O P I N I O N – E C O N O M I C S

Abrar Fahyaz

According to the IMF, and as of 2020, Dhaka boasts the highest per capita GDP in the entirety of South Asia, surpassing even those of Delhi and Mumbai. At nearly four times the national average, statistically speaking, the average Dhakaiya has had a higher income this past year than the average Turk, and that’s really saying something because unlike Turkey, Dhaka is neither a developed republic nor the successor to a transcontinental empire. As such, this city and its surrounding metropolis have enjoyed a substantially elevated standard of living the past couple of decades, including but not limited to the booming economy, the considerably better infrastructure, the significantly higher human development index, the much better quality of education, and the lowest level of unemployment in the country.

Now, full disclosure, things are not nearly as ‘epic’ as they seem. And it does not really help much that our government constantly keeps shoving “how gloriously they’re making the country great” down our throats. Yeah, sure, they have achieved quite a lot stuff and you gotta give praise where it’s due. But even with the nation doing better than ever before in every possible sector and the capital basically being a small first world country, all these stats and regression, including the Gini coefficient, fail to satisfactorily factor in one crucial component – inequality. And unlike the wealth disparity between the rich and the poor, which is whole another issue, this form of inequality is different.

In mid-2018, I visited the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Based on my the then knowledge of the socioeconomic condition in India, I expected to be greeted with basically the same environment as that of home; and that was exactly what I was met with — in Delhi. In Agra, and en route to Agra, I encountered some supposedly urban areas, the absolute state of which made Cumilla look like Singapore.

Now, you must be thinking why I’m bringing up India in a matter of wealth disparity in Bangladesh. Well, it’s because unbeknownst to me back then, Uttar Pradesh was one of the least affluent states of the republic, and being ignorant of that piece of information, the preposterous difference in wealth between the cities I visited was permanently seared into my brain as the failures of the Indian economy, and for the first time, all those stereotypical depictions of the subcontinent in Western cinema started to make sense.

It was quite some time, however, before I related the situation of my home realm to that of the aforementioned dominion I visited. I always thought that the huge discrepancy I witnessed wasn’t present, at least not to such an extent, in “my beloved motherland”. I mean, I have both visited and stayed in pretty much all the districts of Dhaka, Chittagong (oh sorry, it’s Chattogram now), and Sylhet, and they weren’t all that bad. So for all intents and purposes, my belief was justified. That is until I stumbled across the Wikipedia page about Dhaka’s economy. And, Good Lord, were those numbers ludicrous! It turns out that government propaganda had some truth in it, after all. And after some careful internet assisted analysis of the local free market, I came to know that the 3 divisions of Bangladesh I previously mentioned, are respectively the 3 most developed divisions of the state.

So, in conclusion, since we’re all more or less aware of the inconsistency of the distribution of wealth between us, the proletariat, and the bourgeoisie, this specific form of inequality is something which is widely discussed in all forms of media. However, the striking incongruity between urban areas in literally the same country, where one is orders of magnitude more developed, advanced, and well-integrated than the others in every single way imaginable — that is something which doesn’t enter public discourse that often.

The fact that Dhaka is filthy rich is a known one, but the scale of it nevertheless is not.

*I know this data is of virtually no importance to the great majority of people, but this does illustrate one thing; that the silly things we worry about (for instance, the supposed besmirching of the country’s image due to some foreign news report), are things only we have the privilege to worry about, because aside from the more well-to-do of the 25 million inhabitants of this city, things like this are of negligible importance to others.*

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