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The Foray of COVID-19 in the Public health of Bangladesh

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“Desperate Savar mother sells hair to buy milk for baby” “ Agitprop for relief in Dhaka ”“Relief rice theft amid raging Covid-19 crisis” “Only being embarrassed won’t stop food aid theft, pilfering” “Bashundhara Group gives food aid to 3,500 labourers in Mongla” “Beggar donates Tk 10000 for corona-hit people”. 

These are some news headings. This is the scenario amid the pandemic COVID-19 of a country which dreamt in 1971 to establish a just and egalitarian society.

Soon after independence in 1971, the father of Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibor Rahman along with his fellows tried to rebuild the fragile economy of the country. After 49 years of independence Bangladesh entered into the club of middle income countries with an impressive record of growth and development with GDP worth US dollars 286 Billion (tradingeconomic.com/bangladesh). An illustration may depict the economic fragility in 1972 and the present economic stability of Bangladesh. In 2019, the GDP and GNI per capita arose to 1827 and 1909 US dollars compared with94 and 120 US dollars respectively in 1972 (macrotrends.net/Bangladesh). The country’s economy has been marching towards a robust economy in the region. But this growth of GNI and GDP in the last few years did not create sufficient space for the poor people for productive income generating employments. Rather, the rich people are getting richer where the poor are getting poorer day by day. The government is committed to poverty alleviation and reducing disparity though,

but still it has to go a long way. And this disparity would not be controlled until the proper distribution of wealth and notable subsidies to the poor by the state takes place. The statistics about the economy of Bangladesh are set out here to help compare the solvency of the state and to help with a rethink about the availability of resources of the country.

Let us examine the number of disadvantaged people and their income generating sources to provide them a reasonable standard of life. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world accommodating more than 1000 of its citizens in a square mile. In the year 2019, the total estimated population is about 170 million where 20% people are living under the national poverty line and 10% people live in extreme poverty which means they have daily income of less than 1.9 US dollars. In existing employment, 39.76 % work in agriculture, 20.53% work in industry while the remaining 39.71% work in the service sector (Statista, 2019). This index of measuring the economic status of individuals was done on the basis of multidimensional indicators including nutrition. Accordingly, it can clearly be presumed that these 20% people living below the poverty line are always fighting daily to have a nutritious meal. The percentage might be higher if we take into consideration the number of people who depend only on their daily income and the marginal peasants who live just a little above the poverty line. This should be a great concern for the country: how do these people meet their need for nutrition amid the outbreak of COVID-19. We should look into the constitution of the peoples’ republic of Bangladesh to see if there is any mandate for the well-being of the citizens including public health.

2. Just after nine months of independence, the country adopted an excellent constitution with the aim of establishing a socialist society where there would be no exploitation and where equality and justice; political, economic, and social would be secured for all citizens. It adopted some provisions to work as fundamental principles in all functions adopted by the government. It is pertinent to mention here that these principles are termed as fundamental principles of state policy. That means the policy makers must prioritize the essence of these principles and must not adopt policies inconsistent with these principles. These principles included a set of principles relating to social rights, economic rights, and some other cultural rights too with a non-binding effect. The shining principles relating to social and economic rights include provisions of basic necessities of life, emancipation of peasants and worker, and public health. Article 15 of the Constitution provides that it shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the people, with a view to securing for its citizens – (a) the provision of the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care;…(d) the right to social security, that is to say, to public assistance in cases of undeserved want arising from unemployment, illness or disablement, or suffered by widows or orphans or in old age, or in other such cases. Article 18 states that the State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties. These basic rights of the citizens are not fundamental in nature in a country like Bangladesh. And it was not possible too for the makers of the constitution to posit these rights as fundamental having a fragile economy in 1972 but, rather, that these necessities would responsibly be treated in future by the state with the availability of its resources. Looking back to our previous economic statistics of the country, we commendably can say Bangladesh now has a considerably improved economic strength to revise its policy regarding these basic rights.

Leaving aside other basic necessities, we would like to remember the necessities of food and health care of the citizens during this outbreak of Pandemic COVID-19. Food and medical care are the two vital basic necessities of life. And the people who live under the extreme poverty line and to some extent people living under the poverty line can feel the urgency of these necessities to protect their lives guaranteed by the constitution as enshrined in Article 32 of the constitution. This right is a fundamental rightthat cannot be taken away save than by law. It is should be mentioned here that right to life does not mean only physical survival rather it means a dignified life. Right to life includes the right to live with human dignity having all basic necessities including the right to safe and nutritious food and right to have basic medical care. This principle of law has been confirmed by the apex court of Bangladesh in Mohiuddin Farooque Vs. Bangladesh stating that “the expression life enshrined in Article 32 includes everything which is necessary to make it meaningful and a life worth living, such as, among others maintenance of health is of utmost importance….” And later in many other cases. Our neighbor Indian Court also affirmed the principle in many judgments like Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation etc. Considering this constitutional fiat, it can be said that the government has a constitutional obligation too to ensure a dignified life for all the citizens.

3. How far does the government adhere to its constitutional direction in saving the lives of these people during this pandemic COVID-19? To find the answer, we must assess the capacity of stakeholders to manage nutritious food and the role of the government in providing the same.

We have mentioned earlier that per capita GNI of the country is 1909 US dollars. That does not mean each and every citizen of the country has an annual income of the said amount. According to the latest survey (Statista, February, 2020) 4.29% of the total population is completely unemployed. It means these people have the ability to work but do not get work to do. Rather,they have to depend on others for their livelihood. It can undoubtedly be said that this amount of people including the people living under the poverty line have hardly any savings for their rainy days. Think, what would happen to these day-labourers, no work no payment workers, marginal workers working in restaurants, shops, and in making garments if they cannot go to work and if they are stuck at home for months? Simply,they cannot manage their daily meal let alone nutritious food. So, they have to rely on others for a meal and have to legitimately expect food from the government. And in this case, the government should play a pivotal role considering the situation.The matter of satisfaction is that the government has already started playing a true guardian-like role allocating a huge budget in different sectors including food to combat the situation, but the food provided by the government is not sufficient to fulfill the deficiency of nutrition to these people. In the same vein, we should not forget that healthy diet helps protect the people against malnutrition in all its forms.

Let’s review a model diet for an adult in a day and compare it with the nutrition status of these people during the COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh.

A balanced diet has food elements like carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, mineral, and water are essential to be in daily food to meet  one’s primary nutritional needs. It is said an adult man should consume at least 56 gram protein in a day while a women is required to take 46 gram. Among the elements of a model diet, we normally find lean meats, poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, dairy products, etc. as the source of protein which are not easily reachable by the poor people. So, during this outbreak, it is hardly possible for a family having no income to manage the minimally required protein they need in their food, because food like rice, potato, salt, oil given from the government cannot supply the adequate amount of protein to these people. Leaving protein aside, what about the carbohydrate which is considered to be required for all the citizens? The country has also witnessed amid this outbreak that individuals were beaten by the local representative while asking for food sent for them by the government. We also noticed the stealing, hoarding, black-marketing the food allocated for the poor people. So, there remains a question mark too regarding the receipt of food allocated and supplied by the government. But it is admirable that the government is taking quick and immediate action to stop the mismanagement of distribution of food.

So, what more should the government do regarding the nutrition of its citizens? Of course, it will be a challenge for the government of a country like Bangladesh to provide nutritious food to these huge number of people living under the poverty line. At present, the initiatives taken by the government by providing basic food to these disadvantageous people is worthy of admiration. But this food is not sufficient enough to fill the nutrition gap of these poor people. So, the government should take more other steps like involving rich people in this food supplying project. In this situation, in addition to the government aid, the officially declared 23,300 more millionaires along with other well-off people in the country should come forward to assist with the situation specifically to provide good food to these disadvantageous people. These rich people are distributed across the country as they are from different districts and sub-districts. They should, as well as the government, extend their hand of assistance to their neighbors who cannot manage a good meal. This may be given in the form of money or in the form of products which contains proper nutrition. Government should consult them immediately. Even if they are not willing to do so, the government may declare special recognition or award for these prospective benevolent people. With the help of these well-off people, the disadvantaged people might have some nutritious food in this hazardous situation. We must keep in mind that deficiency of nutrition in the human body for a long time may cause extreme form of malnutrition. The government should take the matter into consideration seriously otherwise in the long run, the situation may lead the country into a situation where a large section of the population is severely malnourished with all the problems that that might bring.

Member, Bangladesh Judicial Service Currently working as a Research & Reference Officer, Appellate Division, Supreme Court of Bangladesh

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South Asia

Convergence of interests determines Russia-Pakistan Relations

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Russian FM is being received by his Pakistani counterpart upon arriving at the Foreign Office. PHOTO: TWITTER/SMQureshiPTI

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Pakistan on 6-7 April 2021 and held delegation-level meetings with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in addition to called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief, as well as had interaction with other dignitaries and senior officials during his two-day stay in Islamabad, Pakistan.

It is worth mentioning that Russia and Pakistan face similar challenges and pass through similar difficulties, including sanctions, economic challenges, security threats, etc. Both countries share similar views on the Afghanistan issue, terrorism, regional security, and China’s common friend. There exists a comprehensive convergence of interests.

Especially after India signed a series of Defense agreements and acted as a “Major Defense Partner” and American-led Quad or concept of Asian NATO, the geopolitics has emerged so that Russia and Pakistan must cooperate with each other. As a matter of fact, we left with no option except strengthening regional cooperation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow and Islamabad would boost ties in the fight against terrorism, with his country providing defense equipment to Pakistan and the two holding joint military exercises.

During the meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan restated Pakistan’s determination to expeditiously complete the mandatory legal process for the “Pakistan Stream” (North-South) Gas Pipeline project and begin the work as early as possible.

Pakistan-Russia mutual relations and issues of regional and global importance were discussed in the meeting. The Prime Minister fondly recalled his interaction with President Vladimir Putin during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek in June 2019. He had emphasized his desire to take the bilateral relationship to a new level. He repeated that the importance Pakistan attached to its relations with Russia as a critical foreign policy priority. The Prime Minister uttered satisfaction at the steady growth in bilateral ties, including deepening cooperation in trade, energy, security, and defense.

Citing to the situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), the Prime Minister shared Pakistan’s perspective on peace and security issues in South Asia, including the need for sustainable, peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

The Prime Minister repeatedly extended his invitation to President Putin to visit Pakistan at his earliest convenience. It is hoped that President Putin will visit Pakistan soon.

Moreover, disturbing the peace process in Afghanistan, where both countries have long histories of concerns. It was the first time a Russian foreign minister had visited Pakistan in nine years and comes at a delicate time for Afghanistan with peace talks making little progress and a deadline approaching for the United States to withdraw its forces. “(Pakistan and Russia) share convergent positions on several issues … including peace and stability in Afghanistan,”

The visit comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in war-torn Afghanistan, where it has sought to inject itself as a critical player in fast-tracked efforts to find a permanent peaceful end to decades of war.

As Washington appraisals an agreement it signed more than a year ago with the Taliban and rethought a May 1 withdrawal of its troops, Moscow has stepped up its involvement in Afghanistan, emerging as a significant player. Last month it hosted talks between the Taliban and senior government officials, and Lavrov suggested another high-level meeting could again be held in Moscow.

Addressing a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Lavrov expressed satisfaction over a 46 percent increase in trade between them. He, however, stressed there is a need to diversify it further. Discussing the energy sector opportunities, he said both the countries are now discussing a new protocol on the Stream Gas Pipeline Project, an ambitious project to transport 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of regasified liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Karachi to Lahore. As soon as it is signed, the construction work will begin. The top Russian diplomat termed the relationship between the two nations mutually beneficial and constructive. He recalled Russia had provided 50,000 doses of its Covid-19 Sputnik-V Vaccine.

Qureshi said Pakistan wanted to build a relationship with Russia that is based on trust. He said Moscow has always advocated the importance of international law and multilateralism. “These are principles that Pakistan adheres to. Our coordination and cooperation at the United Nations level have been excellent.” At this, Lavrov reaffirmed the commitment to deepen ties with Pakistan and create win-win cooperation between them.

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India’s Naxalbari Achilles’ heel

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On April3, 2021, there was a pitched battle between a Naxalite (or Maoist) group (called “rebels”) by Indian government) and government forces of over 1500 “jawan”, equipped with state-of-the art weapons and helicopters at the Bijapur-Sukma border. The Naxals armed with machine guns gunned down 22 members of the government forces and injured 31 others, excluding missing personnel. Eight of the dead jawans were from the CRPF,  seven from the elite Cobra (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) while the others were part of the Bastariya Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the District Reserve Guard (DRG). Two of the dead CRPF jawans were from Assam, where assembly polls are on.

 The Naxalite decamped with forces’ weapons, uniforms and shoes.  The government claims that they killed 10 Naxalite, but could only produce the corpse of a dead woman as a “rebel”. The government claims that the Naxalites take along their dead and injured.

(Twenty-two jawans killed in Chhattisgarh Maoist gun battle. Officers claimed more than 10 ultras were killed in Saturday’s encounter but other sources said the police had found the body of a lone rebel — a woman. Telegraph India April 5, 2021).

Lapses

Media described the “counter-insurgency operation” as an “intelligence failure and poor leadership by the CRPF commanders and drew parallels with the February 2019 Pulwama massacre of 40 personnel in the run-up to the general election”.  Earlier in April 2017, the Naxal had killed 25 CRPF personnel near Burkapal in Sukma. The media blames home minister and the government of being preoccupied in winning elections in some state assemblies through turn coats. It is alleged that “five teams totaling 2,000-plus security personnel had on Friday night launched a concerted operation in the Maoist-hit Bijapur and Sukma districts after learning that rebels led by the dreaded Madvi Hidma were hiding in the forest.  A CRPF officer admitted, `The operation was launched from five places Tarrem, Usoor and Pamed in Bijapur, and Minpa and Narsapuram in Sukma.  While a team was advancing through the forests near Jonaguda, around 500km from state capital Raipur, it was ambushed by some 250 Maoists on Saturday afternoon, said. He said the forces were scattered and trapped along a two-km stretch of forest. The patrolling team from Tarrem came under heavy fire, prompting some of them to move to what appeared a deserted village, where the Maoists lay in wait for them.  The Maoists fled with the weapons, bullet-proof jackets and the shoes of the dead troops’.

Naxalite clout

The recent encounter belies government claim that it has wiped out Naxalism from their stronghold Bastar. Bastar division of Chhattisgarh has a population of 23, 48,808 persons. It is spread over 40,000 square kilometers (Census 2011). Bastar division has a security-personnel-to-civilian-population ratio of 1:22 with the deployment of 58,772 central paramilitary force personnel and another 50,000 of state armed-police personnel, the. Security forces occasionally conduct “search and destroy” operations in the area killing or arresting innocent people for “Naxal offence”. . The jails are overcrowded to the extent of three times the prison capacity, filled with Adivasis (tribals). The report of a High Level Committee headed by Virginius Xaxa, submitted to the government in May 2014, highlighted this fact.

Even expression of sympathy with Naxals is now a heinous offence.

 In the Bhim Koregaon planted letters case, several intellectuals and rights activists including Navalakha were declared “traitors” by the government. They were even accused of having links with Kashmiri militants. It was claimed that they were in communication with Ghulam Nabi Fai, a Kashmiri leader who has served two-year imprisonment in the USA for having illegally received funds from the inter-services intelligence of Pakistan.

Despite repression under draconian laws, the Naxalbari uprising has still been alive since May 1967.

According to India’s home ministry “more than two-thirds of Maoist related violence is now restricted to only 10 districts of the country. However, media reports reflect Maoists are well entrenched in at least 68 districts.  The movement could not be quelled despite tall claims by Indian authorities over the past 53 years. Indian home ministry has a whole division dedicated to dealing with the movement.

No writ of government

In Naxalite-influenced rural areas, there is no trace of India’s judicial system.  There, the Naxalite organisations act ‘virtually like policemen, arresting, meeting out “justice” and in some cases even executing the guilty’ (“Internal security situation”, India’s National Security: Annual Review 2004, New Delhi, India Research Press, 2005, p. 87).

With the merger of pro-Naxalite revolutionary bodies, the Naxalites are the sole arbiters of justice in rural areas. 

Concluding remarks

The term “Naxalite” is rooted in Naxalbari village (West Bengal) where Kanhu Sanyal presented the concept of “forcible protest against the social order relating to holding of property and sharing of social benefits”. They started the Naxal movement on March 3, 9167 at Naxalbari village, near Siliguri sub-division in West Bengal. It is 30 to 50 miles from Sikkim. Tibet and Bhutan in the, Nepal in the West and from Bangladesh in the east. To him the purpose of the protest was “organizing peasants to bring about land reform through radical means including violence”.

Naxalite movement in India is viewed as an internal security problem.  However, the populist appeal of the movement’s ideology reflects that it could soon assume international dimensions if China supports it.  India’s Lieutenant General KM Seth laments, ‘Unfortunately, the threat to internal security from Naxalites has acquired dangerous proportions and can no longer be wished away.  …they are also developing links with Turkish and Philippino terrorist organisations…We have suffered and bled patiently and have taken huge human casualties, which could exceed 13,000, uniformed personnel and 53,000 civilians during the last 25 years… As of today, their overall strength could be put to approximately 20, 000 undergrounds, 50,000 overgrounds and more than a lakh in frontal organisations. Their armoury  is reported to comprise approximately 900 AK-47 rifles, 200 light machine guns, 100 grenade firing rifles, 2 inch mortars, thousands of .303 rifles, self-loading rifles and .12-bore guns with a huge quantity of explosives at their disposal’. (“Naxalite Problem”, U. S. I. Journal , January-March 2005, New Delhi, p. 19, 23).

India may blame Pakistan for the freedom movement (‘insurgency’ or ‘militancy’) in occupied Kashmir.  But, who shall she blame for the Naxalite insurgency in Andhra Pradesh and other Indian states? This is a movement against economic deprivation and brutality of the state or central government’s law-enforcing agencies.

Indian media has now begun to report that the counter-insurgency forces are fearful of grappling the Naxalite.  In Guntur (Andhra Pradesh), the Naxalite announced a cash reward of five lac rupees per policeman (“Reward scheme sends forces into huddle”, Indian Express, August 25, 2005). IG (Guntur Range) Rajwant Singh admitted, ‘My men are removing the posters and convincing the villagers to inform them about the activities of Naxalites’.

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The ‘constructed’ world

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Karl Popper’s theory of falsification by refuting the classic positivist theory is not new. It is already applied by rejecting Aristotle’s Geocentric model by Copernicus as a Heliocentric model in the 16th century. Newton model of absolute time was refuted by Einstein in the 20th century as Time is relative and flexible. So, humanity has always revised pre-existing knowledge with experience and relation to surrounding in the course of time. Knowledge is an infinite process of getting into more advanced forms. From Aristotle to Copernicus and Popper—everyone is defending Eurocentrism. It is a huge construct that knowledge is only the ‘knowledge’ generated from the West. For example: ‘Feeling & sex’ is a biological construct. ‘Showing love’ is social construct. ‘Valentine’ is a political construct. Celebrating Valentine in Global South is part of assimilation process. Commenting on it is a part of ‘rationality’ choice with political cognitive building. Underneath, is a ‘realist’ model of state’s intention to achieve its vested interest via ‘cultural colony’ building. At the end, who controls, the story(Ideology, Process, Frame, Implementation and outcomes) wins the race. Here, west is leading with no doubt.

 Second Example: My personal interest in the US election is a bi-product of constructivist world where ideas, beliefs, identities, interest and social norms are shaped by actions and interactions of agency and structures. This put us; grip of knowledge on the western politics shapes my identities as a cosmopolitan and signals my interest of what I am looking from this continuous follow-up of election update–more data driven epistemology and ontology which is helpful in my running PhD. marathon. Like I said; my 1 OPED related to the US election in New York Times  is much more powerful than my 1000 OPEDs in Kathmandu based media. This is not caused by the capacity of these two giant media tycoon(material structures)companies rather meaning given to it; which is a ideational structures meaning constructed world; publishing in western media proves my talent.

Third Example: In the last week of December 2020, the Nepali PM dissolved the parliament and had called for a fresh election in April & May 2021. Although, Supreme Court ruled out the Parliament dissolve decision of government. However, before Supreme Court decision, this event followed several tantrums among Nepal Communist Leaders. Nepali Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli remarks on several occasions are puerile. His counter words to opponents of his party i.e. Prachanda & Madhav Kumar Nepal is a floccinaucinihilipilification mindset. In one of the accounts, Bhim Rawal’s (one of the key leaders of the Communist Party) speech targeting sexuality to PM Oli( degraded mental conditions due to Kidney transplant provided by woman donor) was a repulsive example of puritanical patriarchy. These series of watershed among leaders made the content of the social media walls farrago and users are webaqoof. The is resulting the Nepal into entropy. And, for this Nepali leaders takes a big share for such de-growth. Nepali leaders recklessly bore the public with rodomontade. They are purely a snollygoster in power. For this, political leaders mishandling any political affairs in Nepal with a predetermined attitude of non intervention by Nepali public causing the situation to worst. Non-interventions on lacunae by the public due to public trauma of being mobilized to several revolutions and movements since 1950’s is creating a frisson. We are brewed by the agathokakological elements and politicians are not an exception. And we found ourselves in Zugzwang position. Zugzwang politicians are everywhere in Nepal and they are either by a foreign power or cadres pressure not necessarily proving advantageous for Nepal public. Prachanda and KP Sharma Oli had a sesquipedalian marathon via 19 pages and 38 pages document presented by themselves respectively —reproachful Oli of taking a decision without party consultations. Both parties had claimed; it was limpid. Allegations are also on the floor—-PM Oli and President of Nepali had closed ‘personal’ consultations to dissolve parliament. Rivals to both PM & President claimed the consequences occurred after the parliament dissolves due to muliebrity because the president is a woman and she should be taking responsibility. Opponents use Lalochezia targeted to the sexuality of the president. The overall current scenario in Nepal is the result of kakistocracy rather than democracy.

Way forward

From above Karl Popper to the US election and Nepali politics—All these carries western led constructivist attitude with mansplaining.  Rural youth of Nepal are constructed of all urban dwellers are feudal. And, therefore degradation of them is necessary. So, several radical groups are formed in Nepal for past few years. These groups created ‘tension’ in the national life of Nepal. As a result, government conduct dialogue with them for peace process. The leaders of the groups get benefited with state facilities and followers are left behind with dozens of Nepal changing dream. This has been the reality of Nepal where dynamic youth are lured for the vested political purpose. What I have to say; now “capital” is generated by “Dialectical Silicon Materialism” rather 19th and 20th Century “politicized” concept of labor-Industrialist dichotomy. But, in Nepal we are concentrated in the latter one.

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