EDITORIAL – Bangladesh, the land where you can piss but you can’t kiss. On any given day in Bangladesh, you will see a series of men squatting off to the side as a stream of urine splash the ground. Looking side to side with no worries in the world, they continue on their way.
Now the first time I saw this as a kid I giggled, but as an adult, I find this to be obscene and unhygienic.
Why is excreting in public not receiving public outcry but PDA (personal display of affection) is?
Here you see casual hand-holding, hugging, and kissing on the streets. But the deep affection is between two men. As a westerner, seeing men walk down the street hand in hand normally means they are a couple. That is why it grabs my attention in a homophobic society. It looks like a paradise for gay couples.
But, PDA between opposite genders in public is considered indecent, even husband and wives do not kiss or hug in public. Unless you venture to safe havens like Gulshan Lake Park or Dhanmondi Lake, it’s impossible to see couples of the opposite sex strolling together.
Even the police officers enforce decent behavior. Now, the police do not dare harass any Western foreigners. However, I have seen a couple walking hand in hand smiling only to have a police officer jump out of the blue blowing his whistle as if he is adverting a calamity.
Apparently, the opposite sex “freely mixing” is a big enough issue to engage law enforcement to act, but public defecation is ignored. The Bangladeshi society is misappropriating what is important for their country.
There is no fine line as what is and is not as immoral as the battle between traditionalist and the progressive young generation is growing.
My interpretation of religious teachings is that PDA is viewed as immoral, especially if it includes unmarried women. If she is caught she will be perceived as being loose and bring disgrace to her family. The worry is that if others observe a couple being intimate then it will trigger them to feel and act immorally.
In essence, it means, those who are affectionate are behaving horny and those witnessing the intimate interactions become enticed also.
In Bangladesh, there are no laws that condemn or support PDA. Yet the law enforcement makes it a point to harass affectionate couples on a daily basis.
So if the intimate affection with the opposite sex has to be controlled for the greater good, I am shocked that a homophobic society like Bangladesh has strong disapproval towards heterosexual couples. They don’t consider the same intimate behavior can trigger the same desire in homosexuals.
It is religious fanaticism with no logic. Bangladeshi youth are seeing through the smog and are developing their perceptions on their own on how society can be.
Take a trip to Dhaka’s city center and there are dozens of billboards that market products like shampoo and perfumes. On the billboards are men shirtless and women pass seductive looks in revealing clothing. Sound the alarm religious police!
The truth is that a battle is being played out between religious conservatives, who are imposing their beliefs on the modern youth who want change. Consumerism is winning; there is definitely money to be made, especially when sex sells.
The need for young adults to display affection is bigger than hormones and feelings. It is a fight for liberation from the Islamic conservative ideals.
Though the younger or lower-ranking members of society in terms of behavior and demeanor treat elders and high-ranking individuals in Bangladesh with deference and respect, the current state of the country is pushing the youth to take a direct and opinionated stance.
Progressive youth are playing the line of defense. For centuries, Islamists have catered to interpretations of the Quran that induce fear in the older generation. The plight of the youth seems radical, immoral, and essentially hell bound.
It is vital for progressive youth to take control of the dialogue and fight against the cultural norms of the older generation.
The religious conservative is threatened by sex. However, sexually repressed societies face issues of sexual assault crimes that go unpunished
Throughout the years South Asia has been dominated by international media, for a very unglamorous topic, rape.
In Bangladesh, this is deep. During the Liberation War of 1971, the Pakistani Army and their collaborators raped 300,000 women. Social norms did not allow these victims to be embraced back into society and many died because of unsafe abortions or suicide.
Because of the stigma, Bangladesh as a culture avoids intimacy and sex. The topic has thrown the country into a cultural panic. The simple element of affection scares the older generation; they do not want to face the truth of human nature. But this new generation sees past that.
We cannot deny teens and young adults the knowledge about sex. The lack of the older generation’s capacity to address the topic has led younger generations to seek knowledge from their peers and other sources like the Internet.
The categorization of all acts with the opposite sex as deviant works against the elder generation. Their aim to hide sex to protect their youth breaks their connection to them. It creates a blockade and further polarizes two large populations of Bangladesh.
Change gradually happens until it reaches its apex, then those opposing sides tighten their grip and the ones pushing it forward are challenged to increase their momentum to break the suppression. As we see in most major metropolises, modernization will win– the world is progressing and society is changing.
After the collapse of Rana Plaza, a complex that housed 4 garment factories that killed 1,129, I witnessed something new.
For the first time, the news covered the final embrace between two people. It was a woman and man found dead holding each other. For weeks people speculated and romanticized the photo.
In a time of desperation, two individuals reached out to each other for physical connection. Anyone who saw this picture thought in their mind, in their last minutes they were not alone. It had nothing to do with sexual desire. It’s a mystery, we will never know.
Affection is bigger than sex for all of you perverts. It is a celebration of happiness, a way to show appreciation and admiration for one another, to console or comfort when things are bad, and to reinforce safety and security when others feel vulnerable. It is the non-verbal communication that human beings flourish by.
It is the reason that men show affection to each other in Bangladesh because we as humans feel emotions and they do not have an outlet to show affection.
As a society, Bangladesh has to usher in changes that come with modernization. The most important concepts to tackle are interaction between each other. By making a public display of affection taboo we have pissed on the innate urge to show love.
Every day I walk outside Dhaka and I see this dichotomy of religious intolerance and modernization in the media, and I know that things are changing.
With the current political issues that have given rise to religious fundamentalism, I only wish that progress will continue. PDA is not a crime, the lack of it is an indication of how guilty Bangladesh is to progress forward and how much inconsistency it blindly allows.
It isn’t etiquette; if that were the case we wouldn’t have public pissing either.
By: Adnan Khan