Do labels do justice to the complexities of our reality?
I believe the term used to describe me for the last two months has been “chhagu.” A slang term that connotes a supporter of Islamist-leaning politics. Interesting, I thought, given the fact that my lifestyle choices are often in direct contradiction to being a radical Islamist. So, why am I a chhagu? Probably because I did not prescribe to the demand that Jamaat-e-Islami should be banned. Is it not possible that I could abhor religious politics, but could still believe that every citizen in a democracy has a right to his/her own opinion, no matter how opposed it is to mine?
Now that I think of it, I realise that we love to put labels on everything and everyone. At its most basic level, of course it is easy to define someone or something, but this presents the risk that we see only in black and white! In spite of the fact that I’m colour blind, I’ve always believed my life is very colourful. So here I am, spending an introspective afternoon concerning myself with the “labels” that are often assigned to me.
The first, of course, was the debate of Bangladeshi vs. Bangalee vs. Sylheti. I am all three, I thought. I am and always have been a citizen of this country. Tick for point one. My mother strongly claims her Dhakaiya roots, so that’s a tick for point two! My father and his family, for a few generations, have been from Sylhet (although, if we look back further, we can trace our roots elsewhere), so I guess tick for point three. Thus, I am a Bangladeshi Bangalee from Sylhet, to be absolutely precise about the matter.
“Am I a Muslim?” I ask myself. I don’t pray, don’t perform many of the rituals required, and at times do things that are considered “haram.” But I do have faith. I do believe that. Allah is the One, and I believe in His divine powers. So, I believe I am a Muslim.
Then it started getting tricky: “What political beliefs do I hold?” I am a firm believer in a small government with little interference. The classical US Republican standpoint, except when it comes to the Democratic liberal attitudes I have towards personal freedoms of choice - pro-choice, pro-same gender marriage (pro-marriage equality), stricter gun control, etc. Hold on … I am not a voter in the US, so that makes all of these irrelevant!
More relevant is the question of what my politics are closer to my reality? For one, I still hold that a government should have strong boundaries as to where its direct involvement can be – specifically in the areas concerning business. Unfortunately, none of the established political parties in Bangladesh explicitly promote that. So how do I choose?
Most of the time, that choice is made for me. Many label me a “BNP” supporter because of a decision my father took in 1979! He had contested and won an election from that party. But after the 1991 elections, he became disillusioned and left politics altogether.Unfortunately for him, and for me, that label seemed to have stuck. I cannot speak for him, but I am not comfortable with this. While I have great respect and sympathy for the ideals of Ziaur Rahman, I think the “uttaradhikaris” of the party he created have drifted far from the politics he had preached. At present, I cannot claim to be on the same page with them on many points. Neither can the Awami League claim to be the party that it was in 1971, when it sparked the hopes of a nation. The Jatiya Party is a political group that I was opposed to even before I started to develop a political conscience. Jamaat and such parties have no appeal to me because I believe religion is a personal choice. A third force then? While in theory it is a good idea, it really isn’t practical. I think any change in the political landscape of the country has to come from reform of the existing two political camps. Thus, I am a political being without a home.
I am, and have always been, an optimist. I think the future is bright for us as a nation. Ironically, and sadly for me, I am very pessimistic when it comes to the immediate future of my country. Due to our myopic goals, we are creating rifts in society that will take generations to mend.
Labels. We seem to love them. But does it do justice to the complexities of our reality? We are so fast to utilise them that we overlook how inadequate it is to describe the person whom we are labelling, and goes on to reveal our lack of understanding of our own surroundings.
In the end, what is this “Me”? There is only one label that I can truly, without a doubt, say is appropriate for me – a “kachchi biriyani lover.”
Published: Dhaka Tribune 6th May 2013