This week alone, thirteen-year-old Rajon was tortured to death by a group of men in Sylhet, seven-year-old Tikon was beaten to death by his uncle in Chittagong and Lucky Akther, a transgender, otherwise known as a "hijra", was killed by villagers in Natun Bazar. A new video has just surfaced showing two minor girls being severely beaten at an orphanage in Barisal.
We're disgusted, but not shocked, at the inhumanity shown by the gang of thugs captured in the video of Rajon being tied to a pole and his teenage body being brutally assaulted. We're repulsed, but not shocked, at Tikon's infant body being caned because he dared to leave home without permission. We are sickened, but not shocked, by the mob beating of Lucky Akther to death. We're ashamed, but not shocked, by the incident in Barisal.
We're outraged, but shocked we are not. Saying we're shocked would be naïve. It would mean that child abuse in Bangladesh is an anomaly. It would mean that Rajon and Tikon's deaths were isolated incidents. It would mean that like Lucky Akther, those belonging to marginalised "hijra" communities are not viewed as subhuman, or as inherently criminal by Bangladeshi society. We are not shocked that all these incidents were perpetrated by able-bodied, adult men. Because in the patriarchal society and world we live in, the adult male is the default. And the rest of us are aberrations.
Every such brutal crime on the poor child, woman, hijra becomes a sensational headline for the media, a common occurrence to be temporarily condemned and forgotten for the privileged, and a stark reminder of what it means to exist for the impoverished.
So don't tell me Rajon and Tikon's murders were 'shocking'. In a country where child labour and child abuse is rampant and suspended in full public view on a daily basis, we know better than to be 'shocked'. We have no right to feel unsettled when we, as a nation, continue to perpetuate in our everyday lives a culture where kids are no longer allowed to be kids. We watch children being hurled abuses or smacked by grown men on the streets and we do nothing. We see children pulling carts and chipping bricks and we turn a blind eye. We utter annoyances at the hungry kid who hopes to make a few bucks by wiping the windshield of our private car. We live in a country where people see nothing wrong with lowering the marriageable age for girls. So don't tell me you're 'shocked' at how a thirteen-year old child was beaten to a pulp by a gang of grown-ups. Let's quit treading the moral high ground to make ourselves feel better and see ourselves for the kind of sick society we have nurtured and the toxic, child unfriendly environment we have let thrive. It's hypocritical to expect our fellow countrymen to treat children with respect when we are collectively responsible in twisting and perverting the very definition of what it means to be a child.
How dare we be 'shocked' at the barbaric torture unleashed on Rajon? If the physical abuse of children in Bangladesh is so 'shocking', then why did the 20 to 25 bystanders watching Rajon being lynched not do anything to stop it? Have we turned blind to the types of torture and abuse borne by children before our eyes and of which we read almost daily in newspapers, or is it simply a stubborn refusal to introspect and accept what we've become? The latter sounds much more plausible since we have a national habit of going in denial mode in the face of injustice, or every time we feel 'uncomfortable'. We are afraid of our illusion being exposed, of our happy little bubble being burst. We take discomfort to the realisation that we are not as moral and humane as we think we are. We don't want to look in the mirror because we feel guilty. Admitting that we, too, have a role to play in the depravity that we seem to have succumbed to may not be easy but we must acknowledge the part we play in all of this.
How dare we be 'shocked' at the thought that monsters in the form of Rajon's torturers live among us? Is the alarming rate of violence prevalent in our society not proof enough? Or are we particularly jarred this time around because we were actually forced to watch what Rajon was made to endure? Would we be this outraged if Rajon had been abused outside of public view, and if the video hadn't gone viral? Would we even believe what his poor family would have to say?
By recording their heinous crime on video, the sadistic torturers brought about their own downfall; the illusion of the "all is well" stable society we have as a nation was shattered and our fragile collective conscience left shaken. The outcry over Rajon's murder shows that we were forced to wake up, to come face to face with the depraved souls that we harbour among us. We live in a society where criminals are so sure of evading the purview of the law that beasts like Rajon's killers deemed it safe to display their acts of savagery on social media. While ordinary people fear for their security, criminals are the ones who feel safe.
We have no choice but to come to terms with the reality that is our societal degradation, and we can start by not viewing every human rights abuse as an outlier. Every time we feel 'shocked' and treat such common crimes as 'isolated', we nullify everyday incidents of physical and sexual violence inflicted on women and children; we dismiss their pain and we render them invisible at the cost of feeding our illusion just so we aren't made to feel uncomfortable and face our own demons. So please, for Rajon's sake, for every Rajon before him and for every Rajon that will follow, don't tell me you're 'shocked'.
The writer is a journalist at The Daily Star.