By Saba Homaira Ahmad
“Saba makes a great point: there is something to be said about elitism in ‘civil society.’ It is worth asking why the sense of disenfranchisement among students exists in the first place” – Navine Murshid, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Colgate University
Us and them- we do not share friends on Facebook, we do not run into each other at Hay festival. We do not share scintillating conversations, over chopstick meals, about some esoteric ‘ism’. We are living in such a segregated society that the only frame of reference ‘they’ have about me is the ‘bratty girl in her satin housecoat’, plucked directly from a commercial Bangladeshi film. They think I wear leather pants, I learned, as I flipped through the smear campaign on Facebook, following the attack. They think I call my parents Mommy and Daddy. Pieced together, I am the spoilt daughter of a Chowdhury shaheb, who eventually gets whipped straight by the proletariat protagonist. Who are ‘they’? They are those, who are against ‘Us’.
They were enraged because I lived in Canada, mad because my sister attended a school in the US. They questioned why these Baridhara-Banani divas dared to step into their land! They are infuriated because we are born into families who are privileged enough to live in the secured zip codes, where hartals or load shedding are irrelevant. They are angry because we can fly out of this cesspit of a politicized administration, any time we want.
And I don’t blame them. I would be mad too. Many a times I coiled inside, when I locked eyes with a passenger hanging off of an overloaded bus, while I was sitting in an air conditioned car, alone. I would be angry too, if I thought that the privileged class had better access to better education, better job and a better life altogether, just because they were born into it. Everybody wants hope. And we, as a nation, have failed to nurture a culture of hope.
When did it all change? I grew up in Sobhanbagh quarters. I attended Dhaka University and ate my meals either at the IBA canteen, or at Mouli/Sylvana in Shahbagh. During my school years (Agrani), I had to turn in the evidence of the waned pencil stub to my mother to get a new one. Our father never allowed us to take the fancy stationeries which my uncle brought for us, to school, lest other children should feel bad. So when did I become the bourgeois and worthy of pure hatred from another student of my own University, in one instance, a debater from the Mathematics department?
With regards to the Curzon hall incident, there has been much discussion about the utility of student politics, about the state of the democracy and the general lawlessness of our motherland- and those are all valid. However, through my designer’s lens, this rage might as well be an outcome of the elitist policies in transportation, corrupt taxation or land management, taken by my government. Policies perhaps I, my friend and my kin have helped shape. Policies that favor the favored and further marginalize those on the fringe. Bingo!
How do I bridge this gap? How do we bridge this gap? It starts with getting out of our bubble and looking around. Are we priming our children with their Club Gelato pamper time, to fit in with the 1%? Isn’t it about time we rethink how our choices impact others (1% of us hog the 70% of the streets with our cars)? Which causes do we lend our resources and our influential voices to? I write about egalitarian living (and try to practice as much as possible within my reality). I weigh the legitimacy of all design solutions based on their accessibility and their ability to reduce social segregation. Is there anything you can do, within your capacity? Perhaps starting by treating the less fortunate with some empathy and respect (pick Islamic or Socialist or any other brand of your choice).
If we don’t mend this frayed fabric today, the whole social weaving will unravel tomorrow and we, the ones in the insulated zip codes, might just find ourselves on the wrong side of the French revolution.
Saba Ahmad is a blogger and an interior designer who believes in inclusive and egalitarian design. Reprinted with permission from sabahmad.com.