Covid-19 has hit Bangladesh hard. With more than two hundred thousand reported cases of infection according to the government sources and 2600 deaths at the time of this writing, becoming among the top twenty countries with the most reported infections. Bangladeshi mainstream media and citizen journalists have also reported over the last few months of many more deaths with “Covid-19 like symptoms”. In some cases, the speculations were that the number of deaths due to the pandemic was several times more than what was being reported. We might never know the true extent of Bangladeshi lives affected by this pandemic. But we can already see the passing away of a high number of prominent individuals in the country.
Bangladeshis were not lacking in human resources – this much is true. Since the Independence of the country, many talented individuals grew in expertise in their own fields. In the successive years many more have joined the workforce, grew themselves and contributed significantly to develop their sectors. In that sense there are people in line to potentially fill in the losses. It is also natural that human beings pass away and open up the space for the new to take over. This eternal cycle is the truth. Yes, it is not easy to imagine a situation where so many of knowledgeable, respectable, and capable people were taken away in such a short span of time. And we have not seen the end of it yet.
All of these people who perished in covid-19 were in the positions of our guardians, our guides, as we, the nation go through yet another trying period. They guided us and the country with their knowledge, skills and judgements. Many of these knowledge and expertise cannot be trained in an institution but are rather honed with years of real-life experience and perseverance. That certainly is irreplaceable and these ‘knowledge-guardians’ will be sorely missed.
Bangladesh had faced a similar, if not tougher, situation in the past. Almost fifty years ago, at the cusp of the nation being free from the clutches of genocidal forces, the best and the brightest of our guardians were taken away from us. On December 14, 1971 over 200 prominent intellectuals of the nation were killed by the Pakistani military and their collaborators. Overall, an estimated 1111 intellectuals and knowledge-guardians were martyred in that war. That act was an act of human beings. This time it is the will of a higher being. But the nation will have to bear the impact, nonetheless. The consequences and effects of that loss in 1971 stayed with Bangladesh for its entire journey since Independence. One can say that the entire nation along with millions of its population suffered through years because of the absence of these knowledge-guardians who were so unjustly taken away. It took years for the country to regain some of that loss. And some of the guardians we lost this year due to the pandemic, played a key role in replacing those losses of 1971.
The next few years of recovery will also be a harsh period in global history. As much as people wish for unity and cooperation, the truth is that we still don’t know what fate has in store for us. It is true that in certain times human beings have come together to forge bonds of friendship and collaboration after unthinkable destructions that wreaked havoc during the world wars. While my sincere hope will be that our generation finds the courage and love to replicate that similar cordiality and bonhomie towards the fellow human being after the covid-19 passes in order to rebuild and regain, there is also, unfortunately, a fair chance that competition for resources will lead to close-minded policies that encourages contestation among the countries and polities in this world. Is Bangladesh ready to face that post-covid-19 world without the knowledge-guardians?
Asheque Haque is an independent researcher on politics and security in South Asia. He can be reached on twitter @ashequeh.