A girl is kidnapped and raped in a posh area of the city. Another is forcibly picked up some steps ahead of a prestigious hotel. A young man gets shot trying to prevent goons from abducting a woman. Another other is threatened at knife point to hand over all his belongings. What is happening to this city?
This question must have been raised several times in living room discussions; you must have argued about the inefficacy of the law and order system of the country, cursed your fate for not being able to do anything and then shifted focus to world cup shenanigans. To be honest, there's not much else that any of us can do about such crimes other than relate the incidents to others as cautionary tales. But for victims of such ruthless crimes, returning to normalcy is an arduous, long term process.
A few months ago, Arif (not his real name) was returning home in a rickshaw from a party in Gulshan at around 11.30. Even before he could understand what was going on, a white car rushed past him, coming to a halt in front of his rickshaw. Four men came out of the car, thrusting a knife in front of the scared youngster, asking him to hand over all his belongings. “The car was waiting at the intersection near Road 104 in Gulshan-1, and when my rickshaw went past it, the driver started the car to catch up with us. Before I knew it, some guys rushed out of the car, and while brandishing a knife at me, they shouted at me to get down the rickshaw. After I handed over my belongings, I could hear a police siren right behind us, and that scared the goons, as they ran to their car and drove off,” says Arif. The police chased the assailants but they lost sight of the car in Road 108 and thus, the criminals were given the chance to flee.
Arif has not reported the case to the police as he says that he doesn't trust them and doesn't think that they'd be able to do anything about it. Moreover, he was in Bangladesh for a brief break and plans to return abroad to continue his studies, and so doesn't want to be involved in any hassle before his departure date.
Arif’s fear is well justified. When it comes to matters of one's safety, you'd be a fool to take things lightly or put up a brave front when you know it's wiser to lay low. However, Officer in Charge of the Dhanmondi Police Station, Mohammad Abu Bakr Siddiq, argues that if such crimes go unreported then it becomes even more difficult to apprehend the criminals. “We keep asking people to come to us for assistance. Our cell phone numbers are available in public forums to help people contact us whenever they feel the need to, and yet they are scared to approach us and these crimes go unreported,” he says.
Even if a person doesn't want to disclose his or her name, if they know of or are witness to crimes in their vicinity, they can send the details to the email address of their nearest police station. “Your vigilance would really assist us in controlling crimes. Even when you share posts about crimes like kidnapping or thefts on Facebook, and keep us in the loop, you help us in our investigations, taking us a step closer to the criminals,” Siddiq adds.
While ensuring one's safety is only the most logical and natural thing to do in such circumstances, there are some who are not scared to put their lives at risk to protect others. Ashiqur Rahman is one such brave young man. About two weeks ago Ashiq was watching a football match with friends on the grounds of the coaching centre where he previously studied, when he had to step out of the building to attend a phone call. He was shocked to see some men with pistols in their hands, threatening a couple on a rickshaw to get down. “It was after midnight and I could clearly see four or so men trying to force the girl into the car. Without further ado, I ran into my coaching centre and asked my friends for help,” says Rahman. The youngsters didn't hesitate to rush to help the strangers, as they carried bricks and whatever other weapons they could find to scare the criminals. When the assailants saw ten to twelve men running towards them, they panicked and threw the girl to the ground but not without a parting shot. “One of them shot me on the leg with his gun and another threw a cocktail at us. I was admitted to Bangladesh Medical College before being shifted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. When the police came to record my statement at the emergency ward of the hospital, I reported the incident to them and they filed a General Diary,” says Ashiq, who graduated recently and plans to enroll in a Masters programme.
There are some similarities in most of the abduction, assault and mugging incidents that continue to take place. A group of men in a car - in most cases the car is reported to be a white minibus or a white Toyota Allion or Premio - seemingly stalk the victims who could be walking home or returning in a rickshaw. The victims don't even need to be travelling alone. If you've read about the unfortunate incident of a girl being kidnapped from Uttara and then raped, you'd know that she was with her mother and her fiancé when she was forcibly abducted. This is what's been happening in most cases - the assailants carry out these crimes after 11 in the night, when things are relatively quiet and there's no danger of police lurking in the lanes or narrow streets of an area. They target people travelling on a rickshaw or on foot and mostly, if they find that their victims also include a young woman, they kidnap her.
“Upon further investigation, we could ascertain that these abductions and assaults could either be carried out by organised criminals, who travel in stolen vehicles or children of wealthy parents who are drug addicts and refuse to pay for their addiction. In my personal opinion - and this is not a concrete opinion, mind you – I think that this is not the work of an organised criminal group. As they've not been apprehended till date, they have the confidence and the pluck to continue their criminal activities but this will not last long. We hope that we will be able to arrest them soon,” says Mohammad Abu Bakr Siddiq. He adds that the police are not yet sure whether these crimes are being carried out by one particular group or multiple groups but they hope to reach a solid conclusion soon.
Regular citizens like Ashiq continue to do their job but what exactly are the police doing? “We are doing everything in our power to apprehend these criminals at the earliest opportunity. We have check posts at every major intersection and make sure to check the registration papers of every vehicle we inspect. At the moment we can't disclose any further but I can say that we are very close to identifying and catching the criminals,” says Md Rafiqul Islam, Officer-in-Charge of the Gulshan Police Thana.
Mohammad Abu Bakr says, “While these criminals travel in modern, fast-speed contraptions, the police force have to make do with run down vehicles that travel up to 15 to 20 kilometres per hour. We don't have enough resources to catch up with these criminals but we are still trying our best and will hopefully have them under arrest within a few days.”
While the police will probably take their time to catch these criminals who are wreaking havoc and creating a sense of panic in the city, we, the residents of the city, also need to be extra cautious and careful when venturing outside after hours. They seem to be taking advantage of the holy month of Ramadan, exploiting the fact that many people return home at the dead of night after they are done with their shopping. Instead of leaving the shopping for late hours, try to get it done as early in the night as possible and return home before it gets too dark and the streets start emptying.
“A few days back, we heard of an incident where two women were out to get something at two in the morning and they were mugged,” says Mohammad Abu Bakr, “We are definitely not saying that they deserved this but you need to be aware of where you are and what kind of people live in this country. When muggers see a girl and a boy travelling together at midnight, they identify them as easy targets. These criminals don't have the mentality to accept a girl and a boy travelling together late in the night and so they'll not hesitate to assault them. Our country still does not have the right atmosphere where a girl or a couple can travel alone at night. So my advice to everyone would be to please be cautious and aware when you are travelling at night.”
It seems unfair that we are being asked to always be on the alert, to always be on the lookout for crime in our own city. It does seem illogical that we are being asked to remain in our houses while the criminals walk around scot-free, taking control of the streets and striking fear in our hearts every time we muster the courage to venture out at night. And so, we are not asking you to keep yourselves locked in your homes. However, whenever you get out, especially during the late hours, do so with caution. Keep your phones charged, and the number of the OC of the nearest police station on your call list. Whether you are male a female, don't travel alone. And if you or someone you know is a victim of such vile crimes, please don't let these crimes go unreported. We know it's difficult, but do try to gather the courage to report this to the police so that you know that you've done your duty and now can demand them to do theirs.