OP-ED: Why are so many Bangladeshis born on January 1?

The weird reason behind lying about our date of birth

I woke up on the morning of January 1 with the Facebook notification that 400 of my Facebook friends had a birthday that day. And most of them were my Facebook friends from Bangladesh. I was wondering why so many Bangladeshis were born on January 1.

At first, I thought that this was only on my Facebook. But, just after a few minutes, I found out that some of my Facebook friends posted that they had a similar experience. 

Soon after, I found some posts from those who had listed their birthday on January 1 and they cleared my confusion. A friend started his post with these words: “Facebook shows I was born on January 1 but this is not my original birthday. This is my certificate birthday. Thanks though for the wish.”

Yes, certificate birthday! Later I learned that a large number of Bangladeshis have two birthdays — one is original, and one is certificate.  

The original birthday is the birthday when he or she was born, and the certificate birthday is the birthday they fake in their certificate.

But the question is: Why do people lie about their birthdays? There might be various reasons, but the main reason is that they want to remain eligible for government jobs as long as possible.

Let me explain it a bit. In Bangladesh, government jobs have an age restriction for entry. Anyone over 30 years is ineligible to apply for a government job. As government jobs are very lucrative in Bangladesh, people want to try as many times as possible. If they lower their age by two or three years, they can sit for a government job recruitment test two or three more times.

So they lower their age. How? They just lie about their birth year. Suppose someone’s birthday is January 29, 1987. In the certificate, they will write it as January 29, 1990.

Sometimes even the day is also changed. This is done for another reason. There is a regulation that if you are not in a minimum age, you will not be able to sit for the public examinations. So, to make sure that they have the minimum age for the public examination, the birth date is also changed along with the birth year. 

Making January 1 the birthday is good for the calculation to make sure that someone has been able to lower the age and keep a minimum age for the public examination as well. That is why so many Bangladeshis have a birthday on January 1.

The lying starts at the registration of the first public examination, and you will be surprised to know that parents and teachers are the main advocates for this lie. I can remember my school years during the registration of the first public examination. One of my teachers scolded a classmate saying: “Are you a fool? Do you think you will get a government job if you give your original age?”

In most cases, parents mainly make the calculation and make a fake birthday for their children. And when they lie about the birthday of their children, they consider this a big achievement. Those who cannot lie about their children’s birthdays are considered “fools” in our society. They are the people who are not smart and who do not care about their children.

There is a big ethical question in the whole process. How can someone remain honest in their later life when they are taught to lie by their parents and teachers very early in life? How can someone learn that lying is not good, when they are instructed to fake their birthday? I think all our problems with lack of good governance, dishonesty, and corruption are rooted in this practice of lying about birthdays.

And this is due to a weird system of entry age for government jobs. I feel that the idea of restricting someone who is over 30 for government jobs is also harming our public sectors. Many talented youths remain undecided until they are 30 years old, and when they want to apply for a government job, they cannot. Some of our neighbouring countries have higher government entry ages. There should be reform in this sector.  

Whatever the reason, there should not be any excuse for lying about birthdays. We must get rid of this practice, and this should start from the individual level. We can decide that we will not lie about our birthday no matter what opportunities it leads us to. 

Mushfique Wadud is a journalist currently pursuing his PhD in journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the United States.

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