Monday, August 24, 1998

Ominous Messages

The recent murders, rapes and killings have left me in a daze, my senses far too numbed for a reaction. As an optimist for the future of Bangladesh, this is a major blow to the confidence factor that is required of me to be an optimist in the first place. If I had been a who cares person, like so many of my friends, I could have perhaps been more at peace with myself. However given the speed at which our lives are changing and society crumbling, it is pertinent that we carefully weigh the very few options open to us in my argument that the - next revolution will not be a political, but a social revolution, : when society as such will revolt and be the pall bearers of the foreseeable changes.

How much we understand our society all depends as to what we are doing to protect its environment - indeed if we recognize such a thing called social environment. Environment is above politics, and this is an environmental warning to sensible citizens of Bangladesh. Are there any ?

The next revolution will not be televised, nor will the media get a chance to have a field day, nor will we have any other warning after this, that the worst has already happened. The next revolution will have us all in the front seat, not in the comforts of our homes - for it is our homes that will be the first to bear the brunt of the revolts if it has not already. The next revolution will not be dictated by the whims and caprice of our political master’s or those twelve individuals : the number twelve derived out of subtracting twelve grey haired, morally impotent individuals from twelve crore of our population: intellectuals, a privileged minority living off the largesse of the media ! Intellectuals, thankfully today is a derogatory word.

The next revolution will not spare our super rich, rich, middle class, lower middle class or the poor. By some strange act of God, we will all be in the same boat, a boat that is not necessarily a symbol of a political party in power.

PRESS AND POLICE : OUR SAVIORS ?

Each time a person is raped or killed and we sit back to enjoy the spectacle, the powers that be finds many more means for circumventing their nefarious designs and the media only too eager to co-opt and put it into the historical trash bin of popular crimes. That seems at the very end to have us dangling somewhere between the fine lines of mass hysteria and mass amnesia. Nothing greatly dissimilar has happened to any reported accounts of such crimes - the press never ever succeeding in unearthing any major case. If gossips, rumours and innuendo’s are parameters for the reporting profession, the Bangladeshi newspapers have no business carrying this any further than what police reports have suggested. The press fails to get access to interview the accused that more than civilians now also includes our protectors in uniform. There is always a mass denouncement and sides very peculiar immediately taken i.e. those who die are always cute, those who live are ugly ! Victim’s family on the other hand are not only at the mercy of police but also of the press. Victims families can go to the press, to project the matter - it is entirely upto the press to carry or not to carry the complaint - as much as the police can not or will not investigate many crimes. There is a great difference between the word accused and the word guilty, but press and police use them synonimously - while the law books claim a man is presumed innocent till proven guilty in a court of law.

The families of the accused, not necessarily the guilty therefore cannot afford to print letters of complaints on the first page of each and every newspaper in town - to catch the attention of the PM - so who do they go to ?

The hundreds and thousands of unresolved murder that the press has unfaithfully recorded over the years and then forgotten, bears testimony that in this bid for crime reporting what we have encouraged is a culture and leaning towards cheap thrill, a thrill which has more to do with graphic (read juicy) sexual details of the incident, and or details of decapitating of victims, character assassination of the victims and or the perpetrators. There is ofcourse the question of circulation of newspapers - of business, of money to be made out of misery to other’s - may I add, it is a BIG business.

The press like our police masquerade as our savior - which is not a bad thing - however let us not forget that if at all their pretension is at best a voluntary service. If there is anybody that should be our saviors it ought to be our Government, regardless of whether we voted them into power or not. I accuse the press here of voluntary misdemeanor - which is an offense against civility.

The Shazneen Murder Case :

We have witnessed in recent times, one publication that headlines itself as the first tabloid in the Bengalee language the first in twenty crore Bengalees, yet one which found no offense to print photographs of Shazneen’s dead body in colour on its cover and many more in the back page. The circulation of that particular issue, I understand soared and there has been near riot-like incidents for those that could not receive their copies in due time. I have seen people pore over those photographs, with interest and excitement reserved for wedding photographs. Little do we realise that the victim has been denied the dignity of her death - and if at all, this printing of photographs amounts to a repeat rape on the dead victim, and repeat murder, to the victims family. Who supplied those photographs - if not the police, who by some quirk of fate today are the national villain’s ?

Rumours that the tabloid that printed the photographs is secretly owned by Shazneen’s father’s business rival - has all the right condiments for a soap opera.

We have gotten ourselves into a culture of deceit and disinformation : the media hostage to whims of the powers that be. The media compromising their so-called ideology in face of realities of survival. The kick to the proverbial stomach, is all that is needed to tone down any giant in the field of journalism !

But what are we to do about the messages that seems to be coming from places we do not readily understand or identify, but one that is loud and clear ? As far as the Shazneen murder is concerned, I think the message to her father would read like :

You could be the richest man in Bangladesh, you could have an impeccable record as Mr.Clean in our business community, you could be the owner of the largest national daily in English in the country, you could have connections and friends in all those important places that is so much a pre requisite for somebody in your position, yet WE, can break into your residence where other than human guards you have guard dogs, get into the bedroom of your teenage daughter, rape her, stab her to the point of mincemeat (which we had initially intended) - while you had been busy entertaining ‘guest’ at your house. We can do all of the above, and you cannot do a DAMN thing about it.

While you have a reputation as a teetotaler, we made sure that at least one newspaper reported that you served ‘alcoholic beverages’ at the party and that both parents were in a certain state of ‘inebriation’ - this impression even getting across to the highest echelon of the administration. The use of the word ‘entertaining guest’ or ‘party’ was unfortunate, it would have been wiser to use the word ‘reception’. For an average half educated Bengalee, the word ‘party’ is synonymous with ‘orgy’. Since we took pot shot the first instant at your ‘character’ it would only be natural to make similar insinuations about the ‘character’ of your deceased daughter.

To help us on - that very week, there was a BTV drama, that incredibly had a story board on a domestic help - such as your Shohid, having an affair and then murdering the daughter of his billionaire employer ! Shohid, we hope watched the drama - but we doubt he could have been so brave as to imitate art into life. Remember, thanks to cable Shazneen knew all that was happening in the world, including a taste for Pink Flyod music : tragic, that she had no idea of what was going on in BTV, (who has the time to watch Bangabandhu TV these days) - had she only known - poor girl !

We forced you to make sure that your ‘guest’ were not considered co-conspirator/s in the murder, as the greatest public debate right now is about the ‘guest list’ of that fateful night- which ofcourse you will never make public. You have been forced to assume that the assassins of your daughter, could not have been your ‘guest’. Your ‘guests’ were your ‘friends’ - weren’t they ?

There is no such thing as a humane murder - yet in Shazneen we have seen a massive outpouring of grief, revulsion and anger, and for a time it seemed, as if the whole country stood as ONE in contempt of this horrific crime. But what about the press ? The Daily Star with its daily eulogies, poems, comments and commentaries from the so-called cross section of our populace had us believing, that this will go on till such time justice is done and solemn vows were taken to get to the bottom of this, if at all : are remarks I have become so used to that this would need more than a pinch of salt for me to swallow.

Would the newspaper have done the same, given so much space and attention had the victim been somebody, other than the daughter of the owner of the newspaper ? Would the other newspaper been as faithful if the victims was anybody other than the daughter of a fellow owner of another newspaper ?

ELITE, MEDIA and LOW LIFES :

The elite as the media would like us to believe are people in a rarefied strata of our society. The same society that harbors known criminals like stock exchange busters, loan defaulters, smugglers in anything from gold to heroin and YES, many murderers that have used their so called elitism, this elevated status to stay above the law. What does it cost to get into this exclusive club ? A PAJERO, a mobile (read cellular phone), gold watches, Saville Row suit or if one is a traditionalist some super expensive garb from the many boutiques selling cheap but highly priced Indian designer wears in Gulshan. Basically anyone who can flout or wear around Taka 50 lacs on his person the implements and equipment mentioned above is an elite , no other qualification is necessary. If he graces a wedding the media will report that reception was attended by dignitaries and elite’s of the town - a well timed photograph with the important can be an added bonus. Once that is done he is IN - and from thereon the sky is the limit. Simple !

In Shazneen’s case, the press took on the role of judge, jury and executioner from the word GO in its pinning down the domestic help Shohid as the murderer, while he actually surrendered to the police under very controversial circumstances in Chittagong. His mother - thanks to the press - disowned him instantly. The daily point by point analysis of the Daily Star - seemed to guide the course of the investigation - or lead police on to the arrest of a contractor and the assortment of maids, domestic help’s, carpenters and other low lifes (elite’s please read chhoto loke ) attached to the crimes. Clearly a poorer section of our society has been targeted here by the sheer weight of the media, and if there was any conspiracy, one doubt’s if it ever will be revealed.

Our press specially the so called national dailies all seem to have pro-people inclinations, yet it is a matter of regret, that non had taken the trouble of interviewing one on one any of the accused in the Shazneen case. Can it be, that Shohid, with his ignorance, illiteracy and the near to death police interrogation which he must have endured for so long, is lying, only to save his life, or somebody else’s - just like Rubel who as a last ditch attempt - led police on to arms in his house that he never had ? With no sister-in-law, brother or parents to queue up outside the DB office, Shohid is a broken man, a lonely man - a man that can be moulded, with both bribes and torture, can be cajoled, tempted and tormented. Shall we give him the benefit of a doubt ? Or is it that the poor will not be allowed the luxury of a press interview with assurance that his life is safe, with whatever he has to say ? Clearly the poor have no voice. We might not have any sympathy for an accused - shall we be bereft of empathy as well ? We will have to wait till this gets to court - but I think our Human Rights activist’s should talk to Shohid before we decide to hang him.

Take us to the prisoner, let us look into his eyes - see what kind ofman it takes a nation to deprive.( The Prisoner : England Dan-John Ford Cooley)

Justice delayed is justice denied as much as justice hurried is justice buried the catchy old proverb - ironically we have been juxtaposed between these two extremes. Such is democracy, such is the freedom of press in Bangladesh.

The radical feminist groups that have been in the forefront of gender related issues did their bit - the usual protest march, the gherao of the DB office, the angry full throated slogans of the same group of concerned womenfolk (may I add repeatedly photographed), the memorandum to the Home Minister etc., yet in private know atleast one activist who told me that the elite in the past have looked down with disdain their harping on gender issues - implying that such crimes i.e. rapes, murders always occurs among the low life’s of society and that all their genuine efforts amounted to a sheer waste of time and a pursuit that was not respectable ! The elite for once have woken up with the realization that they too are equally vulnerable regardless of where they stand in society. Shazneen is a martyr in this realization. May her soul find rest in Paradise, which she so rightfully deserves.

CHANGING FACE OF OUR SOCIETY :

Has anyone noticed the young men and women working in our garments factory at off-duty hours? On Eid day, here in middle class Pallabi where I live, a group of smartly attired young people of both sexes showed up. The boys were dressed in denims and Tee shirt and leather boots the girls were equally bedecked in make-up and salwar kameez . My suspicion that they were not from the middle class, proved correct when they most reluctantly sat on the sofa I had offered them. I was touched by their humility. My reputation as a musician of small repute was known to them and they had come to greet me Eid Mubarak. A pleasant half and hour passed chatting with them - and I asked them close question which is my obsession - as a socio-cultural activist. Almost all had parents who were rickshaw pullers, cart drivers or house maids. There backgrounds were not in any way different from that of my driver or the two domestic helps that are employed in my house ! One of the strangest discovery I had was of their ambitions - which were not different from any educated young men or women in our society. All wanted to get ahead in life, all wanted to marry young, all dreamt of someday buying cars or even apartments.

The point I am making above is to illustrate the typical reaction that would come from any of my friends or even readers of this article. Sitting and chatting with low lifes would bring me the title of a bostee bashee and it would not be very inappropriate for many to even term me a chhoto loke - so be it, but here is another picture:

If you see a well dressed couple walking hand in hand outside your doors, do not chalk off the possibility that it could well be the maid next door, out with her boyfriend ! Remember that they cannot afford the Thursday Night parties in the elite areas of town, they ofcourse have the comfort of dark cinema halls and parks, yet they venture out on New Years Eve in Gulshan and Baridhara : and spark the riots that make front page news the next day. The right to party is after all a human right !

THE RUBEL MURDER CASE :

That brings us to the more recent tragedy, the Rubel murder case. Readers knowledge on the subject is expected - there has been so much outcry that one more usual line on it could make things all the more boring. Boring is an unusually harsh word to use in such a tragedy - but I want to use it deliberately when we know for a fact that, this case too will soon find its way into the archive of historical garbage can - or wont it ?

The BNP laid claims to the dead body of Rubel, to the extent of holding a procession that paraded important places in town. The public reaction was scant, as would be the case. We have after all more or less started accepting that anybody involved in politics is expendable, anybody belonging to any political party is expected to die in police custody, under police torture. The next day the statement of Rubel’s father that he did not belong to any political party actually provided the stimulus for all that is happening today. Under what circumstances did Rubel’s father allow his son’s dead body to be paraded by a political party ? Are we to assume that his body was snatched ? Is there a law in this country preventing dead body snatching ?

Anyway the quick succession events of the rouge policemen being arrested and confined, their pictures in front page of all newspaper, having borne the full thrust of the law, the open press conference by the Home Minister (together with an open display of insubordination by the IGP), the visits to the home of the victim by the Leader of the Opposition and Position and the Leader of the Nuisance had all the right ingredients of seriousness that the matter so much deserved. The Hartal came as a welcome break for somebody like me who want more holidays than work fitted into calendars - and so we go on from there.

THE COVERT CLASS WAR :

What strata of the society did Rubel, come from ? All indications : middle class. His retired father at home and his brothers upwardly mobile, press reports suggesting that the first news of his death was received by his brother on the mobile (cellular phone). His sister-in-laws are the devoted, loving, caring middle class bhabi’s that is a dream. How they fought for his safety with the men of the DB, while their frail heart patient father-in-law watched helplessly, dejected and in defeat. What could be more tragic for a father than to watch his son been beaten up mercilessly and being unable to reach out for help. Would things have been different if Rubel’s brother’s were present ?

Rubel studied in a private University and was top of class. Indeed the day he passed away from the world, was also the day he passed a test that other Bangladeshi students do not qualify in the first GO. He was brilliant, maybe even a genius, his parents had known this all the while, and paid for his education that must have been a serious financial burden for their middle class status. Here is a classic case of a family who were secretly upper middle class but preferred to live covertly as middle class, down to their residence in Siddheswari which did not make very pretty pictures for the media. Clearly the family had aspirations to get into the elite strata of our society. Here was a lad whose parents would not allow him to become an elite without a qualification. Here is a lad who would be a serious threat for our criminalised elite’s about whom I had touched upon earlier, simply because he and his family had all the criteria of becoming citizens of this country worth looking up to. Here we have somebody who had the mettle to become a responsible elite, whom we would salute for all the right reason.

The only dark spot that I could find is a case that seem to have been unearthed by the press (who else !) suggesting Rubel once stole a computer from a friend of his ? The matter was amicably resolved it seems, the complainant has since become a family friend. This happened back in the days when computers cost close to a hundred thousand Taka - a price tag which might have been out of the reach of his middle class parents and guardians. Perhaps the complainant realized that Rubel has more use for a computer than he does, and amicably resolved it ? There must have been more wants in his life. He did not have girlfriends, ones he knew were never more than passing acquaintance which is passé in a co-ed institute - and I am sure he always blushed when his handsome good looks had flirtatious girls comparing him to a Bollywood actor. He was all set for his place in life till the powers that be jumped in to alter his destiny with brutality - reserved only for the low lifes.

The DB AC, Akram on the other hand was a career police officer known for his gallant service that earned him the covetous President awards, and he has through his daring busted criminal Mafia bosses who seemed were always above the law. He is also known for his ruthlessness in interrogations and had openly flouted torture. Many of his victims are now on the verge of suing him. He technically qualified to belong to the elite with the kind of wealth (disproportionate to his known source of income !) and asset he has - albeit a covert elitism that did not allow him to rub shoulders with other elite’s, arguably he would not make it to Shazneen’s father’s guest list ! Somebody like Shazneen’s father would be Akram’s bosses friend. A DB AC is expected to be friends of only those in trouble, those investing in his social acquaintance, his friendship, his physical presence, can expect to have many eyes brows raised, and many embarrassment. Among the elite only the senior most in government service make it to guest list. Policemen and lawyers have anything but a social life. Akram like Rubel, was ofcourse from the middle class with elite dreams !

THE COMPLICATED CLASS CONFLICT EQUATION :

I am trying to emphasize here that a covert class war has been ON - and that we have been oblivious to it, for far too long.

The middle class versus lower middle class.

The middle class with all its ‘nose up in the air’ snobbery believes that they are the harbinger for all that is morally right for the society. The lower middle class on the other hand have more financial or purchasing power than the middle class ! By sheer numerical superiority they displace the middle class, by their aping of the super rich - their daily model provided by Indian movie moguls. The overwhelming majority of the urban Indian population is the lower middle class and its media and satellite channels cater only to their taste - for ultimately that is where the market is, the money is.

In Bangladesh it is no different. The lower middle class looking at Bombay for inspiration - just as much as the middle class a relic from the Bhodroloke cult of West Bengal, that has always taken Calcutta as its source of inspiration down to its cheap imitation : from their so-called refined taste in music, to the way they dress. This rare breed is slowly but surely doomed to extinction. They cannot be preserved any more.

The middle class versus upper middle class.

The push for the middle class has been on the other hand, towards attaining the status not of the upper middle class - but that of the elite. The next millennium in Bangladesh therefore will have the lower middle class move to the upper middle class bracket not to the middle class. The supposedly difficult to attain middle class status will be clearly pole-vaulted because if there is anybody that is going to fill in the middle class in the next millennium is the low lifes, the chhoto lokes, the boostee bashee’s ?

What are my proofs ? Well many. The women among the low life use shampoo purchased in small satchel’s thanks to ingenious toiletries maker. Most of their children go to school. They all listen to Hindi music on MTV and know all about Michael Jackson although they copy the Indian lower middle class hero, Prabhudeva for learning their break-dance routines, they know more about the private life of Bollywood and Dhaliwood stars. To get into what they perceive as a swinging life they enroll with modeling agencies in the model bazaar in Shantinagar, and with a little chance make in to their very own channel ATN. They dress OK (Read Original Khyat),spend money on video games parlor where they have their first indoctrination to the digital age - which ultimately leads them on to computers, and computer schools today are everywhere - oh yes, including the bostees. All these we thought only the middle class or the elite were used to.

The inventors of computers wanted this to be a classless product. Somewhere down the line our decision maker’s bracketed this invention into a luxury worth keeping on table tops where it is seldom used, or homes, where only the kids of the super rich could play games and watch X rated Internet web sites. Remember the pro liberation Government has liberated the invention and there is no tax as such today. Prices of computer have come down to forty thousand takas and steadily falling. Today the low life too have access to similar invention’s. It would be irresponsible for us to imagine that changes good and bad will not affect them and yes the low lifes are permissive just like the children of our elite’s down in Gulshan, Baridhara, Dhanmondi .... have I left out any ?

Down to the message to Rubels father - so far :


We are sorry that your son was killed - but you see this is one of those mistakes we seldom make. We don’t kill children of shonmaneeto (respectable) people. We did not realise when we took Rubel in that he was from the respectable bracket of society. You lived in Siddheswari, which is not entirely a respectable area. Our treatment would have ofcourse been different if you were living in Banani or Baridhara - or maybe even Dhanmondi. The other factor was - your son used to hang around cigarette shops with his friends. We did not understand by doing that he was championing the rights of the poor. We assumed he was poor Our orders - were to GO GET HIM and so we went and got him over with. Our men have been arrested - and while our boss has been interrogated, please be assured that his interrogation was humane enough for us to move him to a hospital when he fell sick where he will hopefully remain till his day in court of. Be careful - our boss said that there is no point interrogating him any further - he will disclose all in COURT.

We are the power that be - and nobody messes with us. We are slaves to INSTRUCTIONS of sources, to those faceless, nameless individuals in our society - that non of you will ever catch. Remember we are part of a smelly garlic plant, all tied to the same root. You take one off - we all stink. So will you. You will never get answer to that one important question. Why was Rubel killed ?

To desist you from asking this fundamental question we sent the Police Association to the PM to tender its ‘sorrow and regret’. We never apologise or plead forgiveness.

There are crimes that are not worthy of forgiveness. Murder is such a crime, and we all stand to become accomplices when we do nothing, not even raise question’s that can embarass people to to speak the truth, when our press, police and the elite dictate the course of our destiny, we as citizens of Bangladesh, are cumulatively guilty of murder to our own conscience. Its time we woke up. If this article is printed I will know the wake up call has been sent across. Will it be?

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