Tuesday, June 9, 2015

When language, religion, and urination collide

This NYT column from last month (h/t HC) by Tahmima Anam focuses on the shortage of public toilets in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The result has been a great deal of outdoor excretion by men (but not women).  To discourage it, the government has hired an ad agency and covered the walls in Arabic, urging the populace not to urinate on a language most of them can't read because it is the holy tongue (or some such reasoning).  This is beyond stupid.  As Anam writes:
[The program] tells Bangladeshi citizens that it is acceptable to urinate on their own language, but not on Arabic. At a moment when the shadow of Islamic fundamentalism looms large, the subtext of the signage is to declare the conservative religious forces triumphant in this symbolic struggle over language. Predictably, the ministry has been heavily censured. Critics argue that the government should spend its money on building toilets, not painting signs.
No! What a concept! Use the money to build more toilets. Duh. Of course one of the underlying problems is that Dhaka was never designed to be a city of tens of millions of people (it's projected to have 20 million people by 2025, Anam notes; Wikipedia, citing Mike Davis's book (Planet of Slums), says 25 million by 2025).  Anyway, having 67 public toilets, many of which apparently don't really function, in a city of some 15 million people, a fair portion of whom are either working outdoors or scrounging survival on the streets, is absurd.

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