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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - November 13, 1973, Lethbridge, Alberta Bangladesh residents are restless November 1t7l THE LITHMIDQI HIMAI.D Bangladesh A clap of thunder breaks from the black clouds fearful and deafening. Hardly has it ceased when there flames such a blinding flash of light that for an ins- tant you can see the whole city to its farthest The rubbish- strewn the Mogul and Victorian public buildings mildewed with the thatch of the squatters' shan- tytowns gnawed away by rats and rain. Also the graffiti urging a and to American and the emaciated figures of pushing hard against heavy wooden pedaling their 'harnessed like draft animals to barges along the their drawn faces outlined with startling clarity as bursts of lightning gleam in their eyes and glitter from the sweat running down their backs. Then the rains come. A torrent of solid shafts of water coming straight down. Soon the streets are knee-deep in rivers of mud and filth flow down to the lowland squatters' colonies. Under an improvished shelter of corrugated a A new born of violence and war strives to make democratic government A A L.___I -ft I___ mielv ItaliiBwl AC in tllA VllloHA group of men shivering. They wear only old which have once seen service for sugar or around their waists. half numb with the yet they gossip in excited voices. Here is a rickshaw man from the rotting slum nearby. his and four children sleep in their single their one possession an iron bed looted from fleeing Biharis during the war. He earns to 11.40 a day and yearns for enough to send his children to school. But in the five years since Ali left his village in Faridpur he has been forced deeply into debt. And Abdul son of a rice-growing peasant in Noakhali. A daily just he has no home nor wife but sleeps on the ground at his construction sites. Alone of the group he wears a sleeveless shirt which despite its holes is still a mark of status. And a cart poorest of all. barrel- he owns his cart but must share earnings of 80 cents to a day with one or two youths who push from behind and get 25 cents apiece. On bad days Rajab sometimes goes but has no debts. he laughs in a deep voice. would be so foolish as to loan money to such a poor The rain lasts and a plump little man with a black umbrella and anxious eyes seeks standing apart from the laborers and fretting in English about the rain and the heat. He mops his face with a grubby handkerchief and ties it around his neck to protect a frayed white collar. Badrul as he shyly introduces for- mally shaking is a lower-level clerk earning 137.14 a month. He shares one room in a government with four others from the office. and he pays the monthly tuition of two younger brothers in college being educated to follow his example of shuffling papers in an overstaffed government bureau that exists to shuffle papers and worry about how to educate its future sons for nonexistent jobs. He sends another a month back to his mother in the village. Bardrul gazes into the taking in the pall of cooking smoke from the slum its slippery stairways carved from the the rubbish children with spindly legs and matted hair standing in and the pathetic lines of torn and ragged garments left hanging by some absent workers and rotting in the rain. father loved he blurts out in a tone of suppressed he wore a and vest every day of his His longing to escape his en- vironment was barely sur- pressed underlined by the shadowy streets in this part of with its hint of threatening violence and medieval superstition. The minor lanes are and seem charged with a sense of excitement and revolutionary fervor. Here one remembers it is not long since Dacca was a prime symbol to the world of crazed soldiers terrorizing the capital and mobs of armed students who changed the course of the subcontinent's history. Hotel breathes anxiety The modern part o. the city seems no less ominous. Even the Intercontinental Hotel all plate glass-and fantastic prices breathes anxiety. Jittery do-gooders and fed-up engineers ex- change the latest horror stories in the lobby. The bar is a hangout for Bengali black and KGB and CIA hardboys companionably sipping their iced drinks and eavesdropping on each other to find out what is going on. Worst is the bureaucracy. The central government Secretariat is swarming with scheming Awami Leaguers and underpaid clerks with incipient beards intent on a muddle of telephones that do not frequent power failures. the said he was afraid to ride on elevators in his building for fear the electricity would suddenly give out There also are senior civil servants and military officers who openly declare to any sympathetic ear their linhap- piness over upset insecure being at the mercy of whimsical men in a whimsical party. They bluntly state the country is going to the dogs. Above all is lawlessness and pervasive fear of a complete breakdown in order. To save the situation there has got to be an economic turnaround. In the nearly two years of prices of some key commodities have risen 100 per rice has gone from 45 to 120 rupees per sack Essential goods like cloth and baby's milk are and farm inputs like engine and spare parts are seldom or if they at black market prices. Exports are not out nor imports coming in as they should. Banks cannot make loans. No one will invest when the law and order and economic situations seem so grim. The production of the country's primary earns just over what was spent to import food this but is expected to decline to 6 million bales in a million below normal. Both in Dacca and in the is an pervasive sense of civil dissolution and national demoralization that most Bengalis seem to feel and are universally anxious to tell you about. who either struggled in the liberation war or at least had their hopes raised by are becoming hard to handle with their quite legitimate demands in rela- tion to their impoverished status. The government's response has been to strong-arm banks to provide ever more money to meet union demands something that feeds already soaring' inflation and is self- since it only buys time. And time is running out in Bangladesh. Mujibur the Prime still has some support from the there is no alternative to him in and Bengali peasants are greatly fatigued and deep- ly conservative. But widespread disaffection seems to be growing quickly as they come to feel themselves directly threaten- ed by lawlessness. How can a massive up- heaval be A neat and tidy solution would be if Sheikh Mujib could reform the Awami clean house in the extend popular participation will be local elections in encourage the growth of an opposition party so that Awami League monopoliza- tion of local power does not perpetuate a system of cor- ruption and strong-arm and somehow find ways to arrest economic decline and increase productivity. One rainswept night in Dacca I spent more than an hour discussing this with Sheikh Mujib in his office in Dacca's old Parliament building. The Prime Minister described Bangladesh as be- ing trapped in the familiar vicious As long as most of the country's foreign exchange must be spent on keeping Dacca and the other cities and towns he is unable to buy the and irrigation equipment to increase the yield. I have to purchase so much food from Sheikh Mujib can I divert money to agricultural production and reconstruc- This is one of my terri- ble problems He also claimed that with an expanding force of combat and civil police refused to say how many but estimates range from 000 to more Army and Air Force regulars coming back as repatriates from he would soon have lawlessness under control. I asked Sheikh Mujib if Bangladesh's troubles were not fundamentally rooted in the inherent difficulty of try- ing to within some semblance of democratic a subsistence agriculture economy into the more prosperous kind of society that lives by buying and selling. The United States achieved this a century ago only by ex- ploiting to some degree millions of poor immigrants. Russia did it by brute and China now seems to be but only by ab- solute despotism. Could or even carry out its economic tran- sformation without a more authoritarian or at least stronger government. A question of conviction He answered with some is a question of conviction. Within these past 21 we have given the nation a liberal constitution with fundamental rights and general elections. And produc- tion and exports have increased. a fair and free we won 307 out of 315 seats. If I wanted to I could pass laws and take more drastic actions and nobody would object to the new Parliament that very day passed a new emergency-powers that in give him vir- tual martial law authority if he chooses to use it. Sheikh Mujib went the people would have given me dictatorial powers. But I don't want them. You should take your people with you. 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