Doing something about injustice

Namia Akhtar

We need to change ourselves if we are to change society

  • Putting an end to violence against children should be a priority for all of us
    Photo- Bigstock

If we collectively oppose social injustice, we are bound to find justice. If we collectively accommodate injustice, we are bound to see injustice. If we collectively accommodate justice, we are bound to find justice. Corrupt officials receive bribes because we give them. If ordinary citizens refused to pay bribes, the officials would have had no option but to comply. Similarly, people commit crimes and violence persists because of the social accommodation — certain crimes in our society are accommodated, especially pertaining to crimes committed against women and children.

The double-standard in treatment of certain factions of our educated middle and elite class pertaining to child domestic workers, is that such household chores carried out by domestic child workers are justifiable for the children of the poor, but considered dangerous and unjustifiable for their own children.

Their children are viewed as children, but the children of domestic workers are viewed as adult workers. The child domestic workers step into adulthood from the age of six, whereas the children of the middle class do not enter adulthood even if they are first-year university students. This hypocritical perception reveals our primitive and backward culture that has a tolerance for violence, revealing that the moral order of our society has collapsed, because even certain factions of our educated middle-class and the elite class support child labour. And these child domestic workers are made to work 12 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, and are treated as adult employees rather than being viewed like their own children.

It is from these practices, and the perception that people have towards people of a lesser social status that violence breeds in our society. Violence towards children was always present in our society, the dominant narrative always used to be the housewife abusing a child domestic worker — these incidents were not much reported since they always had social acceptance. Child domestic workers were always being abused, and certain factions of the educated middle class and elites had greater tolerance for this behaviour, and justified it on grounds that they do not work hard enough.

Bangladesh has seen many incidences where employees have abused child domestic workers — one may recall the incident of Laizu Begum in 2014, the housewife who almost tortured her child employee to death. A 2011 study by Dhaka University Associate Professor Dr M Rezaul Islam titled “Study on the situation on child domestic workers in Dhaka” reveals that 17% of child domestic workers are sexually abused, while the family members of employers either physically or verbally abuse the remaining 83%.

The study also reveals that child domestic workers are made to carry out household activities like cooking, ironing, and going to the grocery store to buy daily necessities, which expose child workers to danger. All these practices prove that, as a society, we are quite accustomed to raising our social status, or elevating our pride by taking it out on those who are in a weaker position.

If the dominant culture of the middle class and certain elite factions is largely based on such primitive discourse, the incidents concerning Rajon, Rakib, Rabiul Awal, and most recently, Raja Mia should thus come as no surprise, as it part of our culture to inflict harm on others to elevate our sense of self. As a society, we have done it before. Only the nature of abuse was different. This time, the form of abuse was too abhorrent to tolerate.

Our education system holds the key to ending this culture of violence, we need to change our system to instill moral values in the minds of the young, and invest in re-educating the adult mind in teaching them the difference between “good” and “evil.” We need to build social awareness through workshops and seminars on making people understand these concepts, so that they may change into honest, moral, and well-mannered individuals.

At the same time, the government needs to take into consideration the other factors that instigate violence — social inequality, frustration, and humiliation. According to an analysis by Dr James Gillian, individuals who commit crimes engage in such activities to feel a greater sense of self-respect, and to elevate their self-esteem.

People get involved in criminal activities because they might have been treated as inferior beings, and nothing makes them feel more empowered than committing an act of violence that triggers fear. This heightened sense of “fear” causes others to respect them. Such individuals also experience inner-deadness and a lack of empathy through the harder experiences they have encountered, eg the housewife who vents her frustration on a domestic worker.

People resort to violent means to restore their self-respect when non-violent means are not available, through education or through a respectable job. Bangladesh lags behind in terms of providing good education to its citizens, and the absence of good education has failed to develop us into good human beings.

Good education is essentially important to producing good human beings, and to reduce violence in society. An example of the government indirectly aiding in increasing violence is the imposition of 7.5% VAT on private education tuition fees that would make education unattainable for some.

In order to promote a just society, we need better education that not only educates the mind, but the heart as well. Aristotle said: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Our education system has failed to develop empathy, since volunteering and service learning is not part of the curriculum.

Nonetheless, as citizens, we have a responsibility to demand change. If we demand change, the government would surely respond. Numerous examples have shown us that governments respond to calls from media and civil society. Thus, rather than blaming the government, we must each take small steps into changing ourselves, reforming our lives, and demanding for change in our education system. If our children see good values in us, they will grow up to be good human beings as well.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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