“An earthquake achieves what the law promises but does not in practice maintain—the equality of all men.”
- Ignazio Silone
Justice is blind but the law is not, except for the most decrepit, whose sense of moral values and ethics are completely corrupted. The maxim that civilised nations uphold as the most fundamental of values, that the rule of law should guide all human actions, and justice is blind, is being constantly proved wrong in Bangladesh by the way it has been wantonly disregarded and is being trampled and defiled.
Theodore Roosevelt must surely be turning in his grave, and were he alive today he would surely have modified his immortal saying that “nobody is above the law and nobody is below it,” with “but not everywhere.” Nicholas Nickleby's, the Dickensian character, words aptly describe the situation in our country in his very crisp but ironic description of equality before law. He says, “There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.” Regrettably, those who are close to or a part of power, and those who have shiny furniture in the pockets dictate how laws should be applied. And unfortunately, those whose job is to prevent the abridgement of this universal principle, are willing complicit with the powers that be in the defilement of the system.
A very few countries in the world, when it comes to the most important index of a country's civilisational status, determined by the rule of law and respect for it and application of it without discrimination, would fare worse than ours. If there were a similar Kardashev Scale to determine the development in socio-cultural-humane index, like it does in classifying civilisational progress in terms of its level of technological advancement, based on the amount of energy a civilisation is able to use for communication, we would rate very poorly too. It would be difficult to find another system where the truth that all men are equal, but some are more equal, so blatantly manifest than in ours. It seems that most of the state institutions are on a race to the nadir of most indices that define the state of governance that express the quality of life of the people.
There is a plethora of instances where the rule of law was abridged by its selective application, because the alleged accused were related to the political establishment. And all of the cases one is talking about, fall in the criminal category.
In the latest case we saw virtual enactment of the Sharia Law where “blood money”, as reported, of two million taka was paid to the family of the victim of a hit and run case. But the dénouement of the case is as peculiar as the handling of the case. In spite of the witness, who had followed the runaway car in his motorbike up to its final destination, i.e. the MP Hostel, going to the police station to register a case, the OC refused to register the case, and even denied that anybody had gone to the police station at all. Compensation can be paid, but the police cannot not register a homicide case, which may not have amounted to murder. But that was only for the court to decide. The matter of compensation comes later.
Another “golden boy” spawned by an MP felt so frustrated on a sultry night of April 2014, that he took out his pistol and fired a few shots to vent his anger. Little do political brats realise that their frustration is suffered by the public on the road, almost every day of the year. Thank God they do not fire shots to vent their spleen. Two people died as a consequence, and the police said that it was a watertight case and they would have no problem in getting a conviction. But lo and behold! The verdict which was to be announced on May 8 this year was deferred by the Sessions Judge of Court-1 of Dhaka, reportedly, as he could not prepare the judgment. This after four years of the incident. We are still waiting for the judge to announce the date of delivery of the verdict.
Taqi, a bright young man who had just passed his HSC in 2013 was brutally murdered around March 8 or 9, of 2013. No charge sheet has been given even after five years of the gruesome killing. Interestingly, according to press reports, two of the aides of the alleged mastermind—a scion of a very powerful political family of Narayanganj, were arrested, and their confessional statements had exposed how the killing was carried out upon his order and under his direct supervision. Rab had admitted that he was hiding abroad and they were trying to nab him. Public knowledge has it that the gentlemen is in Narayanganj now, perhaps invisible, to the law enforcers only.
These are only a few instances of how the administration has gone out of the way to protect the perpetrators of cognisable offenses, because they were all linked to power, without realising that in doing so, they have become abettor of and complicit in the crimes.
This is a phenomenon that is not regime specific, but one that has vandalised morality and made the system of justice a farce. And unless there is a collective expression of indignation we will quickly approach, as described by Aristotle, to the level that human beings can degenerate to. He says, “At best, man is the noblest of animals, separated from law and justice he is the worst.” A thoroughly reprehensible prospect.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd) is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.