The etiquettes of the Bangladeshi bureaucratic system are still guided by the basic principles of the colonial establishment
It has been more than seven decades since colonialism ended, but the remnants of the old British legacy still thrive in the bureaucratic system of Bangladesh.
The ghost of British Raj lives in our dining tables, and in the norms and mannerisms of our country's bureaucratic system.
The etiquettes of the Bangladeshi bureaucratic system are still guided by the basic principles of colonial establishment. The system still carries with it the long-standing customs and traditions which has become a part of our distinct culture.
Between the end of the British Raj and the birth of Bangladesh, our country fought a war for independence and freed the nation from the claws of oppressors.
But its bureaucracy is apparently not interested to move on from the century-old, obsolete British customs and traditions.
Khairul Alam, an additional superintendent of police of CID's Cyber Police Centre, said, "The years-old British cutlery system is still followed in our academic dinners. It is compulsory to eat with a knife and fork with the left hand."
"Horses take a vital role in training grounds. Their importance in ceremonial events of the state shows how the symbols of the colonial past still live in the Bangladeshi bureaucratic system," Alam added.
Ashraf Hossain, a former officer of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, had similar experiences to Alam during his days of training. "We had to maintain Victorian table manners by eating with knives and forks during our six months of training for a foreign operation," he said.
"An instructor would oversee if these etiquettes were strictly followed by the trainees," Hossain added.
Etiquette, the customary code of polite behaviour in society, has changed over the time as the society evolved. It varies from country to country in Asia, even though certain behaviours may seem common.
However, etiquette lessons – bent on the old English colonial system – are still compulsory for those aspiring to become senior government officials, mostly in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
Recently, the Asian edition of the Economist published an article titled "Manner maketh district commissioners", highlighting how the countries in the Indian subcontinent still follow the British legacy in their respective bureaucracies.
The article talked about how the new recruits are taught Victorian table manners, something which has been a matter of discussion and debate since the 19th century.
Mehbub, a successful graduate from Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre (BPATC) - the stepping stone of public servants, told the Economist that the future civil servants must also eat with knives and forks during six months of living and studying at BPATC.
The centre's guide to etiquette includes detailed passages on how to hold and use cutlery.
It recommends the "Continental" style - cutting and eating each mouthful in turn, with the fork in the left hand, tines down, over the "American" practice of cutting the entire serving into bite-sized pieces and then scooping them up with the fork, tines up.
Like Bangladesh, such colonial remnants are also followed in Pakistan where fresh graduates who join public service often struggle at the beginning to cope with these century-old rigid customs.
In India, however, the emphasis on colonial-era etiquette for trainees has waned as the civil service has become more inclusive. Rich, cosmopolitan Indians have turned to careers in banking and business.
Despite such efforts on India's part, an Indian officer told the Economist that the "centuries of formality are hard to slough off." So, when posted abroad, "the Indian official often found himself overdressed compared with Americans and Europeans."
The Business Standard, however, also met "a rebel".
An official from Bangladesh Air Force, on the condition of anonymity, told The Business Standard, "Although the British legacy is still present in my air force trainings and formal dinners, whenever I get a chance I use my right hand to eat meals with full satisfaction."
"Born in Bangladesh, my family and I have seen many ups and downs and I am the first one among my long extended family today who can fly planes. I always try to highlight the norms and tradition of Bangladesh whenever I get the chance," he said.
"To be honest, I have used my hand instead of a knife, fork and spoon to eat many times during my training and I am proud of it," the officer said.