The loudest one wins

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Silence is golden, but we don’t sell that around here

In mid-December last year, it was decided that the area around the Secretariat was too loud. 

In a study of the area, conducted between 6am to 9am over a period of about a week, it was found that the noise level there was above 70dB for nearly 90% of the time.

The noise laws of 2006 (we have noise laws!) say the acceptable level of loudness is 50db during the day and 40dB at night. The area around the Secretariat has literally never been recorded to be below 50dB.

So the government made the place a “no horn zone.” Steep fines were promised for those who dared break these rules. 

The outcome? The place is even louder. And you probably don’t need scientists qualified enough to use their iPhone noise apps to tell you that this doesn’t just apply to the Secretariat. All of Dhaka is just getting louder and louder.

But of course. Making feeble threats of fines, or declaring some areas horn-free will just roll off our people like water from a duck’s back, because the problem runs deep, going to the core of who we are.

The drivers in our streets will never stop honking, because that is the only way they know how to communicate. In public places all around us, people are trying to outdo each other on the decibel level. We have been brought up to believe the loudest one always wins.

To get your point across, yell at the top of your voice. This is no country for the strong, silent type.

And so we yell. We shout, bark, honk. We set up loud-speakers all over the capital and dial them all up to 11. Add to this the noise of construction, machinery, repair-works, and you get the soundtrack of Dhaka. All noise, all the time.

With so much noise being the default, many vehicles obviously feel their voices are not being heard, so they install something called a hydraulic horn. This abomination was once the domain of trucks, but now they’re found in all kinds of vehicles. These horns are capable of doing permanent damage to the human eardrum, even worse to those with heart conditions. God help you if you have migraine issues.

Why the hydraulic horn is allowed to exist, then, is beyond me. A few years ago, there was a High Court ban on these devices in the capital and other parts of the country, with owners being told to hand them over to their respective police stations. So what happened?

It is no secret that deep levels of corruption exist among truck and bus-owners, and the authorities that supposedly regulate them, but even so, allowing this kind of evil to roam free almost defies belief. I would have thought that even corrupt officials, and their children, have eardrums, if not any semblance of a conscience. 

Dhaka is famous for being one of the most polluted major cities in the world, and this pollution comes in many forms. The air, the waterways, the streets — everything can make you sick, but often, the excuse is given that the problem is complex, overwhelming, and will take time, effort, and money to fix.

 But we can’t say so in the case of noise. This problem is self-created, full stop. Our citizens proudly and unapologetically create as much noise as they possibly can, with no regard for the health, well-being, or convenience of their fellow humans.

You can’t blame this on poverty, you can’t blame it on overpopulation, you can’t blame it on the policies of neighbouring India.

This is a very basic failure on the part of Bangladesh, and those in charge, to teach our citizens to act like considerate and decent human beings. But people don’t do as they’re told, they do as they see. They behave like those they aspire to be.

The people in power make no apology whatsoever for assaulting our sensory systems with loud-speakers whenever they feel like, regardless of the time of day. They disrespect the law, and seem to do just fine in life.

So when people are stuck in traffic, feeling powerless, hating their own lives, and then they see a VIP motorcade blasting through the streets with ear-splitting sirens blaring, ask yourself, dear Very Important Person, what do you think the people are learning?

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.