Neither/nor. Three phenomena in Bangladesh co-riding a pop-up revolution. Elsewhere. Pop psychology (not feeling good? Have meme therapy and self-diagnose), vicarious resistance and absolute surveillance—of the mind, of education, of relationships, of one’s reticence, of one’s faith and one’s “colours.” No respite from the digital orgy. No respite from the stuffing of minds with gossip-lite, click-fire. LIVE. No respite. Polite politics. No respite from the snoops whose other life is the life of others. Or from giving into the great swoon.
Lately everyone it seems in desh is—digitally– for Black Lives Matter. This would technically be “revolutionary.” But. What does their—our—solidarity mean, actually? The but, is crucial; we know what BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanction) means, it means risking being ‘tagged’ for the rest of your life. At least, in social media space, which is a global space; and surveillance, a predominantly Israeli- American- and now—Chinese space; but in the national “space” only Kashmir and CHT is as tricky. What should be both/any is neither/nor, not even either/or. Oh, freedom. The choices! Me and my friends, think being ‘for’ BLM, means being against certain things in Bangladesh too. This was our ‘classical’ understanding of solidarity. Like remanding “free speech”, the right to differ, the right to not face police brutality— to the point of death. Or, let’s be real, there are no rights. Only poetic justice. So the idea that enough is enough. Hashtag. To not disappear.
But Bangladesh’s pseudo-caring classes have always been a case study in perfect Babu-giri, in spite of our post-colonialist and rebellious intellectual, political and national pretensions. Servility here doesn’t stop with ‘getting by’, no, that is just the beginning. It isn’t happy until it goes out of its way—way beyond the call of servility itself—to rub the (lovely) feet—no, the armpits of power: it has to make sure it sucks up even where no sucking up was called for. One might empathize with shutting up where shutting up was called for, though. But no—that’s not enough. And we’re not talking internalizing the white man’s mask, a la Frantz Fanon. No, we wear our own masks: brown, darker or lighter, ever-kneeling, ever- climbing that fabulous ladder to the top. Our egos aren’t brutalized by what “power” told us, aka the white man or in this case, our “superiors”; no, our egos are doing just dandy. So, why not a bit of vicarious resistance. The better to forget, dear.
As the Covid-Shutdown finally dawned on Bangladesh, just before March 17th, some of us were still reeling from the RSS-sponsored terror against Muslims in Delhi. While the horrors were on-going, this was the culmination, the zenith, the Swastika-summit. Islamophobia and Dalit-structural caste genocide tied the knot, finally, in the auspicious grounds of the capital of saffron democracy.
But why bother with what happens across that gentle border; let’s coolly ride the elevator of liberal innuendo and self-congratulate ourselves. Liberalism that yearns to appear radical has ever been a Lilliput waving one flag of tolerance to destroy another, much more tattered and bloodied flag of resistance, to take the old quote on its head. They serve each end of a burning stick. In Bangladesh, Babu-giri is no new thing. It suspends red and green rainbows over the Khan-bahadurs, singing Joy Bangla, Joy revolution, Joy black lives and Joy Carnivalesque, all at once. It screams traitor without naming whom he/she/they betrayed. It holds on to its job title with the ferocity of a racoon, relinquishing all for the great whelp to “survive,” profile intact. Hustle, darling, it’s showtime. Get your best face book on.
At work, the resistor spends most of his/her/their time one-upping his/her/their colleagues. It’s exhausting. What answer, say you? When having a job is a privilege? And politics an indulgence? I say: Mass resignation will now be substituted for provoking mass firing: Revolutionary Suicide, Huey P. Newton. The founder of the (actual) Black Panthers. It gets real. And oh yeah, yes is yes. It goes all the way.
Seema Amin is a writer and teacher.