Economist advocates human freedom, capacity building and opportunity generation instead of being too obsessed with development
Diversity is welcomed in any society to the extent that it will not fuel up inequality and imbalance, said Dr Selim Jahan, former director of UNDP's Human Development Report Office.
He said, "Inequality cracks the synchrony among development, democracy and social connections. It also creates deprivation, which is a clear violation of human rights."
Dr Jahan advocates generating equal opportunities and human freedom, and urges everyone to treat inequality as a multidimensional concept.
He said this at a seminar titled 'Equality and Inequality' at the Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation on Wednesday. The chairperson of the non-government organisation Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad presided over it while Dr Selim Jahan was the keynote speaker.
In his speech, Dr Jahan said Bangladesh has witnessed a rise in both gross domestic product and per capita income alongside socio-economic development. However, inequality in income and wealth have also increased proportionally, obstructing achievement of SDGs.
Dr Jahan commented that elimination of inequality of opportunity should be prioritised over inequality in income and wealth.
Highlighting the differences between development and growth, Dr Jahan said, "Growth will be achieved naturally in many sectors, and it has already been achieved partially. If the outputs of growth are not reflected in people's lives, it cannot be termed as development."
While talking about human development, he said the main objective of human development is enabling people to make decisions, ranging from the individual to the political level. If the decision making space is squeezed instead of being widened, this will no longer be called human development."
Dr Selim Jahan elaborated further on the human development concept and said, "The bottom-line of human development is: Development for the people, of the people and by the people. Enhancing human capacity is not enough; opportunities will also be created for them."
"When we say development of the people, we mean enhancing their capacity. Development for the people means distributing development benefits among the people equally. And lastly, development by the people stands for direct participation of people in development," said Dr Jahan.
Terming development as a multidimensional concept, the former UNDP director said, "I believe that humanity, respect and human dignity are the prerequisites of development. Development will remain only an official matter if humanity does not flourish in line with growth. Such development will enhance capacity, while relationships between person to person will lag behind. Humanity, respect and dignity will also be missing then."
In a description of poverty and deprivation, he said, "Though the words sound alike, they are totally different. Poverty is god's creation while deprivation is totally man-made. When people are deprived of good governance, participation and rights, it is called deprivation."
"Humans never deprive themselves. Rather one person deprives another. Development can never be fruitful if it patronises deprivation, inequality and poverty," he added.
Dr Jahan said there is severe inequality of opportunity in the country's education sector. Facilities at a rural school and at an urban one are not the same, and the sharp differences further generate socio-economic gaps.
He believes the present education system should be overhauled to be made more humane and time-befitting.
On gender inequality, Dr Jahan said women make up nearly 50 percent of the total population, and no nation can develop by keeping them behind. He emphasised investing in female education to ensure overall development and equality.
He said financial development is getting too much importance at present. "Human relationships have two sides — material and spiritual. Currently, the material issue has become severe in the country. However, it did not dominate relationships when we were raised in the 60s and 70s. Now the scenario is just the opposite."
"The shift is a major social deviation. Surprisingly, nobody cares about it as if it is the new normal," he commented.
In his speech, Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said "we need to ensure equal opportunity, establish equality and guarantee human dignity." Referring to the declaration of independence of Bangladesh, Dr Ahmad urged everyone to work towards eliminating inequality and protecting human rights.
Managing director of the Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation, Mohammad Moinuddin Abdullah, presented the welcome notes at the seminar. He said a self-centred mentality is catalysing gaps in society.