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December............Nine 34

The day probably started normally for the 24-year-old young man, who had been making a living in Dhaka for the last few years. Youngest of the three siblings he also had parents living in the village, and he took up a straight trade, which was setting up of a tailor shop in an area, considered to be safe, for the minority religious group to which he belonged. These pockets of areas have traditionally been particular religious minority hubs. They are unlike ghettos, which have been read about, where people of particular faith or ethnicity or immigrant groups gather around to live. Where they seek comfort and safety in numbers, homely in the sparks of culture, find easier to redeem their pain and sorrows among fellow travellers and regain their strength for another day’s battle in a society that treat them differently.

Where Biswajit lived, was no ghetto. He couldn’t be visibly identified as belonging to any religious group; and therefore was insusceptible from being on sight prejudiced; paradoxically, now that he is dead, it seemed, that it would have been better, if he could be traced as such, by some evident badge, say a turban and beard, or another brand of headgear, clothing and beard, and better still, a tuft of uncut hair on the back head and saffron coloured sartorial. For, the perception that prevails among the common party operatives who hacked him to death would recognise him as supporter, for whatever they need support for from ordinary people. Be it by voting for their party or getting conscripted to join their party political marches or joining in a nominal rung of the cadre system that would uphold their tag of secularism. They care little if that support is the result of a conscience choice — a cautious one to have a safety valve, at least when the said party is in power, or choosing lesser of the evils. The choice: whether to shield the community from their property being looted, their women getting raped and in general being driven out of the country with the help of state apparatus; or choosing to put up with social subjugation and sporadic violence from party apparatuses, sans state support.

When the young man was passing by a mob of party cadres sloshed with the smell of blood, something blasted nearby, that was taken as an attack or threat of violence by the variously armed mob members. The panicked man ran for shelter and rode stairs to the first floor of a nearby building, forgetting the crucial law of self-preservation, which is to remain as inconspicuous as possible, during chaos and anarchy. For, on the first floor he was alone, and could be singularly identified as someone who was fleeing, or has fled. It then needed just one ignition from a blithe and chirpy cadre, in pointing to him as such: fleeing or has fled. The mob logic worked at spit-second speed to conclude that since it was a young man like them, who was obviously not one of them because he was running, as it looks, from them, then he must belonged to one of the others with whom they were at war that day.

He pleaded to the mob for his life, explaining his non-involvement in anything that was going on. He ran to escape the beating, and they chased him and got hold of him, repeatedly. He was hacked; and in matter of hours, he bled to death. The cameramen, video clippers, photo journalists and general public watched the debacle; either in horror; or with the indifference of herd animals, watching from running distance, as one of them gets pulled down by a pack of predating carnivores and being gobbled up. For dumb animals it is incapacity; for the evolved ones it is callousness beyond human comprehension.

No doubt, some of them gathered enough material to describe the gory details later in media or news mediums, to friends, to post in the facebook pages and post a moving status update in their facebook. His life story will be published; pictures of his wailing relatives will flash, as will be the visit by political bigwigs to his family, with a donation from special fund. Already, the opposition party secretary general has laid a claim in the media that the dead man belonged to his party, and therefore was a victim of the vendetta of the ruling party against his.

Sometime in 1962 a student protest march, to revoke the odd education policy proposed by Ayub Khan, was being dispersed by police with baton charge on a street of Khulna. I remembered to have witnessed it, with shock and disbelief, the incident that became lead news in next day’s newspapers. The earlier state sponsored violence was that of police firing during the Language Movement. In 1969, public violence took a massive leap and spread amongst people’s psyche as something acceptable for social justice system where government was failing to ensure it. In 1971, when humanity plunged into darkness, the horror of human atrocities against fellow humans took root in our collective sub-conscience. We have now been waiting for a generation for its scars to fade, yet no signs of abating.

Who this young man was victim of? These are metaphorically the same people who killed six students in Amin Bazar. The same gang who carry out these acts day in day out in the streets, villages and towns all over the country. For, when they are in numbers they become powerful beyond their own comprehension who can face or punish an individual or two at their mercy; but when the law enforcing agencies are ineffective, either by their apathy or instruction, and they themselves are armed with lethal weapons, all they need is a plausible cause, no matter how flimsy the logic behind it is. And what happens, when these acts are sanctioned by the society, or more appropriately, those who are presumed to be at the helm of the society, and the chances of being taken to tasks are remote? It would take an incurable optimist to expect that their conscience would take hold of them and restrain. Conscience and self- restrain do not reside in the hearts and minds of Bangladeshi youths which have been darkened by indoctrination, fanaticism, hopelessness and wrong education and ethos. For, to those they look up to for enlightenment and guidance are the ones who are hardened up in their pursuit of power and wealth, driven by turpitude of all kind.

Biswajit is also a victim of our indifference and cowardice; inability to take a moral stand in the face of adversity. This self-oriented behaviour pattern is also the outcome of a society where morality has taken a downward trend ever since we lost our faith in the social system to set things right. When everything that is good, morale and perceived to be right are being manipulated and abused for personal gain and it continues to be so unabatedly, and then wrong becomes right. Inwardly we build self defence mechanisms that keep us silent and ineffective without losing our sleep.

Otherwise, how come there were so many people who saw in front of them the occurrence, and yet did not intervene to save a fellow human life? This is manifestly a sin, this apathy I mean. That is the worrisome aspect of this tragedy.

Latif Quader is Fellow Chartered Accountant and a businessman.

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