Thursday, December 07, 2006

Madam Khaleda Zia, What Relationship Do You Have with Us?

SHAFI AHMED CHOWDHURY

Madam Zia, I have a question to ask you. Do you believe in Allah? Are you afraid of Allah? Do you trust that if you deceive people Allah will never forgive you?

On 23 November (Thursday) last, Madam Khaleda Zia told the journalists that there had been no price-hike during her tenure and that the people were very happy with everything in the market. She quite arrogantly accused, which reflected in her face, that it was the media which reported the news of price-hike in a very inflated manner, but in reality the price of all the daily essentials had been stable and within the reach of the common people. Hearing this comment on the television I got speechless for some moment out of astonishment.

The instant thought striking me at that time was that either this lady had been in a different planet for the last couple of years, or she had lost her memory and no treatment had been made available for her, or during her tenure she had developed a humorous relationship (like beeai-beeain) with the common people that had tickled her making jokes with us regarding the price-hike.

Whatever the case is for her I have no way but to react to this abnormal comment as a worst sufferer due to price-hike in the market – may be in Madam Zia’s version there had been no price-hike. I have several reasons to believe that a woman like Madam Zia can and will never feel the pulse of the price-hike in the market. I shall come to that point later, but let me expose my tribulations due to price-hike during the last couple of years.

In 2001 the salary I received was x in amount, which was quite enough for me to maintain my family expenditure. Today in 2006 I am getting more than 2.5x in amount and I am staggering everyday to maintain my family. For your kind information Madam Zia, I have no source of that money that people would say “black” but I would say “white”. If I had that source, I am sure I would have never felt or cared to feel the pulse of the price-hike in the market as you did.

Is it not mad or joke to utter that there had been no price-hike in the market during your time when we had to buy sugar for 60 Taka per kg instead of 28 Taka, Mushur pulse for 65 Taka per kg instead of 36 Taka, rice 24 Taka per kg instead of 15 Taka, flour 26 Taka per kg instead of 14 Taka, potato 24 Taka per kg instead of 7 Taka, green chilly 150 Taka per kg instead of 40 Taka, oil 62 Taka per litre instead of 40 Taka, beef 150 Taka per kg instead of 80 Taka, mutton 220 Taka per kg instead of 130 Taka, powder milk 310 Taka per kg instead of 180 Taka, and so forth.

And more deplorably, the prices of the vegetable items had shot up 3-5 times, and in many cases beyond the reach of the common people. For your kind information Madam Zia, I am a regular goer to market for buying the daily household essentials and in the recent past, my heart had sunk every time I went to the market. What a pity, not for a single time I could see that the price of any essential item did not vary between two of my visits to market. Madam Zia, can you guess what would happen to your high-sounded so-called Dal-Bhat mission for the poor people when even the inferior quality rice is above 20 Taka per kg and Mushur pulse is 70 Taka per kg now?

Madam Zia, let me tell you one very sad thing, which will never stir you I know. The amount of money I earn now falls within the middle class level, still I feel shaky and dwindled when I go for buying milk for my baby – I simply cannot bear that, and pant within. Now think for a moment very honestly, what about the poor people who have babies to feed with milk everyday – at least 50% of the population falls under this category?

Madam Zia, you never can feel this pain, because you hadn’t not come from a poor family and you had been for many years now swimming in the ocean of money with your sons. Even if the price of the powder milk goes up to 100,000 Taka per kg today, you can very carelessly buy more than one pack everyday for your grandchildren with happy smile on your face, with complete oblivion that even yesterday the pack was sold 335 Taka per kg.

For your kind information Madam Zia, during your immediately passed tenure the price of almost all the daily essentials (that all of us including poor people extremely need) had gone up from 40% to 250% – in some cases more than that. As you did not go to the markets and as you did not go to the villages and as you casually asked the price situation to those people who were nothing but your sycophants to please you as per your pulse, you always had got rosy and dreamy pictures and that is why, very obviously you compelled to believe that what the media reported and what the common people uttered like me was inflated.

And that is why you with your natural arrogance tried to decline that there had been no price-hike in the market. To you there is no difference if the price of any item remains at 28 Taka or goes up to 60 Taka because you and your entourage are used to counting price in thousands and millions – not to say, even in billions. And that is why the amounts with one, two, three, four or five digits do not fall within your class. But in our cases if the price of any daily essentials goes up by 2 to 3 Taka, our condition just becomes “a fish out of water”.

Madam Zia, please don’t think that I am saying all these by taking part of any other political party. There is no politics in it because I strongly believe that all of you representing different political parties are just the same. One of you set an example, the others to follow suit. The innovative market extortion by a “syndicate” is a unique example set by BNP sitting in Hawa Bhaban. Owing to control of supply and demand by this syndicate, the price-hike is taking place everyday.

Just remember, Hawa Bhaban has become a Haunted Bhaban to the common people because every moment we feel engulfed by apprehensions of anything evil, like “forced price-hike”. Thanks a lot for leaving behind a wonderful legacy of continuous price-hike! Last week I bought a 5-kg can of oil for 335 Taka!

Unfortunately you all political parties have one thing identical – to grab power by sucking the blood of the common people. You might have differences in “who will grab power when”. But you don’t have differences in the ways of sucking and exploiting common people. And that’s why you all are afraid of independent judiciary, independent anti-corruption commission, independent election commission, civil society groups and institutions alike.

Can I put a question to Madam Sheikh Hasina in this connection? Will you bring all the corrupt members of BNP to book, if you come to power next time? Can you assure us that your government will be 100% honest, transparent and accountable to the people?

Madam Zia, let me take the courage to educate you a couple of things. You very arrogantly uttered in the press conference that the wage rate of the labourers had increased. It is true, but to what extent? The range you know and mentioned had been utterly preposterous, which once again indicates that it was reported by those of your sycophants to please you. For your kind information, the wage had not gone up from 30 Taka to 180 Taka anyway. It is in fact maximum 120 Taka during the peak season only. And in the lean season the labourers don’t get even 30 Taka.

Madam Zia, are you aware of the bonded labour in Bangladesh? Maybe not. In many parts of the country the labourers had to sell their labour in advance during the lean season to manage money for fighting starvation. Owing to crying need they had to sell their labour in advance in cheaper price for the peak season ahead. Thus they are deprived of even 120 Taka per day during the peak season. Unlike you Madam Zia, I have to travel to remote villages in every month and I know what the reality is. Believe it Madam Zia, the poor people call your names everyday when they had to go unfed due to poverty. Please don’t rely on your sycophants, rather go to the villages yourself in disguise and you will find truth in what I am telling you.

Another important point is that, increase in wage does not mean one has become rich. There is no value of this increase if inflation goes up in parallel. It is not the amount of money that matters; rather it is the purchase capacity that indicates how one’s financial condition has improved. It is true that the purchase capacity of the people has increased, but they fall only within the maximum upper 20%. That is why we see when the people of Dhaka city engage themselves in shopping spree during Ramadan time, poor people in the villages are struggling for mere survival. For your kind information Madam Zia, the income and asset gap between the upper 20% and the lower 20% of the population has gone up to 47 times in the last 5 years. In 2001 it was 27 times.

It is to be noted here that during the last 5 years inflation against daily essentials had gone up from 40% to 200% – in some cases it was even 300%. Look at me, as I told you that now I receive more than 2.5 times the salary of 2001, but I am still in the middle class, or more specifically, I have gone down from the middle class because now I have to struggle to maintain my family very franticly. When money loses its value and it becomes more like normal paper, there is no impact of its increase. I hope Madam Zia you will understand this simple economics as an ex prime minister.

Madam Zia, I have a question to ask you. Do you believe in Allah? Are you afraid of Allah? Do you trust that if you deceive people Allah will never forgive you? If so, please do refrain from deceiving people because if you deceive people Allah will never forgive you, unless the people who suffered have forgiven you once for all. Please remember, the way you made us suffer last 5 years we shall never forgive you.

May be you are performing Hajj or Umrah with our money, but rest assured, that will never help you clear up your sins. And finally one request, please do not utter the words you uttered in the said press conference or on many occasions. All these words appeared to us as if you were jeering at our wretchedness. We may not be “rich” like you, but we have self-esteem, because we live by honesty, sincerity and hard-work. Even as fun you should not utter those words because you and we are living in two different poles in terms of honestly, sincerity, humanity, truthfulness and generosity. That is why between you and us there can’t be any humorous relationship (like beeai-beeain). And please beware of your deeds and your fate after your death. I mean this not only for you but your people and the people of all political parties. #

This article has been published in arrangement with South Asian News (SAN)-Feature Service and Mukto-mona cyber forum

Shafi Ahmed Chowdhury is a development activist in Bangladesh. The article has been slightly edited. The writer could be contacts by e-mail: npfreethinker@yahoo.com