Set the Caged Bird Free

M. J. H. Jabed

Rabindranath Tagore rebuked the Bangajanani for her over affection to children- Shat kuti shantanerey ... ... Rekhechho Bangalee korey Manush karoni. Love of mother for her children is universal and invincible because this is the most precious and pure gift to human beings from nature.

But what would Tagore say to the helpless mother of present Bangladesh where in the metropolitan areas they can’t think of a fraction of second to let their children go free simply out of fear and insecurity? How should tiny boys and girls sing Mora chanchal, mora uchchhal ... ... prokritir mato nirmal if they are always forced to pass days and nights under tight security arranged normally by mother or in her absence any elder person forming the bastion? No scopes of flexibility in the security arrangement at home, school, way to school, playing ground (if available at all) for the bird in cage!

If you walk round the premise of any kindergarten, coaching centre or primary school of any metropolitan city in Bangladesh you just can’t miss big assembly of mothers. School hour of wards has indirectly become the office hour of mothers but tragically without any office building, table, chair or file cabinet! Month after month and year after year the mother has to perform the official duty sitting down the footpath or street!

Sharmin, a mother at Mirpur, said, “I completed my masters from Dhaka University before my marriage. I had a very good job but couldn’t continue after the birth of my only child initially because I had to give more time to my family. After my child’s entry into a reputed school in Dhaka, which is located away from our residence, I couldn’t manage any reliable person to accompany him on way to school and take care of him in my absence. If you have a glimpse of the daily newspaper you dare not send your child alone to school. I had to abandon the ambition of a career because I have to keep an eye always on my only child”. Afsana, a mother from Tejgaon, said, “It is very frustrating moment to keep on sitting down the dirty footpath for five to six hours a day. At times you have to scramble for the dirty room to sit”. Rokeya, a mother from Azimpur said, “last year my younger daughter came out successful in a very competitive test for admission into a reputed school. After knowing that the school has no transport for the students, I cancelled her admission and sent her to a school in our locality which offers very sub-standard education”.

Sharmin, Afsana and Rokeya share the feelings of many a mother in Dhaka City. In a free and democratic country the children are to be brought up freely but insecurity and uncertainty have gripped the society to the extent that even right to life and liberty is at stake and the unoffending masses can’t even take breath freely. Children are not supposed to have any enemy because they don’t side with any conflicting party still they do not have the minimum security of life on way to school, in the play ground and even at home (Shazneen in an example).

No mother can think of going outside house for household purposes (say to pay the electricity bill or to buy food or medicine) leaving the children without any sort of supervision from any responsible superior man. If the purpose in unavoidable and no elder person could be managed the mothers take the child with her or keep them under lock and key! “Last month, I and my husband attended the office, keeping our minor daughter under lock and key when my sister (who would look after our child in our absence) went to the village home. There was no alternative. The “Boss” doesn’t pardon even one-minute delay on the one hand; cheaters, dacoits and child-traffickers are all around on the other” said Halima, a garments worker at Mirpur.

Children are insecure on way to school because of a great many reasons. Firstly, child-traffickers keep constant eye on your helplessness or unconsciousness. Secondly, killer trucks are always ready to take away the life of your beloved son or daughter. The truck drivers don’t bother to run at high speed on roads surrounding the school.

Even school itself is insecure for boys and girls in their teens because you don’t know about the nature of boy or girl with which your child mixes; whether the company is good or bad. When this question was raised, Roushan Ara, a mother from Dhanmondi, said, “One day I found my younger son crying on return from school who was then a student of class nine. I asked him repeatedly as to why he was crying. At one stage, he embraced me strongly and started crying loudly. After repeated attempts, I could know that one of his classmates who was much older than him forced him to smoke. My son can’t tolerate the smell of smoke at all. He didn’t show me the boy. Since then I had to accompany him on way to school everyday until his last day at school”.

Kishor Kabi Sukanta Bhattacharya dreamt of a world liveable for the newborn child before receiving his Chharpatro (Transfer Certificate) thereby to become a part of history- Tarpor habo itihash. But it seems that we have a strong disinclination for history and are overlooking the fact that if we fail to keep the world liveable for the child, history will not pardon us. As to what we should do as senior members of the society for ensuring the security and betterment of our children, I think, the very title of this essay may give a direction. That is, metaphorically speaking, turn the society into a sky free from hunters so that the caged bird can fly at large! Some measures should be taken immediately to free the children from virtual captivity and their mothers from the dubious role of captors. Firstly, school authorities should arrange means of transport for the children and recruit reliable drivers and caretakers. Secondly, heavy vehicles like trucks, minibuses etc should not be allowed to ply on the roads surrounding the school particularly during school hours. Thirdly, exemplary punishment should be given to the child-traffickers. Fourthly, at least one playground should be fixed for the children in every municipal ward. Fifthly and more importantly, we elders should be more friendly and affectionate to the children.

‘There is a father in every child’ – so said William Wordsworth. Bibhutibhushan Bandapadhay portrayed how creative and curious child’s mind might be in the character of Apu in his masterpiece Panther Pachali. Rabindranath Tagore advised the junior members of the society to strike the superstitious mind of their predecessors so that the society can overcome all darkness. We cannot expect creative leadership from todays children who pass days and nights in the apparently secure four-walls of an insecure society. Can we dream of a Nazrul or a Bhasani or a Dickens from a society where hostility, mutual mistrust and personal insecurity are the only truth. We cannot hope of a future humanist from todays children who are busy only for self-preservation and who never have the opportunity of feeling the plight of toiling masses, happiness of diligent farmer, beauty of an open field or the touch of a flowing river. Can we think of a freedom fighter or peace-worker from today’s children if they have to pass childhood amid flawless security like birds in cage?

Let us dream of a world with free chirping birds!

The author is a student of MSS (Final Year), Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka.