The time is finally here when we need to get into tune with trends. You could say we should all be trending, something we have seen the world of fashion doing in recent times. The present is no time for us to be ethical or decent, as some powerful people have been informing us through their behaviour in recent days. We must unlearn all the good we have been taught all our lives. It will be pragmatic on our part to do so. Don't punish the thief, but be like him. Don't debate with people, but beat them up if they have a different point of view.
The lesson we have been learning from the powerful is without ambiguity. We can, from now on, haul up headmasters of schools before a mob and have them do sit-ups even as they hold their ears in apology for sins they have not committed. That is what Selim Osman, a lawmaker, has been telling us through his act of humiliating a headmaster in Narayanganj the other day. The lawmaker did not of course deign to inform us of the rules of social behaviour or laws pertaining to the maintenance of discipline under which he was compelling the headmaster to go through that punishment.
Now, having seen all this demonstration of arrogance, you wonder: what if the day comes when this lawmaker could go through similar humiliation? We have had the experience, rich and warm and energising, of seeing the mighty, once they were stripped of their might through the power of popular revolt, bite the dust --- or run from the very people they had been expected to speak for. Do not forget Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury's sprint from the Central Shaheed Minar in the Ershad era. Do not forget the young students of Dhaka University who had the Jinnah cap on Abdul Monem Khan slapped to the ground even as he and other sycophants of Field Marshal Ayub Khan prepare to depart for Karachi and give legitimacy to the regime. That was in 1962.
In 1969, Justice S.A. Rahman abandoned the proceedings of the Agartala Conspiracy Case as a crowd rushed toward his quarters in Dhaka. He flew off to Karachi on the first available flight. The people of Bangladesh were not willing to put up with nonsense. The case collapsed. In December 1971, Pakistan collapsed. That signalled a run for dear life on the part of all collaborationist Bengalis all over Bangladesh. Moulvi Farid Ahmed was caught. So was Syed Sajjad Husain, the pretentious scholar of English literature-turned-unashamed collaborator of Tikka Khan and AAK Niazi. We remember what happened to these enemies of the people. And we have not forgotten either the hundred meters dash General Ershad's ministers made on the night he fell from power. There is the more recent story of 'Dour' Salahuddin, the BNP man pursued by an irate mob in the final days in power of the 'Bangladeshi nationalists'.
It is quite interesting how all this cycle of humiliating the people and then getting chased by the people has gone on. But have those who have, in the arrogance of power, felt little shame in insulting people learned any lesson? The answer should be obvious, if you have cared to observe the images of the Narayanganj headmaster being treated like a wayward schoolboy by a mob injected with audacity by the local Member of Parliament. The police were there, of course, not to question the MP on his brazen behaviour but to escort the headmaster, once the humiliation had been done, to 'safety'. You see, the managing committee of the school, locked in a dispute with the headmaster for quite some time, had decided that one sure-fire way of bringing him to heel was to play the religion card against him.
It was a very convenient thing to do and one surely must applaud the managing committee of the school for its ingenuity. The headmaster had inflicted corporal punishment on a pupil some days earlier. That was all. But, aah! The headmaster is a Hindu. And Hindus must lie low. Apparently this Hindu was not amenable to this idea of keeping his head down. Punish him for his religion. And so the word went forth that while he was punishing the pupil, the headmaster spewed terms of clear blasphemy. He was denigrating the religion of the majority of the population. And so he needed to go through the process of tauba. And he did, though he had never acted in blasphemous manner. So what? The managing committee and the MP said he did. That was all that mattered.
Life has become simpler for all of us. Social niceties be damned! And who cares about the law and morality? It has now become easier for us to condemn anyone we do not particularly approve of to perdition through humiliating him or her in public. Only days ago, a less than mid-ranking leader (everyone is a leader in this country, and followers have gone extinct) of the ruling party beat up an Upazila Nirbahi Officer because the latter had not demonstrated proper respect for him. This 'leader' made it obvious, through compelling the badly mauled UNO to be taken to hospital, the degree to which he deserved respect. And only a year or so ago, it was a story in reverse. A pretentious UNO, entering an examination hall without seeking permission from the invigilators there, was challenged by a teacher on duty. The UNO's response came by way of physical assault. And the issue did not end there. He had the audacious teacher kneel before him --- with everyone else witnessing, and doing nothing about, the macabre scene --- and touch his feet in solicitation of forgiveness.
The art of insulting people, the wisdom inherent in beating up men and women we do not like are what we have been learning rather cheerfully of late. The police beat up rickshaw pullers over minor infractions on the road. But have you noticed how such a demonstration of authority stops with the offending owners of cars and with drivers of trucks and buses? It is always the poor, the marginalized who get beaten up. But ask these beaters, if we can call them that, why such happens to be the reality. The answer will likely be: why do the poor have to be poor? If you are poor, be ready for that baton to fall hard on your back. Poverty is a crime. So is powerlessness. If you are afflicted with either or with both, you simply pay the price.
And what is the price? Our poor primary school teachers have shown us. Last year they gathered in the nation's capital to demand, perfectly naturally, that they be paid better salaries. They went on a hunger strike before the National Press Club. They showed no inclination to violence. They were as meek as lambs. That did not help them any. The police pounced on them, beat them up, pushed them to the ground, made them weep from all that humiliation. They went back home broken in spirit.
The meek do not inherit the earth. The arrivistes, the nouveau riche, the uncouth do.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Associate Editor, The Daily Observer.
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