Bangladesh: Adultery and the nature of the village state?


Tabloid media particularly are honest and authentic reflections of society as it moves on. Changes are more reflected in society than in artificial structures like the formal state system and political enterprises. These are controlled by a tiny section of the hyper elite and its lumpen lackeys. People turn politics and economic policies into debate, discussion and conflict to largely create the rituals of power continuation and transfer. By insisting that it’s only the formal that is legitimate, control over resources can be maintained.

One reason why elite politics is so violent in Bangladesh is because so much is at stake. The formal operates informally making it more risky and unpredictable. Barring the armed forces, no institution has been able to retain a semblance of formality though it was the initiator of informality at the highest level by undertaking a series of informal power controlling projects in 1975 that ran till 1990. It was revived in 2007-8 but the formal character of the army prevented its continuation in a largely informal state.

Subsequently Bangladesh has had non-military governments which have continued its run as an informal construct through elections. These elections are however non-participatory and without much credibility. So they are more like instruments of power rather than public participation. As the events just before 2007 take over shows, when the NCG was an issue of political controversy and was countered by street violence, the nature of political formality itself was exposed. That is, can formality exist in this space? Is the state fundamentally informal and its attempts at formality cause major problems?

Does society reflect the nature of the state?

Society is older and built around the grammar of survival. Thus its institutions are not learned concept based but traditional ones which have developed over time due to necessity. This has allowed societies to function smoothly and also reduce conflict within. Economic conflicts exist but so do mediating mechanisms. As society has no legal or formal framework of its social parameters, the determinator is convenience. It’s also one reason why societies have been able to withstand state violence and conflicts, both inter and intra.

Historically, states have emerged with cities as their reflection and representation. That means states are needed to manage the economic and political surplus accrued. This symbiosis creates a new reality where everything including force is required to maintain the status quo. This force/violence is formal and inevitable. Thus we see the police or even the army playing significant roles in the state.

To that extent villages are neither in that space nor from that history. Its dominant is survival utilizing mutual need. There is no significant surplus in villages hence very few surplus actions and actors exist. Everyone is needed in the village unlike the cities where the dependent class emerges strongly because of the potential of the lumpen economy that states grow.

At the risk of oversimplification, cities and villages are also about their different nature of organic origins. Villages are prehistoric while cities tend to be historical and emerge after surplus economies emerge to invest in the city to keep the surplus flow ongoing.

Is adultery an indicator of informality?

Most sexuality related surveys /research points to much higher reporting of extra-marital affairs and incidents in the last 50 years than before. Historically, it has always been there but less so as villages needed monogamy as a behavioural tool for low conflict at the household level. However, once the state was born, urban and global labour migration began, this pattern began to change. New work opportunities rose and that caused new wealth and both recreational and optional/add-on sexual relationships emerged for both men and women.

These relationships also had a tradition and contrary to some held belief, were hardly uncommon. However, the village salish was the key mediating instrument and its main role was to prevent divorce usually by the male. Women had less sexual agency but the migrant worker created a new group- spouses of migrants or migrants themselves – who have been involved most. They are far more “attractive’ as a mating partner, whether in the long and short term. Women who are economically better off or with access to resources also feel more empowered to choose/take such decisions. The male sexual behaviour was always more accepted as the dominant bread winner.

Thus, within the informal village system, monogamy was the “formal” so to speak which could be handled up to a point. However, the informal economy of the “forma” l state so to speak has created pressures on the village coping system and its informal existence is under challenge through surplus economy aspirations.

The issue is deep because the village informal systems are being challenged and the formalist chorus is to deny their organic legitimacy by the formal institutions. It means the judiciary holds supreme in the village not the salish although the judiciary may be exhibiting considerable levels of informality.

Media has found a new area of reporting – sex- and while it thinks that they are titillating items, they are actually exposing the ‘villages” and challenging the idea of the village and its informal institutions.  They are no longer symbols of stability at the family, household levels as were thought to be. So just as the state seeking was full of imagined realities waiting to become, the villages were full of the same waiting to be exposed.

Neither the state nor the villages would pass the formality test. The state doesn’t function within the formal pattern and nor does the villages as the state enters that space through economics and other formal contacts. Like the state the villages are morphing towards hybridity. Will the traditional village make it? Should it?

  • of the village state?
  • Adultery and the nature

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