Shahbagh: the blind spot
A line in the esteemed Jyoti Rahman’s otherwise excellent article made me sit up.
“…But to me, it is yet another case of the rest of the world caring little about Bangladesh. We really are not a country others particularly care about.”
My mind went back to the early days of winter, and the sheer flood of garments-fire articles that Jim Yardley and Julfikar Manik gleefully poured out in the weeks after Tazreen. So, in the age of search, why not test a hunch? These are the results.
20 pieces in total have been published in the NYTimes on the subject of Bangladeshi factory fires, including 5 in November, 10 in December, 5 more in January. Among them were:
- 2 LENS slideshows within 4 days of each other
- A couple of blog posts, a couple of op-eds
- A RoomForDebate forum with 8 pieces in there alone, Professor Bhagwati declaring in his headline “Blame Bangladesh”. (I counted the whole Forum as one, otherwise the total would exceed 25.)
By the austere standards of the NYT and Western media, surely this counts as blanket coverage of an insignificant country at the other end of the world? Even taking into account Tazreen’s Walmart connection, two dozen articles in three months seems like overkill.
And how many pieces on the most consequential protest in Bangladesh in 22 years? Just 2, in two and a half weeks. And that’s it. The first one came more than a week after Shahbag started. I don’t think the South Asia correspondent Jim Yardley ever bothered to get off his couch in New Delhi for the entire duration of this little kerfuffle.
What many of us asserted this past fortnight stands. Bangladesh only counts when it fulfills age-old stereotypes of burning factories, sinking ferries, raging cyclones, dying people. When it comes to these same people taking agency for their own lives, young people in the world’s fourth-largest Muslim country standing up unabashedly for secular values in one of the most joyous and uplifting examples of non-violent protest in modern times, the NYT and the rest of the Western media went curiously absent.
Full List of NYT pieces