Mohammad Yunus created microfinance by experimenting with lending to poor women in Bangladesh. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Muhammad Yunus created microfinance by experimenting with lending to poor women in Bangladesh. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

He is perhaps the most celebrated citizen of Bangladesh, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. In 1983, he founded Grameen Bank, an organization that launched the innovative practice of providing small loans to rural women in poverty. In 2008, he was rated No 2 in Foreign Policy magazine’s list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. His name is Dr Muhammad Yunus, and his organization, Grameen Bank, became a globally recognized model for microfinance.

The organization did not stop there, launching 48 other firms in widely varied sectors such as mobile phones and textiles. There is not a single country that does not honor and respect Dr Yunus, except one: his home country of Bangladesh.

In 2011, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government ousted Dr Yunus from his position as the managing director of Grameen Bank, announcing that the bank needed to be “reviewed and investigated.” The allegations were based on questions on the effectiveness of microfinancing, stating that in essence, it was nothing more than loansharking and the motives were profit-based.

Furthermore, there were allegations of coercion, peer pressure and physical harassment of loan defaulters, which were reported about some other microfinance organizations. These allegations were automatically dispersed to Grameen Bank. It had become evident that the government of Bangladesh, and in particular Sheikh Hasina, was exploiting the questions of morality that began to be associated with microfinance in general in order to expel Yunus.

Because Norway is a 58% stakeholder in Grameenphone, it conducted an investigation and cleared all the reasons behind Sheikh Hasina’s hostilities toward Yunus dating back to 2007. At the time, the Bangladeshi Army was backing a caretaker government and a mechanism was launched to get the two bickering begums, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, out of politics. Both leaders were imprisoned, while the army and the bureaucrats who were at the center of power chose Yunus as a refreshing alternative for the leadership of the country. He had an untarnished image and he was respected and admired internationally as a Nobel laureate who had lifted hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi women out of poverty. This plan eventually fizzled out, but to this day, Sheikh Hasina has clearly not forgotten this incident.

Yunus’ friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton also provided a false narrative that all three had a hand in the World Bank’s withdrawal of funding for the Padma Bridge. The delusions did not cease there. It was also alleged by Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League that the Clintons endorsed Yunus for the Nobel Prize, and miraculously, he received it! Needless to say, Hillary Clinton is also on the “hate list” based on these concoctions.

Time and time and time again, decade after decade, we have witnessed the mischaracterization and vilification of individuals, organizations, opposing political parties and adversaries by the leadership in Bangladesh, without logic, basis and, most important, ethical grounds. We have seen it with all members of the opposition, main opposition leader Khaleda Zia, late president and freedom fighter General Ziaur Rahman, former chief justice of the Supreme Court S K Sinha, internationally celebrated and respected photographer Shahidul Alam, and most recently with the Bangladeshi cricket team’s captain, Shakib Al Hasan, and Dr Yunus, just to name a few.

This very unfortunate circumstance obviously creates a vacuum in which the future generations of Bangladesh have a more and more shrinking list of accomplished Bangladeshis to aspire to and idolize. Success based on honest hard work and intellect is somehow transformed into a negative thing because it upsets the temperament or powers that be. Even a Nobel Prize cannot protect a person from persecution in present-day Bangladesh and even a Nobel laureate is treated like a culprit. True, Dr Yunus was very recently granted bail after an arrest warrant had been issued against him, giving the ruling party and its leadership its much desired self-proclaimed image of being champions of humanitarianism.

Even if the majority of Bangladeshis bought into the narratives of defamation against Dr Yunus or anyone else with a similar misfortune (and this is most certainly not the case), to quote Sidhhartha Gautama Buddha, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.”

“Jealousy is both reasonable and belongs to reasonable men, while envy is base and belongs to the base, for the one makes himself get good things by jealousy, while the other does not allow his neighbor to have them through envy.” – Aristotle

Sabria Chowdhury Balland

Sabria Chowdhury Balland is a political analyst focusing on the politics of the U.S. and Bangladesh in international publications. She is the co-author and editor of Bangladesh: A Suffering People Under State Terrorism (Peter Lang, 2020), A former elected member of the US Democratic Party overseas (Democrats Abroad). She is the Editor-in-Chief of Aequitas Review. She is also the Vice President & Treasurer of The Coalition for Human Rights & Democracy in Bangladesh based in the U.S.

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