It’s a different story today. Rather than crying ‘Wolf! Wolf’, the lying goatherds say that there is no wolf in sight. Yet the wolf has come and is devouring the flock, the people and everything. The liars are quite pleased with themselves too. In Aesop’s fable, the lying goatherd ended up on the wolf’s belly, but in Bangladesh, lying seems to be the name of the game. From the fable’s point of view, the goatherd seems to be irresponsible, but what about the wolf’s angle? The wolf saw that the goatherd not only lied, but totally neglected his duties. He noted that the boy was totally untrustworthy. His competence and capabilities were near nil and so he didn’t even consider the wolf a threat. With such a ripe opportunity, not only the wolf, but jackals and hyenas would only be too ready to jump into the scene.
And the moral of the story is, a lying boy is actually an asset to a wolf.
Such liars have their fair share of friends and, in Facebook lingo, ‘followers’. They see the drama of tragedies, not the harsh consequences. With due respect towards their taste for drama, the question to them is - if everything is a drama, which role do you play? When the play is set in the country and the state, when the theme is national life, when its price is death, no one can remain outside of it. We do not know the author of the drama, but there can be certain assumptions as to the cast of characters. That is evident from both word and deed. The newspapers, Facebook, TV talk-shows and public rallies are replete with words that prove the point. If words could ignite, then the hatred and ire in these words would have rivaled a couple of Hiroshima-Nagasaki devastations by now.
There is a law termed Article 57. This law selectively targets journalists, critics and persons of the opposition ilk. Those under the shelter of the political powers-that-be, remain immune. The editor of a shut-down newspaper had unleashed the reins of hatred. Then there was the hatred spewed against certain bloggers, resulting in bloodshed and the loss of lives. That editor himself was persecuted and imprisoned. We then thought things had ended there, but that was not to be. This mounting hatred simmered in the hearts of our youth, not extinguished by any sort of empathy or tolerance. On the contrary, new sparks of hatred are flaring up throughout this land of Bengal.
We do not know whom Farhad Mazhar was picked up by. We will find out in time, or if we cannot be ascertained, we will simply make assumptions according to our respective lines of thought. That is not the point of discussion. We have seen ‘disappearances’ and ‘abductions’ and have also seen an unleashing of hate against the victims on Facebook and certain online portals. This time it was Farhad Mazhar, it has been others at different times. The truth never emerges.
Haven’t we seen the lies of the ‘goatherds’ when it comes to incidents of abduction, crossfire and gunfights? Because of them, people can no longer decipher the difference between truth and lies. One can only look through the lenses of partisan colour. Reality is a blur, one only sees what is screened, and hears what is scripted. Children love to watch such cinema. The wolf and the boy watch and smirk.
Just as in the case of rape where the victim is all too often the target of ridicule and contempt, the victims of torture and abduction too are often viewed with derision and hatred. Those who sit in hell and laugh, perhaps have some sort of thermal protection, but how can the general people remain immune?
It has always been a matter of power as to how much of the truth will be revealed and in what manner it will be portrayed. Rumours abound. No matter how much one is warned against giving ear to such speculations, no one can resist a rumour. So when the state machinery gives taps into every nook and corner, even rumours seem only too real. Reality is muddied and it is easy to go fishing in muddy waters.
That is why it is imperative to know the truth. It is the duty of the honest intellectuals to speak the truth in front of the powers, just as it is the responsibility of the democratic powers to inform the public of the truth. If this is not done, then the intellectuals lose the ability to be radars of the public mind, and are reduced to mere machines of rhetoric. And the government becomes entrapped in the four walls of its own ‘truth’. It becomes like that liar boy who falls victim to the wolf after lying repeatedly.
The country is becoming divided, with the victims on one side and the victimisers on the other. When one group cries, the other laughs. If one group is assumed to be telling lies, the other is said to be telling the truth. When one section of the people languishes in harsh reality, then it’s a bed of roses for the other. This is the reality on either side of the political divide. This is nothing short of a bipolar disorder in which many of us are submerged. Akin to the two political poles, the entire national is gripped by antipodal attitudes of exuberant hatred and abject distress.
Bipolar disorder smothers alert and clear thought. Many are thus thrown off balance by incessant chants of success on one hand, and horrific incidents on the other. We fail to strike a balance in assessing how well the country is faring, or how badly. A random instance of success here or there is exaggerated and embellished in such a manner, as if we have conquered the world. The very next moment we slip back into one failure or the other. The view of reality is obliterated by these extremes.
It would be self-delusionary to deny that public life has been disrupted by horrifying occurrences. Fear for life and an uncertain future looms large in the face of present circumstances. Most people are confused as to what is happening and why. Life, expression, rights, everything is at stake. A way out of this situation seems to be a far cry. Such circumstances can lead to bipolarity and social inertia. Constant concern and the fear of communicating with others can lead to political perversion. This can take on any form, even militancy.
On the other hand, there are those imagining themselves to be all powerful, all too confident of the powers they wield. In psychological terms, they suffer from hyper-mania. Such people suffer from delusions of power and exaggerated self-confidence. Under this delusionary state, they take decisions with no idea of the consequences.
Such attitudes are two aspects of the same affliction. This is manifest in the behavior of the pro-government and the opposition sides. There is a ditch of hatred dividing the two. Such circumstances encourage the forces of darkness. They have seen the blame game, seen accusations made without investigations. They have seen a profusion of lies. They have seen ‘conscious’ sections of the society happily encased in their own bubble of belief. Their confidence has been boosted by observing all this. They have seen inefficiency, corruption and the truth being swept under the rug. The virus of hatred and mistrust spreads faster than the chikungunia epidemic in a society where the rule of law, justice and truth is weak.
The people no longer matter in such a situation. It is just a jungle of fear where everyone tries to grab what they can in their own narrow interests. It’s all fickle, in a state of torpor.
* Faruk Wasif is a journalist and writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This column, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.