of development work of the country.

The country has made phenomenal progress in agro-production. A country that was always at risk of famine is now almost self-sufficient in food. Its rice production has tripled over the years despite a significant reduction of arable land due to increased urbanization and a population boom. So has the growth of vegetables. You cannot but feel amused when you see the lush green fields adorned with a variety of green vegetables grown in plenty. The rural youths are heavily engaged in poultry and fish cultivation.

Bangladesh has already got the UN recognition to graduate from Least Developed Country in 2026 and aspires to become an upper middle income (UMI) country by 2031. Yet, Bangladesh has to go a long way in achieving the primary objectives of the hard-earned independence— a true democracy where people will have the right to exercise its franchise freely and fairly, where people will have easy access to good health services, better education, where the so-called civil servants will be the true servants of the people, not of the government and above all where the people will have a peaceful life free of exploitation.

As a least developed country with so much potential to attain the status of a developing country by 2026, apart from the rising inflation and high cost of living in the context of global economic recession, the biggest challenge for Bangladesh today is the rampant corruption that has badly plagued almost every organ of our society. The current American ambassador to Bangladesh, Peter Haas, in a discussion held at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Dhaka recently on a report released by Bangladesh Centre for Governance Studies (CGS) on corruption in the SME sector, has rightly identified corruption as the biggest obstacle to attaining the status of a developing country for Bangladesh. The sooner the government of Bangladesh can halt this maddening race of corruption with an iron hand, the better.


The writer is a retired

Merchant Mariner.

Email: [email protected]