In the beginning there was crossfire. And then someone from on high decreed that a change, a new euphemism, needed to be brought in. And someone said, "Let there be shoot-outs from here on." And, presto, it was done.
The most recent instance of how 'shoot-out' is now the 'in' thing in the winding and twisting corridors of authority comes through the swift manner in which a young criminal, trying to put a college teacher to death with a wielding of the machete was nabbed, handed over to the police, who were then permitted to take him on remand and who soon informed us that he had been killed in a shoot-out between his gang and the police.
It really does not matter that no one among the gang or in the police posse, apart from that young assailant of the college teacher, was injured or killed in the shoot-out. It is of little consequence that no member of the gang affiliated to the young would-be murderer was caught by the police. No one knows from where the gang appeared and where it vanished following the shoot-out that left their friend dead. And we are not surprised because it is a story we have heard before. We have wanted explanations behind all those improbable tales, and we have been disappointed every time.
So we move on. And as we do so, we reflect, at first in frivolous manner and then in pseudo-philosophical seriousness, on the increasing importance shooting has acquired in our part of the world. By that, of course, we mean our society. Something strange has been happening to us. We began this fascination for shooting by making sure, and naturally too, that we shot our enemies, back in 1971, out of our land. And then we went on, to a point where shooting down politicians and soldiers and governments slowly but surely turned into an ugly norm. Murderous soldiers shot down the Father of the Nation and his family as well as the brilliant Mujibnagar men who had led us to wartime victory. Then the soldiers began to shoot down other soldiers, in a pattern that only proved how skilled we had become in wielding the gun.
But that was only to be expected, wasn't it? After all, we have people in this country who have done well at shooting competitions abroad. That makes you wonder if shooting has not actually become the one sport we excel in. It is a query we should be putting to the shooting club situated somewhere in this sprawling slum of a national capital. Whether the good people there will respond to this appeal, or call it urge, or whether they will reprimand us for shooting off the mouth remains to be seen. If you have noticed, shooting off one's mouth has developed into a near, if bizarre, art. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are doing it all the time. The mouth is a most wonderful appendage to the rest of our corporeal being. It refuses to go to sleep, unlike the rest of your being. There are those who even in their dreams or nightmares shoot off their mouths.
Shooting, then, is today part of our collective life. Our conversations are shot through with innuendo and insult and myriad instances of humiliating that other person. That is part of the truth, another part being the malady among those who find in their verbal shooting down of everyone and everything a welcome chance of giving themselves a shot in the arm. Watch the politicians shoot forth in their meaningless pronouncements on issues that are never taken seriously. They do this job in most charming fashion. They fire away at the other individual, for they intend to shoot to kill, ideas of course. To be sure, there are people in possession of dark minds ready to kill, and literally too, people they do not agree with. The police may put a person to death in a shoot-out and thereby deprive us of the opportunity to dig a little more into the mind of the deceased criminal. For their part, men of criminal intent find it quite the natural thing to shoot down good people, the upshot (and there you go playing with 'shoot' or 'shot' again) being that society takes a bad hit.
So where are we with all this conversation? Ah, yes, we shoot and we shoot well. We convince ourselves that our reflections are unassailable, until they are shot through or riddled by better logic coming from those at whom we would like to aim a shot or even a potshot. And has it occurred to you that in this society of rapidly escalating violence based on grim impunity, people are simply shot down rather than shot at? It appears that the whole idea is one of ensuring that people are shot dead. What would be the point of having them shot at, a timid effort to ensure that the one coming under fire needs to be hauled up before the law. No one should come under fire, or so our law enforcers and their friends in other organizations of the state seem to think. The fire should be all-consuming. It ought to be a simple matter of shooting people dead rather than shooting at them. That is summary justice. The frothing-at-the-mouth cynic will call it a miscarriage of justice or wild justice or giving short shrift to the law. Not many will care. Silence the criminal caught, for otherwise he might create new complications. It is at this point that you have in hand that convenient weapon you call a shoot-out. A little burst of gunfire. And then there is silence.
Forget all the other shootings that were once a gleaming part of our mediocre existence. We were young and we felt we could shake up the world and reinvent it in line with our desires. We went looking for cinema, to drool over all the good shots ingrained in the movie we needed to see. There used to be shootings of movies. Today we have photo shoots, which are fundamentally a methodology to enhance the beauty or personality of the one, in one's surroundings, being shot (don't imagine bullets here). The shallow is being promoted, the undeserving is being pushed into the limelight, glamour is given the upper hand. That is where photo shoots come in. You and I do not have a chance there, not by a long shot. But whisper that statement, lest someone be within earshot and find it easy to put you into unforeseen trouble with the shooters in the world of photography.
Back in the days of our armed struggle for freedom, we frequently came across the enemy, in his bloodshot eyes. He was busy calculating the best way of pushing up the numbers on the table of those Bengalis he had killed.
Today, all these decades later, the men in whose hands we entrust the fate of a criminal our fellow citizens have caught in the act of committing crime seem to think justice must not be delayed. Who cares about legalities when the shoot-out system is there, tried and tested and accepted in a mood of resignation?
Some shots ring out in the silence of the night, a soft thud is heard and then a body, in handcuffs and with no bullet-proof jacket on, comes into view. We are glibly informed of a shoot-out having taken place. That young criminal, in rigor mortis, has taken all secrets about the criminality of militancy to his grave. Have we all shot ourselves in the foot?r
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Associate Editor, The Daily Observer.
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