Put down the bottle of hemlock!
You have got to be kidding me. The headline tucked away on the eighth column of the Daily Star front page yesterday really needed to be seen to be believed: "BDR men to be motivated not to commit suicide."
Yup, that's the ticket! It is like something out of the Onion, and merely serves to confirm, if further confirmation was necessary, that Bangladesh truly is Bizzaro World.
You see, so far 16 BDR jawans have died in custody or following interrogation since the investigation into the Pilkhana massacre started, of which at least four are reported to have been suicides.
In response, according to a BDR press release issued Wednesday: "BDR authorities instructed all its units to motivate jawans not to commit suicide."
Plenty has been written in editorial and op-ed pages on how it is imperative that these custodial deaths be stopped. On the one hand, it is good to see that the authorities are apparently taking cognizance of the fact that something needs to be done, but, on the other hand ... this is their solution?
I thought that things would never get as bad as when, during the tenure of the last elected government, we were treated to identical daily press releases from Rab stating that, acting on a tip-off, they had arrested such-and-such criminal, and that he had confessed that he was in possession of illegal arms, and that when he led them to recover said arms they came under fire from his cohorts (love that word) that prompted them to return fire, and that the criminal (though never any of his cohorts, it seemed) had been killed in the crossfire.
Almost as bad as the fact of the extra-judicial killings themselves, was the sheer contempt for the intelligence of the public that these press releases indicated. Rab and the government made it perfectly clear that they didn't even care enough to come up with a convincing cover story for their illegal actions.
In fact, perhaps this was the point: to signal that they were utterly unaccountable and had nothing but contempt for niceties such as rule of law and due process. This was taking impunity to a whole new level. Perhaps it was calculated to strike fear into the heart of anyone who thought of opposing the government of the day on any issue.
I suppose it is possible that the authorities were simply clueless, not contemptuous, and had no idea how transparent their lies were and how bad it looked to the public. Whether this is better or worse, is, I guess, a matter of opinion.
But, either way, one had hoped that with the election of a new government that such atrocities would be a thing of the past, and this administration has indeed pledged that extra-judicial killings would not occur on its watch.
Now it would seem that not only are we still not free of the disgrace of extra-judicial killings and custodial torture, but that we are still being subjected to the same kind of cover stories that insult the intelligence of the Bangladeshi people.
The mind boggles to imagine what is being imparted in these motivational sessions:
Perhaps the jawans are being taught to look into the mirror and say: I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!
Or perhaps they being forced to watch It's A Wonderful Life over and over again (though, I should point out, this may backfire).
Since six of those who have died in custody or following interrogation have reportedly died of heart attacks, perhaps these motivational talks should include a few words on healthy living and the avoidance of too much fatty food? One can never be too careful, after all.
But there is a serious point here and I shouldn't be so flippant. The ongoing investigation into the Pilkhana massacre will make or break this government. It is imperative that the investigation be conducted with the utmost professionalism and that it delivers a credible result.
Suspects (or witnesses, for all we know) dying in custody is not the way to go about things if the authorities wish to get to the bottom of what happened at Pilkhana and if they want their findings to enjoy broad credibility.
Motivational talks, I fear, are not the solution. In fact, I hope that they are an exercise in cynicism. Frankly, the only thing worse than the talks being some lame attempt at a cover up would be if the authorities really did believe that they were facing a suicide epidemic and that this was the way to deal with it.
A modest proposal: perhaps motivational (for want of a better word) sessions with those conducting the interrogations would be a better idea?