CROSS TALK

How Bangladesh must have lost its innocence…Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

OTHER nations claim to know precisely when they lost their innocence. The Americans believe it happened on the day John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas. Norway lost its innocence on July 22, 2011 when in the first attack a car bomb killed seven people in Oslo and two hours later in a second attack a gunman killed 69 youngsters of the ruling Norwegian Labor Party on the island of Utøya. Does anybody know when exactly our nation lost its innocence? When and how freedom-loving people have deflected their course to become an insanely contentious nation?
One definition of innocence is the state of being not guilty of a crime or other wrongdoing. In 1971 we were a united people fighting against injustice and oppression. Forty-two years later the table has turned. We’re an oppressive and unjust people, who’re still fighting. This time we’re fighting against each other.
How has it happened? Did it happen with a sudden impact or did it happen in gradual progression? A lot of people argue that it happened on the night of August 15, 1975 when a patriarch of this country was killed along with most of his family members. Others contend the critical date goes further back in time. According to them, this nation lost its innocence when one-party rule was introduced through the creation of Baksal.
Politics aside, most people agree the loss of innocence in this country has been a continuous process. One devious deviation led to another until the heart of this nation hardened so much that nothing could touch it anymore. There was a time when people used to bite their tongues at the mention of anything shameful or unethical. Bards wrote poems about disturbing deaths and sang them in marketplaces or public squares, their audiences overwhelmed by sympathy and horror.
All of that has changed. There’s nothing left to make us embarrassed and ashamed anymore. There is nothing left to give us a shock. Scandals don’t surprise us, and lies don’t make us sad. Deaths fail to stir our emotions, because a little something has died inside each and every one of us. This is a nation of living people, who’re partially dead.
This nation needs to agree on two things in the midst of its confusions, because identifying the problem is half the solution. It needs to know that it has lost its innocence and also when that loss happened. One way to explain it is what I call the hole-in-a-sock theory. If one small hole in a sock is left untended and unmended, it grows bigger by the day. One toe slips through that hole first before the whole foot gives way.
Loss of innocence has crept in petty pace. It started on the day the first freedom fighter’s certificate was sold for the price of a pack of cigarettes. Then came mad rush for licenses and permits, followed by the festival of fictitious academic certificates. When education turned into a pay-per-view like privilege, leaking question papers was its logical conclusion.
The hole in the sock widened further. Election rigging had the same underlying principle as the developments mentioned before. Politicians were emboldened to pretend even more, no longer hesitant to lie through their teeth. It also encouraged others as businessmen falsified documents to get bank loans. Now court orders can be manufactured, land deeds can be doctored, fake death certificates can be produced, post-mortem reports can be tampered and medical reports of all sorts are bought and sold. For the right amount of cash, name anything that can’t be had.
If we complain why so many deaths fail to trigger enough outrage, it’s because lies heaved on lies have choked our conscience. Today’s insensitivity is the culmination of past indulgences. The wrongs condoned are coming back to haunt us incrementally.
Ernest Hemingway writes that all things wicked start from innocence. No doubt that once we also had started from that very same point. We sought independence so that we could be the master of our destiny. If people gave their lives and shed their blood, it was surely not out of any evil scheme but the exalted human spirit longing for freedom and dignity.
Is this nation losing its way, if not lost already? From small aberrations we have arrived at the gateway of gross violations. Our wintry hearts now fail to respond to human sufferings. Lately, there’s a lot of clamour over how political violence is making victims of innocent people. Ironically, when a nation loses its innocence it also loses its ability to grieve.
We’ve given ourselves enough rope to hang ourselves. It sounds ridiculous when many of us shed tears for the innocent people after they did everything to destroy innocence. In false pretense, they’re actually hiding their guilty conscience.

The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.
E-mail:badrul151@yahoo.com