• Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ground Realities

Someone needs to light a candle

Syed Badrul Ahsan

On a steamy morning, the minister of state for home would have us know that abductions have gone down in number in the country. The next day, seven men are kidnapped in Narayanganj and the law enforcers have little clue as to where they have been taken. A few days later, the bodies of the abducted men, bloated and gruesome, emerge from the Sitalakhya.
The minister of state then informs us that the machinery of the state is at work, that the prime minister has directed that the culprits behind the tragedy be caught and brought before the law. No one asks him why the prime minister must issue a directive before any action is taken on a happening, on any happening, that has a bearing on the lives of citizens.
A week passes by before the police raid the residence of the principal accused in the kidnap-murder case. They find no one there, at least not the man or men they are looking for. Should we be surprised? No one with a record of crime behind him and charged with a new crime will wait, like a proper gentleman, for the police to arrive and haul him away to prison.
One surprise leads to another. The minister of state casually informs a gathering that he can see the hands of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party behind the murder of the abducted men. Not even the prime minister is willing to disagree with that notion. That only makes the wound fester. But before that, the wife of the murdered Nazrul Islam, in an understandably emotional state of mind, charges her local Awami League lawmaker with complicity in her husband's murder.
Only days later, she appears at a rally, in the company of the lawmaker and her father, to let the nation know that it was Nur Hossain, the fugitive Awami Leaguer at whom the finger of guilt remains pointed, who murdered her husband. As for the lawmaker, he speaks of God and of His Prophet; he swears he will have the culprits apprehended and punished. He is not afraid of anyone, says he. The theatrics are impressive.
And then the father-in-law of the dead Nazrul Islam squarely blames the Rapid Action Battalion for the abduction and death of his son-in-law and all the others. The RAB chief says an accusation is no proof of crime actually committed. He is right, but will he get into action, into truly investigating the grave charge laid at the door of his agency?
A few days ago, a senior police official, comprehending the nature of public outrage in light of the Narayanganj tragedy, told the media that henceforth policemen would not be in plainclothes when they go into detaining people. Moreover, any citizen using tinted glass on his car would have to take it out in the interest of security. It is all so very interesting, but the police official does not say if the directive about tinted glass on vehicles applies to ministers and lawmakers. These days, as ministerial cars and lawmakers' vehicles shoot through the streets of this city, you do not know who is inside. Must our elected representatives conceal their identities from us, we the people?
There are other images that leave us perturbed and then disturbed. Schoolchildren and their teachers must wait for hours under the sun on rural roads because a minister or a minister of state means to visit the place. That is against the law, against all norms of civility. And yet no one says or does anything about these bizarre twists of politics. Abroad, the nation's diplomatic missions are under the scanner. Rumours abound of bad doings at the High Commission in London, of money going missing, of unauthorized appointments being made. A junior diplomat under suspicion of wrongful dealing with an employee is quietly sent off to his new posting outside Britain. Another diplomat, confronted with a Devyani Khobragade-like situation in New York, flies off to his new assignment before the law can catch up with him.
No move is made to ask for explanations or to summon the high commissioner or ambassador, as the case may be, home. Another diplomat, an ambassador in a European country, is taped employing vile language against the very government he is supposed to be representing abroad. Expatriate Bangladeshis write to the Foreign Office, to the Prime Minister's Office, to ask for action. Nothing happens.
The daughter of the nation's first prime minister writes a book on her father. She is swamped with all sorts of abuse on social media. Some newspapers, in motivated manner, pick out those portions from her work that will pit her against the government. They conveniently leave out everything else. History once again is in danger of being sliced down the middle.
The police cannot arrest criminals, have no clue at all about the many incidents of crimes committed across the country. But they certainly can come in the way of a peaceful protest, organized by eminent citizens, over abductions and killings in the country. Indigenous women are subjected to violence, indiscriminately and endlessly. No one on the higher perches of authority comes forth to call the guilty to account. The young Toki was murdered two years ago. His killers roam free.
A year ago, the rowdy elements of the Hefajat-e-Islam caused mayhem on the streets of the nation's capital, would not return home, until they were flushed out of the place. Cases were filed against them. And that was all. No investigation has been done, no one has been produced in court. The Hefajat chief now believes people among the ruling circles are his friends.
It is not a pretty picture. Does the prime minister know where things are going wrong, how they are going wrong? Why they are going wrong? Is the government alert to the thought that it might be getting undermined from within? Or do the powers that be rest in the belief that it will all blow away, as any Kalbaishakhi storm must blow away at some point?
In the gathering darkness, someone must light a candle of hope.

The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
E-mail: ahsan.syedbadrul@gmail.com

Published: 12:00 am Wednesday, May 07, 2014

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