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Raising the Bangladesh Ascension Trophy

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These girls who hoisted our flag after winning the final of the SAFF U-19 Women’s Championship are the face of Bangladesh. Photo: Firoz Ahmed

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These girls who hoisted our flag after winning the final of the SAFF U-19 Women’s Championship are the face of Bangladesh. Photo: Firoz Ahmed

In October 2019, The Guardian featured an article titled “The Rise and Rise of Bangladesh” with a string attached in its title, asking, “But is life getting better? The story mainly focused on the “factory generation” comprising 4.5 million textile workers who, for the British daily, changed the fame and fortune of a country that has traveled for 50 years and is now poised to become a developing country propelled by mainly its working women. While referencing our buzzing worker bees, the article throws a stinging by highlighting a case study of an anonymous garment worker, who questions: “Or is she a sickening example of a worker?” exploited, which ruins its health for marginal companies and consumers who buy cheap jeans? “

There is an uneasy reception of our success story. Thanks to social media content nuggets, we can easily find out how others are reacting to our success. I watched various Indian and Pakistani news content, where we see experts explaining the wonderful rise of Bangladesh. They do so with a nod of admiration (perhaps with a sigh of regret) that a country that was lagging behind in all social indicators has now beaten them. In their quest for the secret sauce that made us successful, they detect the comparatively high level of female participation in the labor market as well as the high rate of girls’ enrollment in primary education. The formerly ignored part of society thus contributes more to our social growth than that of our former “cousins”. Success for them has come from the unexpected genre corner. They try to ignore strategic interventions or the implementation of public and private sector policies. Their goal seems to mainly encourage their own decision-makers to replicate our success.

Bangladesh at 50 is a mythical golden Bengal. For me, the victory of the Bangladesh U-19 women’s football team just one week after our 50th Victory Day epitomizes everything we have achieved so far. The women’s team has done it before, they’ve done it once again to make our Victory Day celebration even more beautiful.

Anai Mogini’s ‘dry leaf’ shot drifted into the Indian goal post when no one expected it – the pressure was on, expectations were high in the SAFF final and our U- women’s team 19 once again delivered the regional tournament. Even before the game, these women were confident in the victory as they had done in the regulation game. They put on their red and green swimsuits, probably sewn by women their age. They took pride in wearing the red color of the sacrifices that were once made by their previous generations. They took pride in wearing the green color of youthful exuberance found in our natural landscape that once drove previous generations to fight against a mighty adversary. Bangladesh at 50 is not a black and white image of trails of refugees or under-equipped guerrillas. Words are not enough to thank these young women who gave us the opportunity to celebrate our national unity. We can dismiss her as an imaginary community, but the way the team came together to lift the trophy in the final is a reflection of our ambitious identity.

The country started off on a secular streak, hoping that all communities would come together as a nation. It was heartwarming to see a bearded man in a cap vigorously waving the national flag to cheer on the women’s national team. Yes, I know I rehash religious stereotypes! But that’s the beauty of Bangladesh at 50: women’s sport is supported by religious men; a minority girl acclaimed by others; contact sports being shared on virtual platforms. Team captain Ripa made a back pass to prepare the ball for Anai to go to goal. It’s team play, it’s Bangladesh at 50.

It will be painful if these girls don’t get the right incentives (as the lightweight trophy suggests). I observed the way the players and staff lifted the trophy – it felt very light (I could be wrong; maybe those lifting it were either very strong or very relaxed). I don’t know what went into making this trophy… but for me it was the heaviest trophy Bangladesh has ever won. It is the fruit of the dedication and hard work of the indomitable girls who wanted to give us victory on the glorious 50th Victory Day.

Earlier we saw how the U-16 team were sent on public buses back to the hills after their international victory in 2016. The point was that these girls were not used to air-conditioned buses. It was a national scandal, to say the least. We did not show respect to our sheroes.

I came across an internet image of an 11 year old girl from the Philippines. She taped her feet up and wrote Nike in black ink because her father couldn’t afford to buy her a pair of shoes. Still, the girl ran in the school track competition in her imaginary Nike shoes and won the race. Watching our daughters talk, I had a similar realization. Our daughters are no different. We have to encourage them. It is in Bangladesh that we must be careful, not the icons who complain about not being able to spend more time with families… and flee the fighting by wishing their peers good luck! We know the genre. We saw them in 1971.

Let’s bet on the real winners!

Dr Shamsad Mortuza is the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the Bangladesh Liberal Arts University (ULAB).


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