Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
The murder of Biswajit Das under broad daylight earlier this month was a sickening reminder of the indifference bubble we live in. As he staggered out of the building in Old Dhaka, drenched in blood while being poked and hacked by political goons (or, 'youth political leaders'), it became more evident none of us were safe any longer, that Shonar Bangladesh needed a serious awakening. In his article for The Daily Star, Ahrar Ahmed drew references on startling statistics; the most striking of which stated 120 individuals, (between January and November 2012) who were suspects of crimes, have been publicly beaten and lynched by citizens. Truly, have we gone so incorrigible, so beyond accountability that we no longer tremble when we physically abuse our own kind?
Yet, it wasn't the murder, the injustice or even our inhumanity that made me choke on my breath over the past few weeks. It was the fact, as Dr Jafar Iqbal rightly identified in his piece for The Daily Prothom Alo, that these “youth political leaders” were ridiculously proud of what they did. In spite of the innumerable journalists, camera crew, law enforcers and ‘aam’ public that were present in the scene, members from Chhatra League merrily and mercilessly beat Biswajit to death. To buff things up, party leaders from the Awami League, law enforcement agencies and even the Prime Minister's press secretary immediately claimed that the murderers were not from Chhatra League. Their faces were identified, their academic and political involvements revealed and their families were even interviewed – all of which were circulated nationally and internationally by the media – and yet, the outright denial makes one shudder. If the very people who are running this country are willingly blinded and blunt to what is happening readily in front of the entire country's eyes, our democratic infrastructures are in need of a serious jolt.
It isn't just Chhatra League. At the crack of dawn on December 4, this year, Islami Chhatra Shibir torched and vandalised public vehicles. People woke up to the smell of ashes and smoke. Not very long ago, Jatiyabadi Chhatra Dal was seen torching vehicles with ample enthusiasm and torturing members from other political wings. In this dire state where no body is essentially the 'lesser evil', one wonders where we have gone wrong as countrymen, as a country?
When parents of the accused Chhatra League “leaders” were interviewed, everyone kept saying one thing – “I had no idea my son could do this.” And that brings us to the core of this piece; any of our sons and daughters could do that. Our country has an eloquent relationship with political activism, our very sentiments or state of independence being direct outputs of it. Irrespective of how boldly we try to avoid it, we are politically involved and whether we like it or not, we are immensely affected by it. Our families try their best to keep us away from it; our parents believe when we go to school or have chaa at a tonger dokan, we don't discuss politics. The truth, as grave as it may sound, is that we do. We fuss over our political leaders, we discuss whether we want to hold government positions in spite of the obvious partisan collaterals that come with it, and although we don't support a specific political party, we are never too far away from the idea of politics itself.
I am always astounded when I switch on the television to see young boys of my brother's age burning cars. I wonder what they are thinking, or worse, what they are not thinking of. A friend of a friend, a senior bhaia, keeping up with the dynamics of the university hostel, the need for some extra cash – almost every one of us gets dragged into partisan politics. With zero awareness and our parents' lifelong determination to keep us in the 'political white area' – more than half of us have no idea about what we are doing.
The root to resolving political violence, in my opinion, is political awareness. Knowing where we stand as citizens, our rights to choose our leaders, who our ward commissioner is, or our declaration of independence are information we can no longer avoid. In a system that is integrally corrupt, knee deep in partisan politics and does not have any regulations or functional legal jurisdiction, where political goons do not fear people – the only way we can sluggishly move forward is by being informed and conscious. Yes, we need to vote; yes, we need to read newspapers; yes, we need to know the full picture before we start calling shots. It's when people are empowered intellectually that they start weighing the right decisions, that they realize their neighbour's problem is their problem. We are far beyond the point where we can shrug and walk away; our indifference only pumps more violence, more power in the hands of the wrongdoers. If it can happen to Biswajit Das, it's your problem too.
(Sabhanaz Rashid Diya is a major in Media and Communication at Independent University Bangladesh and founder of the nonprofit youth organization, the One Degree Initiative Foundation.)