Social media is in a state of froth about the beating to death of 10 year old Rajan at the hands of callous murderers. The Minister is huffing and puffing and promising swift and certain justice. However, no one is spending a New York minute to ask, how is this possible? How come ordinary people, like the much-maligned suspects, can so casually torture someone to death in broad daylight? What kind of society permits that? There is absolutely no introspection, but just huffing and puffing.
The reason they can bind a ten year old to a post and then torture him to death is the same reason that allows the mullahs to murder Avijit, or party apparatchiks can kill seven people in Narayanganj with the help of Police and RAB. There is the sense that they can get away with murder and mayhem without consequence. There seems to be societal permission for these senseless murders by the callous murderers who are well-off and/or connected.
The rule of Law is selective and fickle in Bangladesh. The Rule of Law jumps into action when there is enough publicity, enough gruesome videos on the internet, or someone important is the victim. The sense of impunity pervades the class of privileged and wealthier folks. You do not have to be very wealthy, just a bit will do. Political connections are golden too.
There has been no equivalent hue and cry about the casual and callous murderer Bakthiar Alam Rony, the son of an MP from the ruling Awami League. You see huffing and puffing against the powerful may have consequences, but not so if the outcry is directed towards the ordinary murderers who may also mistakenly believe in impunity, because they see the selectivity and arbitrariness of the Law.
These murderers may have felt the same sense of impunity. They may have little money, because one of them works in Saudi Arabia as a chauffeur. The sense of impunity for even the marginally well-off is a long standing tradition in the land of my father. Sylhet is the land of Londonis – the expatriates in England (we call them all Londonis). They have gathered a little money working day and night in the UK restaurant industry, factories, and convenience stores.
However, when they return to Sylhet for a brief respite, they are kings of the realm. They marry women who maybe 50 years younger than them, they beat people for not showing respect (these are based on my personal experiences and no we cannot fact-check these events), and in general they simply assume impunity comes with the seal of being a Londoni!
I presume the same things come along to the expats from the Gulf and Saudi. Hence, they can video-tape murder and upload it to the internet for entertainment.
There is a long and shameful tradition of beating young kids in Sylhet, the land of my father. Children are not cherished in the poorer sections of the society. Parents have kids that they cannot support, send to school, or even look after. The kids come in an unplanned manner, “Allah’r Issa re baba,” and they there stay unplanned. A lot of them get into trouble in the neighbourhood out of hunger and necessity, and some out of mischief. I got into a lot of trouble because I was stealing the fish from Shahjalal’s catfish pond in the middle of the night, so we could have a picnic with the neighbourhood boys.
If I was not slightly, ahem, connected, I am sure the mullahs would have bound me to a post and cast the devil out of the little infidel. So, yes there is mischief and maybe some petty crime, which are never policed and dealt with. The result is that there is deep-seated unconcern about these children. More often than not, they are beaten by adults who feel the power of impunity and who believe that the Law does not work.
The “Bhodro Lok” class sometimes takes on these kids as household help. There disappears any hope for their education and a chance of better life for these children. They toil away sixteen hours a day, eat last, and sleep on hard marble floors. I have seen this so many times among people I actually care about, that it has simply made me numb. The redeeming thing that the “Bhodro Lok” class say, is that these children are eating regular meals and they should be grateful.
I know one family in Dhaka that has many of these kids working in the household. They do things like wash small garments and clean the floors and toilets. In one case, a ten-year-old sits outside the office of the Boro Sahib in case he is needed for, say, getting a cup of tea or some trivial errand which may require, God forbid, the Boro Sahib to move 10 feet.
This poor kid sits there for eight straight hours with occasional bathroom breaks. There is simply no way the developing brain of a ten-year-old can handle the monotony without getting into mischief.
Besides the particular predicament of the “unplanned” life, there is also the value of life issue. We value life in an abysmal nature. To wit, look at the Rana Plaza disaster. That disaster did not happen because someone went out of their way to kill a thousand people.
No. It happened because we value lives of the working poor as peanuts compared to, say, a little more profit. We keep the building going because they represent enormous value to the owners. If we value lives of adults pitifully, we value the lives of the young poor with total atavistic disregard.
In Sylhet we used to call the young poor “Tifil”, which is a perversion of an Arabic term for young and pitiful. We perverted it again to mean young and useless. Once you name and categorise a whole group of people by their economic situation and age, you are then free to use and abuse them. They are now the “other”, and not a part of you.
I am all for severe punishment for the murderers of Rajan. I say, “Hang ‘em High”, but I also want the same legal system to hang Rony and all the other murderers. Law cannot be selective. In that case, it is not Law at all, but a tool for mayhem based on class and connection.
I hope that as transparency becomes more prevalent, the application of Justice will become universal without regard for class, money, and political connection.
Kayes Ahmed is a businessman running multi-national operations from Colorado, USA.