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POST TIME: 5 April, 2019 12:50:10 AM
Pluralism must be encouraged
When one looks at Bangladesh, he or she sees a society that has had a secular tradition over centuries, with people of different beliefs, different religions and different ethnicities coexisting peacefully in a harmonious way
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled

Pluralism must be encouraged

In Bangladesh there are ups and downs in its social fabric in terms of economic wellbeing enjoyed by the people though the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is growing at a satisfactory rate of 7+ percent over the last few decades. But the uneven distribution of the fruits of economic growth among the people is a major cause of frustration and disappointment among the people at grassroots level. A small section of the people – especially the urban elite and rural haves are more or less beneficiaries of the currently ongoing economic growth – but a major section of the people living in the countryside and urban shanties are the deprived, losers and frustrated ones. Nevertheless, some of the socio-economic researchers prefer to be optimistic about the future of the country by looking at the slow but steady pace of progress that it makes over time. But, at the same time, they do not forget to mention their concern that growth is futile if it does not improve people’s overall wellbeing.        
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) correctly asserts that economic growth has little value unless it improves the standard of lives of all in a country. It categorically told that economic growth does not have any absolute value unless it is related to the welfare of people across the country. UNDP explained the value of using the Human Development Index (HDI) as a measure of progress in people’s life and the ways in which it counteracts the preoccupation with economic growth, which often pushes most of the people to the periphery of development concerns.  

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) in the 1980s, developed structural adjustment programmes for Asia and Africa, aimed at restructuring the economies to help them become more stable and to accelerate the growth process. But they failed to address some fundamental questions: (i) the growth of what? (ii) Growth for whom? (iii) And growth by whom? It is true that the richness of economies is important, but it should not come at the cost of the richness in human lives. At the end of the day you have to see whether it adds to the wellbeing of the entire people of a country or the globe.

The HDI provides a measure of degree to which people can live long and enjoy creative lives, the extent to which they can seek and gain knowledge and their standard of living, which are of universal values. HDI analyse as to how these topics affect the lives of the people: (i) whether it improves their lives, (ii) whether the benefits are equitably distributed, and (iii) whether it is environmentally sustainable. UNDP, however, acknowledges the HDI is not a perfect measure of human wellbeing. It notes that the Human Development Index is as vulgar a measure as GDP per capita, but it is not as blind to the broader aspects of human development.

Bangladesh has done very well in terms of certain social indicators such as (i) life expectancy, (ii) under-five mortality, (iii) the maternal mortality rate, and (iv) gender equality. There are even more promising signs, according to UNDP. It said “If you look at the value of the index [for Bangladesh] over the past 25 years, it has more than doubled. It shows the consistency of progress in the economy and the people over that time. If you look at the index, there are 14 countries with comparable per capita incomes to Bangladesh, but they are all below it in the HDI ranking. This means Bangladesh has been very successful in translating increases in income into improvements in human lives… That should be celebrated”.  

UNDP also discussed the country’s ongoing problems, including the recent rise of militancy and violent extremism. It said that it always try to relate it to the question of identity. As long as we accept people with multiple identities and respect those identities, there would not be any tension. But if any one decides, for example, that he is a man and is defined only by that identity and decides it is superior to that of others then he will begin to disrespect the rights of women, be abusive toward them and stop listening to them. Such a problem is still widespread across Bangladesh where women are abused in different ways and deprived of their due rights and due respect though the country’s economy is growing satisfactorily over the years.

It is the same thing at the state level too. If a state respects, protects and promotes its diversity there is no problem. But, if a state believes it is defined by one identity and forces everyone to conform, it leads to extremism. The human development paradigm could be helpful in imparting the necessary values in this context. Human development talks (i) about knowledge, (ii) about universal citizenship and (iii) taking a global view. It says every human life counts and every human being is equally valuable.

On the whole, the socio-economic researchers are hopeful about the Bangladesh’s future. When one look at Bangladesh one see a society that has had a secular tradition over centuries, with people of different beliefs, different religions and different ethnicities coexisting peacefully in a harmonious society. We believe Bangladesh society as a whole still upholds those principles and values.

 

 The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre.