Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lakho Konthe Exposed: Episode 1, A story of forced attendance

More than 254,681 people gathered and sang the national anthem in chorus at the National Parade Square grounds in an attempt to create a Guinness world record and be a part of the history through the event ‘Lakho Kontha Sonar Bangla’.

On May 6 last year, the Sahara India Pariwar had set a Guinness Book record by arranging the singing of the Indian national anthem by 121,653 people.

People began gathering at the ground way before 6am, when the gates were to open. The event began at 8am with a cultural function, staged by the Shilpakala Academy, featuring eminent artistes.

The Prime Minister arrived, sporting the national flag, around 10.30am. At around 11.20am, Bangladesh tried its hand at making history as thousands joined voices together to sing ‘Amar Sonar Bangla Ami Tomai Bhalobashi’ (My Golden Bengal, I Love You).

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina behind a bulletproof shield at the Lakho Konthe Program

A headcount was done every time an individual was let in. There was an automatic counting machine at each entrance. A gate along with the counting system was also erected at the entry of the special podium made for the Prime Minister and other VIPs. A big screen, set up in each sector, showed the strength of the gathering at regular intervals.

Every participant was given a cap and a bag containing the national flag, a certificate, and a card containing the national anthem and relevant rules, water bottle, juice, and saline.

The media would have liked you to believe that every one of the above information was true. The truth however on the ground was otherwise.

As a Daily Star editorial wrote, schools were strictly asked to assemble their students by 6.30 am to be picked by buses at 7 am for a function that ultimately started at 11.20 am. Parents have horrendous stories to tell of how they had to subject their children through a grueling experience of early morning wake up, hours of waiting for transport, in places that often changed, anxious waiting with no possibility of contact till the function ended, inadequate water and food, and no exception being made for sick students.  As is usual in our society, the poorer the schools and their kids the stricter and more arduous were the conditions imposed on them, sometimes by overzealous principals who wanted to curry favour with higher ups.

In this regard, many students confirmed that they were threatened with marks deduction if they would not attend. Take for example Mirpur Bangla School where students were informed by the administration led by Dhaka-16 MP Iliyasuddin Mollah that they would be given an overall of 40 marks for just attendance in the program, which would be cut in the event they’d not attend.   

Worse was the case with the large number of garments workers who were forced to attend the event in order to receive a certain amount of their wages for the day. The writer has had acquaintance with garments workers who complained of being forced to walk the distance to the Parade Grounds as a result of the absence of any transport in Dhaka from early in the morning on that day. A garments worker from Mirpur 12 section confirmed that around 320 taka had been deducted from her workday wage for not attending the Lakho Konthe program.

As it turns out, the story of forceful attendance will prove to be just a tip of the iceberg as we go into the next episode of the Lakho Konthe exposed series of posts. 

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