The history of camouflage is as old as animals hiding in their natural habitat. Human beings, perhaps the greatest copycats, took quite a while but never looked back, especially since World War I when military forces massively exploited the craft. Over the years, few of us can deny not having taken refuge in the art of disguise and deception at some time in our life.
Most recently, the media has claimed that the near-extinct Asiatic black bear has been sighted in the Korean De-militarised Zone. With the love-hate relationship between the two Koreas kept alive by the tact of international diplomacy, I would not rule out the possibility of the object viewed as being another case of camouflage. We will perhaps never know whether it was a South Korean or a North Korean in the black bear’s costume, but given the desperation at the border for socio-political crossovers, I urge both sides to exercise restraint and never shoot at sight. We may have just saved a Yong-joon Park.
In our political culture (or lack thereof), the old guards in political parties are resentful about fresh faces taking over. “They have disguised themselves as party loyalists, but they belong somewhere else and do not have any contribution, especially during our bad days”—a common refrain used by those overlooked by party supremoes.
The assumption is that if someone’s vowels are in order (allegiance-efficiency-importance-oiling-utility), recognition would follow in due course. Merely being a party relic cannot be a criterion. So these new faces, barring a few, are not pretenders, but often the saviours of an organisation.
For instance, if a social or political or economic group is in need of an expert on climate change, and none among its seasoned members have a clue about carbon emission, melting poles, rising sea level, agricultural cost, poverty, hunger, disease and death—then those who do shall take over. No disguise required.
More dangerously though, we find ourselves pitted against fake medical doctors, although it is easier to imitate a PhD holder; no prescriptions are needed, and an occasional nod of the head in either axis adds value to the doctorate.
In April last year, RAB had arrested a fake doctor in Dhaka’s Rampura. Only last month, another fake doctor was arrested from Tangail’s Capital Hospital and sentenced to six months in jail by a mobile court. One wonders whether after release he will add FRCP to his name—Fresh Returnee from City Prison.
Some fake doctors serve for years before being identified as fake. A man allegedly stole the identity of one bona fide doctor including his Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council (BMDC) registration number to join Bhangura (Pabna) Health Care Limited in 2012. He was caught in 2019 but by then, he had treated many a toothache.
Punitive measures, not necessarily a tooth for a tooth, may be a deterrent. In December 2017, the High Court asked Niramoy Private Clinic and fake physician Razan Das of Patuakhali to pay Tk 9 lakh as compensation for wrong treatment. He had left a real gauze inside a woman’s abdomen. I wonder how many more are out there—not gauges, but such deceiving practitioners.
Paradoxically, another favourite with the lawbreakers is the law profession itself. Persons in the guise of lawyers have also been apprehended. Take Parvez Ahmed, who was not only pretending to be a barrister and a Supreme Court lawyer, but was giving expert opinion on television talk shows. I always suspected some of these know-all TV pundits. Bangladesh Bar Council, the licensing and regulatory body for lawyers, identified the poser based on a complaint by one of its members. (The Daily Star, October 2017)
So there are fake doctors, lawyers, even engineers and architects, and lovers too, but to me, the heaviest blow to this nation has been dealt by government officials and employees masquerading as Freedom Fighters. Not an easy call.
We fought the Liberation War in 1971, the collective reward for which was the freedom of the nation. The struggle for independence actually began way before that, when monetary and service benefits began to be dished out to the undeserving. In July 2014, the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs found out about 35 government officials and employees having fake Freedom Fighter certificates. Needless to say, there are many non-government fakes as well.
The matter took a more shameful turn when, on September 22 the same year, the ministry through a circular withheld a 2013 enlistment of a senior government officer, a secretary no less, as a Freedom Fighter and cancelled the FF status of four other secretaries. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had earlier reported to the ministry that their Freedom Fighter certificates were “illegally issued”. In abusing his power, the ACC said, the then State Minister for Liberation War Affairs had bypassed the relevant law and the mandatory recommendation of the Jatiya Muktijoddha Council.
Seeking glorification as the greatest sons of the soil, war allowance for life and other advantages, the five put on the garb of valiant fighters but their fraudulence lasted only a few months.
In the public domain are equally harmful, bogus “chefs” and talkative “servers” who emerge only during Ramadan. Using their left hand and right, these marauders take over the streets and the alleys with iftar items, sprinkled with spit, as they shout out to draw attention of the fasting population to their wares.
Hygiene has never been our forte. Although the staff in several outlets wear gloves and mouth covering, bare hands and dusty layers continue to rule the streets. Buyers, weary from office and heat, clean hands the last thing on their agenda, will poke at a food item, pick it up for close inspection before putting it back on the platter, only for the following unsuspecting buyer to come along, purchase and consume it. By the way, I have seen a tea-man let out a full sneeze on his uncovered cups and spoons, milk and sugar.
We need our media, especially television, to embark on campaigns to address several social issues including fake professionals and the risks that they pose. Parents and schoolteachers can play a very constructive role from the early age of a child. We have to groom ourselves professionally, whether we are signing a document at the ministry or serving a hot cup of tea by the roadside.
Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is an architect at BashaBari Ltd., a Commonwealth Scholar and Fellow, and a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader.