Sensibilities are getting blunt in this country. And sensitivities do not matter anymore. The brutality that was exercised on the thirteen year-old Rajon by a mob in Sylhet the other day, in this day and age, speaks of the cruelty into which society in Bangladesh has with rapidity been losing itself over the past many decades. Observe the impunity of the killers. They not only went after Rajon in barbarian fashion but also made sure that video footage of the grisly incident was posted on social media. You naturally are now inclined to raising an all-important question: what was the strength behind all that ferocity of the teenager's killers? Did they realise the enormity of their crime as they went on taking the life out of the boy, bit by unkind bit? And if they realized it, what was it that made them go on and on, in a state of mad frenzy? Was there something of the feeling in them that they would remain beyond the reach of the law, that there were powerful people to give them protection?
The problem with an insensitive society is that every so often it turns into an indifferent society. And it does that because of what those holding political and administrative power do not do or refuse to do or are powerless to do. Recall the murder of three bloggers in recent times. We were all horrified. All of us called for action against the killers. Such outrage, we told ourselves, could not happen in this country but if it did, those responsible for it must pay the price. Well, no one has yet paid the price. Perhaps no one ever will. You tend to tell yourself that respected citizens like Ajoy Roy and enterprising individuals like Rafida Ahmed Bonna will not come by justice. And they will not because the rest of us are beginning to fall silent, as we have fallen silent over the Sagar-Runi murder.
There is, therefore, that feeling in you and me and in all of us that the killers of the boy Rajon will live on. They will not walk the gallows. The rule of law, as we have observed over the decades, has worked more in the breach than in the observance. Let your mind work once again. Not a single criminal associated with the Pahela Baishakh scandal, in which a good number of women were molested on the Dhaka University campus, has been taken into custody. Everyone has been playing games. The inspector general of police thinks it was the act of a few naughty boys. The university authorities seem not to be bothered by it at all. And then comes confusion. The minister of state for home surprises the country through informing parliament that those responsible for the Pahela Baishakh scandal have been nabbed. Almost instantly, the police and the Rapid Action Battalion refute the statement of the minister. The minister then steps back from his statement.
To insensitivity is then added the element of farce. And farce is when a former prime minister, having presided over, for months, political agitation that led to the deaths of scores of citizens in petrol bombing, feels absolutely no remorse. She weeps for her deceased child, but she will not say sorry for those who died as a consequence of her politics. No one appears to have told her about Chauri Chaura 1922, when Gandhi called a halt to his non-cooperation movement the moment some of his more enthusiastic followers ended up killing a number of policemen in the erroneous belief that it was all part of politics. Gandhi was properly contrite. In the case of our former prime minister and her political associates, contrition is a strange term. Politics for them has always been an obscene struggle for power, a process of action in which citizens naturally must die. It is not just bad leadership. It is a horribly Machiavellian act. When you add to that the fact that no criminal proceedings have yet been initiated over the petrol bomb killings, you wonder if the belief has already set in about ordinary citizens actually being dispensable as well as disposable.
Societies turn to cruelty when matters of intellectual note take leave of them. When clerics in Bangladesh's rural interior begin to undermine the Islamic faith through telling their congregations that it is improper to offer dua after the prayers have ended, you begin to understand the medievalism which guides anti-Islamic groups like IS and al Shabab and Boko Haram and al Qaeda and Taliban and Jamaat-e-Islami. The old scholars of Islam are a tale of a distant past and what you have in Bangladesh today are men of intense mediocrity forever ready to burden you with their misleading interpretations of the faith you have upheld all your life. It is a trend that has ballooned over a long stretch of time. When Bangabandhu was murdered, a cheerful band of political mountebanks proclaimed the day of his assassination as Najat Dibosh --- or deliverance day. Mutinous soldiers screaming 'narae takbir' murdered the brave patriots Khaled Musharraf, Najmul Huda and ATM Haider and then took perverse pleasure in kicking and spitting on their corpses. That was when insensitivity set in.
Insensitivity is when you ask the imbecilic question of whether it was necessary, forty four years after Liberation, to prosecute the collaborators of the Pakistan occupation army on charges of genocide. It is when the police evict impoverished hawkers from city pavements without any thought to their rehabilitation. Insensitivity is when a police constable grabs a poor rickshaw puller ignorant of the rules of the road by the throat, takes him inside the nearby police box, has him beaten up by his colleagues and yet does not have the courage to haul up that bureaucrat or businessman or police officer whose vehicle is blatantly and shamelessly using the wrong side of the road.
You are being insensitive when you lure the poor to your home on promise of zakat clothes and then watch them die in a stampede as they rush forth to claim their prize.
Today, we are a nation that should be hanging its head in deep shame. We, our society, our state watched as thirteen year-old Rajon had the life beaten out of him. We did not help him live. We did not let him live. He was our child, yours and mine and his and hers. He died despite all of us.
I believe in the rule of law. But when the law does not rule, what are the options before me, before all of us? Should villainy thrive? Heroism is in a state of the comatose today. If once it was the roar of lions which defined us, today it is the bleating of lambs which explains our fearful symmetry.r
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Associate Editor, The Daily Observer. Email: [email protected]