Unveiling the Underbelly of Civil Societies in Bangladesh: A Call for Action

The complex disco between civil society and Bangladesh’s political crisis has been marred by an unsettling over-reliance on Western ideas, values, and the specter of neocolonialism, sparking profound concerns about its impact on the nation’s socio-political and socio-economic development.

November 26, 2023 1:55 pm

Dhaka: The inception of civil society is a fascinating journey that traces the evolution of collective human endeavor. Civil societies, often seen as the ‘third sector’, distinct from government and business, have emerged as significant players in the political landscape. They have become stakeholders in state power, often without a popular or democratic mandate, influencing policy and decision-making processes.

However, this influence is not always positive, especially in emerging countries where social equity has significant gaps. The unchecked power of civil societies can exacerbate these disparities, leading to a further marginalization of the already deprived. This article seeks to shed light on the complexities of this relationship and stimulate a much-needed discourse on the role and responsibilities of civil societies in Bangladesh.

Let us look at the global scenario of civil society activities. Civil societies in Egypt and Syria faced harsh repression following the Arab Spring, and were criticized for prioritizing the concerns of urban, middle-class communities over those of rural or impoverished ones. In Zimbabwe and Uganda, civil societies struggled due to their heavy reliance on foreign funding, which led to accusations of aligning more closely with donor agendas rather than local needs. In Russia, civil societies grappled with establishing democratic practices during the post-communist transition, and were criticized for political bias, often aligning closely with Western interests. In Mexico and Brazil, civil societies faced the dual challenges of corruption and violence, and their efforts were often criticized for inconsistency, focusing on certain types of injustices while neglecting others.

The complex disco between civil society and Bangladesh’s political crisis has been marred by an unsettling over-reliance on Western ideas, values, and the specter of neocolonialism, sparking profound concerns about its impact on the nation’s socio-political and socio-economic development. Although civil society pushes good governance, including democracy, socioeconomic development, the rule of law, and human rights in a limited scale in Bangladesh, the uncritical adoption of Western policy prescriptions has proven to be more of a hindrance than a boon. The reliance of civil society on foreign funding often leads to prioritizing donor agendas over community needs in Bangladesh, potentially favors the interests of the wealthy. Additionally, a group of civil societies inadvertently promotes unrest and divisions within society, undermining the political strategy of the government and creating opportunities for foreign intervention. Furthermore, they advocate for neoliberal economic policies that benefit foreign corporations at the expense of local industries, facilitating capitalist exploitation. It is crucial to acknowledge these potential negative impacts and work towards mitigating them to ensure continuous growth.

In the throes of globalization, the undeniable influence of a pro-Western culture has permeated Bangladesh’s daily life, shaping everything from technology and consumer products to provocative thoughts. However, this cultural infusion has come at a cost, with critics pointing to the erosion of the country’s cultural heritage and traditional values. The blind embrace of Western values by some deviated parts of civil society is seen as a catalyst for diluting Bangladesh’s rich social bonding, contributing not only to the loss of the nation’s unique identity but also exacerbating issues like inequality and unemployment.

The Western invasion, spanning political, economic, and cultural realms and facilitated by civil society, has set off alarms regarding its adverse effects on human resource development and the labor market in developing countries like Bangladesh. Cynics argue that the surge in Western liberal economic indoctrination has led to a decline in skilled labor within the nation and an increase in brain drain. This not only impedes the effective utilization of the country’s own human resources but also widens the gap between the privileged and the marginalized.

For example, the adoption of Western democracy models by civil society in Bangladesh, touted as a means to promote democratic values and governance, has emerged as a prominent feature. However, the application of these Western models often overlooks the unique socio-political context of Bangladesh, creating a stark disconnect between democratic structures and on-the-ground realities, thereby showing the ineffectiveness of so-called western democratic principles.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), integral to civil society in Bangladesh, are not exempt from this Western influence. Many NGOs heavily rely on Western funding and ideas, resulting in a shift away from addressing local concerns to prioritize issues aligned with the interests of their Western donors. This skewed prioritization compromises the ability of political parties to effectively address pressing issues facing the country.

The compromised state of civil society in Bangladesh is disconcerting. It has destroyed civil society’s ability to function as a robust, neutral, and independent watchdog. Furthermore, civil society has not only depleted the country’s profound cultural heritage but has also birthed security and sovereignty challenges. The Rohingya crisis serves as a poignant example where civil society, buoyed by Western and local media, pressured the government to shelter Rohingyas, compromising the nation’s security.

In such a context, it is imperative for the government of Bangladesh to reassess civil society approaches, striking a delicate balance between embracing civil society ideas and preserving the nation’s unique strategic identity and development trajectory.

Written by Rajeev Ahmed
Geopolitical Analyst, Strategic Thinker and Editor at geopolits.com

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