Sex, Lies and Facebook

An open letter (in Bangla) that I published on one of my blogs the other day, on October 28, was viewed over 1000 times within a couple of days of its appearance. The piece was prompted by comments and news-feeds – relating to a seminar at Dhaka University – that I had come across on Facebook, where I announced to my FB friends that a news headline that quoted a retired professor attending that seminar as saying something that was not expected of him, got me quite upset to the point that I felt like writing an open letter to him.  And the next day, I actually wrote it, which I had initially intended to post as a Facebook note, but ended up posting on my Bangla blog, though I shared it on Facebook as usual. Now, while I did expect the ‘open letter’ to generate some interest among an audience wider than its nominal addressee, the actual response far exceeded my expectations. After it was posted, the rate of visits to my blog spiked at a rate far higher than any that I had been used to, and there was also an automated notification regarding the sudden increase in internet traffic to my blog.


That ‘sex’ is what many people look for on the internet was not unknown to me.  But I rediscovered this, albeit unexpectedly, when yesterday I tried to find out – just out of curiosity – what a Google search on my piece would yield. My search – based on the Bangla title of the open letter – led to two discoveries. The first one, not exactly a surprise, was that a Facebook group had shared my piece as a note without informing or tagging me (They did show my name though, so it was not a big deal).  But the second discovery was equally interesting and disconcerting.  The interesting part was that I found my post/blog in the lists of Top 10 WordPress posts/blogs in Bangla!  But guess what kind company that I found them in.  My ego was somewhat flattered to find them ahead of posts/blogs dealing with stuff like poetry, religion and sports (BD cricket team had just beat NZ), but then I realized that I was trailing behind tougher competitions that dealt with topics like food, gossip, crime and – at the very top – sex! (About a month ago, a Google search for an article of mine published in an online magazine returned a result, which showed the correct link, but displayed together with an ad for Viagra!)


Oct 26 meeting photo

Seminar on the CHT at Dhaka University on October 26, 2013 (Source: DU Timz)

The lies that I have in mind constitute a spectrum that range from patronizing attitudes to racist prejudices, false political promises and denials by the state in relation to the indigenous peoples of the country. The biggest lie of all has been the depiction of the notion of ‘indigenous people’ (IP) as well as the people who want to wear this label, as threats to national sovereignty and integrity! This position – perpetuated by powerful interest groups backed by some sections of the media and academics, politicians and bureaucrats representing different stripes – is not exactly new.  Nonetheless, since the present ruling party and some of its allies led the IPs of this country to believe that their longstanding demands (which included constitutional recognition as IPs) would be met, an apparent U-turn by those in power on the question of IP identity came as real shock to many.  Against this backdrop, lately I have written a number of articles – mostly in Bangla, but occasionally in English as well (e.g. The (Hour) Glass is Always Half Full, on this blog) – to shed light on some of the most blatant falsehoods, deliberate misinterpretations and basic misunderstandings.  My open letter, addressed to Professor (Emeritus) Anisuzzaman – a renowned scholar and public intellectual of the country, and someone I know and respect personally – was written in the same vein, albeit on the spur of the moment.

In terms of the immediate context, the open letter to Professor Anisuzzaman was written in response to a questionable news report about a dubious seminar in which he had been present as chief guest.  The seminar, presided over by the Dhaka University Vice Chancellor – who is a professor of journalism and mass communication – featured papers by university professors whose main agenda seemed to be to (re)assert what is by now a well-established government position that the label ‘indigenous people’ should not be applied to the so-called ‘small ethnic groups’ of the country.  Given that the constitution, as amended in 2011, now provides the labels ‘tribes, minor races and ethnic sects’ instead, inane pronouncements by partisan intellectuals in support of a fait accompli was nothing but adding insult to injury for the IPs.

It turned out that the news headline that I came across on Facebook was most probably a  misrpresentation of what Professor Anisuzzaman said at the seminar that he attended as Chief Guest.  He was quoted as saying that the ‘minor races’ of the CHT should be regarded as ‘small ethnic groups’ (instead of – it was implied – as indigenous people). However, he might as well have said this because the other professors who presented papers in the seminar were more forthcoming in presenting their views in alignment with the current government position on the question of indigenous people.  My reading of some of the secondhand reports as well as articles written by the professors under consideration may be summarized as follows: academic knowledge and perspectives from different disciplines do not support the claims by the non-Bengali ‘small ethnic groups’ of Bangladesh to be recognized as ‘indigenous people’.  The disciplines invoked were history, archeology, political science and anthropology.  The first three disciplines were represented by speakers who were present, but there was none representing the last one – anthropology – which I am affiliated with.  The chair, a professor of journalism and mass communication, spoke of the need for ‘dialogues’ across ethnic boundaries.  I was thinking, if that is what they really had in mind, they could have at least thought of having token representatives from the ‘minor races’.  One or two anthropologists on the panel would have looked nice as well!

Incidentally, the organization that hosted the seminar had a Bangla name that means ‘The search for truth’.   But what I could hear from a distance, both in terms of the papers presented at the seminar, and how its news was disseminated by some anti-IP groups active online, were mainly lies!

About Prashanta Tripura

An academic anthropologist turned development professional, I write in three languages: English, Bangla, and Kokborok.
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5 Responses to Sex, Lies and Facebook

  1. Pingback: Prashanta Tripura: Open letter to Prof. Anisuzzaman (‘nrigoshthi’ debate) | ALAL O DULAL

  2. fugstar says:

    Problem with bengali nationalism is its inherent anticosmopolitanism.

  3. Pingback: Prashanta Tripura: Open letter to Prof. Anisuzzaman (‘nrigoshthi’ debate) – আলাল ও দুলাল | ALAL O DULAL

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