Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 2, Issue 10, Tuesday, August 31, 2004




taking over our lives

FEAR happens to be a word we all are well acquainted with these days. It's a topic that creeps into every facet of life, whether we're going about our simple day to day activities or having a serious tete-a-tete. Break it down to its basic form, and fear is just anxiety about the unknown. It deals with matters of uncertainty. Your greatest fear is about not knowing what may happen.

Go out with a bang
Fear rears its ugly head in many different forms and intensities. Its repercussions are felt both physically and mentally. Everyone suffers to some extent. In recent times the fiery explosions are reverberating through everyone's minds. Bomb scares are a part of daily life now. Everyone of all ages is discussing the threat of bomb explosions. No one can tell where, when, or how the next disaster will take place. A few years ago there was the terrifying incident at Jessore as well as the one at the Ramna Botomul during Pahela Baishakh. Any place where people congregate can become a target. Public meetings, cinema halls, newspaper offices and even places of worship have been targets. Nothing is sacred anymore.

Bomb scares also shake the public confidence when phone calls warn of imminent destruction. Hoaxes cannot be traced and no one is spared from such calls. Shopping centers and even schools fall prey to this malicious activity. The basic function of a bomb is to bring about an end. Everyone wonders what will end next.

Freedom has a price tag
It's ironic how the most abstract things cost far more than the tangible materials. Happiness is priceless. Love is a debatable matter as some say it can be bought, and others say the price is too high. Freedom, on the other hand can be bought, but the prices vary.

Kidnappings are a common occurrence these days. It is another proponent of fear in our people. It is so common and prevalent that it is almost like a business and a rather profitable one at that. No one is free from its clutches. Meritorious students are abducted before the HSC or SSC exams so that they do not get the grades they deserve. Relatives do so over matters regarding property settlements. Jilted lovers do away with the reluctant object of amour. There is the financial aspect of abductions where a huge amount of money is asked from the abductee's family. Unfortunately the operators of this 'business' do not offer good guarantees. The life of the abductee is often worth less than nothing.

Rest in pieces
The heading might sound brutal but it is only befitting a crime just as brutal. People worry about their lives as it is but now there is the added worry that their death might not be enough or the perpetrators. Bodies are literally butchered into anything from 10 to 100 pieces. Does the body get thrown in a sack and into a river or burnt beyond recognition? Or does the body become a perverse jigsaw puzzle strewn all over the city? Even after death there is no security for the body.

Hold your tongue
An advice you will hear making the rounds is to watch what you say to others. It's pertinent advice because you never know who the other person is. The classical days of chivalry and honor are just that. You find it only in pages of history and literature where men used to be men and fought their own battles. Nowadays one man will bring twenty others to fight his battle. You never know what you might say that would irk somebody. They can take offence and simply kill you. Any scruffy looking kid could be in possession of a knife or even a gun. Simple arguments could lead to death.

Its a case in point where extortionists come by to claim their share in the money that you worked hard to earn. It seems preferable to give in rather than to talk back because there is no winning. They will relentlessly follow you to your home to realize the amount. Such incidents show that you are not safe even in your home. So where do you go?

The road to afterlife
At least ten people die in road accidents daily while countless others suffer from resulting disfigurations and disabilities. The number of vehicles plying the streets is literally mushrooming. In itself that is not such a bad thing but the matter takes a turn for the worse when you consider that the drivers of these vehicles are mostly inexperienced. It takes very little effort to get a driving license. The universal language of money does all the talking. A person does not really have to know how to drive to get a car moving. As a result overtaking is done from the wrong lane, traffic lights are jumped and distances from cars in front are not maintained. As if that is not bad enough, pedestrians also lack good sense as they are too impatient to use zebra crossings or over passes.

Tales of the faceless
It seems to be a crime for women to be attractive. Highly corrosive acids can easily be bought from stores without any need for permission or licenses. Jilted lovers find it the best solution to simply destroy a woman's face. It is their preferred form of revenge for hurting the male ego. This sort of torture is not only restricted to women. Children are also sometimes under attack. Stringent new laws have been created but the crimes have not abated because of a lack in the application of the law. For many living a life with a disfigured face is a fate worse than death.

The holdup
Mugging is something to contend with whenever you step outside your home. Anything from your wallet, watch and cell phone to your clothes, motorbike and even the grocery can be a mugger's target. It could happen while travelling by rickshaw, car, and train or while waiting in a scooter at a traffic jam.

Women have long since stopped wearing actual jewelry and have gone for imitation materials. Even then you may not be safe. One particular woman was mugged off her bracelets and necklace. The very next day at the same spot the same muggers stopped her. This time they returned her imitation pieces and rebuked her for wearing fakes. They probably felt insulted by the fake jewellery, and slapped her as a punishment. Humiliating as it was, the incident verged on the light side. In many cases the result could be fatal. People have been stabbed for refusing to hand over the cash or simply not having enough money.

Guarantee of death
There are many other things that bring out the fear in people apart from those mentioned. Altogether these create not only a mental unease but also unease for the entire society. From a psychological viewpoint fear takes its ultimate form in the guise of phobia and that is what the people of this country are heading toward. Living is becoming a difficulty. Fear is eating away at the heart of the common people. There are laws and anti crime committees but all this seems toothless in the face of rising crime.

At the time of submitting this article the incident of the grenade attack on the Awami League meeting took place. Everyone present had the same expression on his or her face. When will we be the next victims? The security for our life has been replaced by guarantee of death.

By Sultana Yasmin
Translated by Ehsanur Raza Ronny

Fear: the monster that haunts us

AUGUST 22, the day after the heinous grenade attack. At around 11am in the morning the traffic on the street was surprisingly low. None of the traffic signals took more than 30 seconds. On a usual weekday it would have been bustling with people, speeding vehicles and honking horns and signals would have lasted at least 15 minutes longer. None of these usual images of Dhaka's streets however, existed on that day. With most of its shops closed and streets empty the city wore a deserted look. Nervous people everywhere moved very fast, looking behind their backs every few minutes. The atmosphere was dense with a sense of intimidation. It was like everyone everywhere was waiting for something to happen. The fever of fear was spilling all over the city.

Fear. It is more like a monster that haunts us, stalks us every single day of our lives. Living with fear has become a reality of survival for Bangladeshi people. At the back of our minds, the monster named fear is always howling and it is not because grenades shower from the sky everyday. There are other elements of fright existing in our society that keep terrorising people.

Take Mrs Fatema Mannan for instance. Everyday when her sons and daughters are out at work she waits anxiously for their return. Newspaper headings regularly reveal the blemished face of the society and it worries her. "If any one of my family members are late coming home a feeling of fright starts creeping in. What if something happened to them?" Fatema Mannan is not the only one in the city with that dreaded feeling. A sense of insecurity grips the minds of everyone.

Asif Khaled is a graphic designer at GlaxoSmithKline. Just this July some goons robbed him during a traffic signal. It was the fourth time he had experienced something like this. This time it happened near Bangla Motor. He was in a CNG auto rickshaw. Amidst the busy traffic, in the presence of several policemen and a flag bearing, jeep the goons seized him and took away his valuables. What was even more painful was that the people nearby later asked him how much he had lost. "Whenever I am in a signal I clutch my bag tight these days. If any stranger comes closer I become suspicious. I cannot seem to trust anyone anymore". Khaled is also a photographer. Two years ago he lost the one precious love of his life, his camera. "I used to fall asleep during traffic jams. But not anymore." he says. That cold shivery feeling of fear keeps him awake.

There are some other people who are even scared of the police, the authority in charge of protecting the mass. "They harass general people on the streets without any reason while the real goons sneak away from behind their back." tells Abul Hasan a student of DU.

What seems like a normal lifestyle is in fact an existence completely taken over by a sense of insecurity. Humayan Kabir is in the package tour business. After the grenade incident, whenever he goes out, he bids farewell to everyone he loves. "What if I don't come back safely?" he says. Anindita Banik, working at the Karwan Bazar branch of Standard Chartered bank avoids any crowds on the streets, political or non-political. She avoids cinema halls and cultural programs fearing similar attacks like 22 August or Ramna botomul. She is scared to go out at night; she is even scared while shopping. "I don't go shopping in the New Market or Gausia any more. There are some people in those areas who are always in the mood for molesting innocent women." Hafiza Begum, a lawyer in Dhaka judge court expresses somewhat similar fear. She described her experience in a ferry while she went to the toilet alone. "I can still feel the shiver that I had in the narrow staircase. I had the feeling that I was going to be raped." she tells us.

It is as if the society is being possessed by an evil force. There is no running away from it; there is no peace of mind. Security is one big bubble in this country. It might be bought if there is plenty in the wallet, but what happens to people like Fatema Mannan, Humayan Kabir, Asif Khaled, Aindita Banik, Hafiza begum or Abul Hasan? These are the people who belong to the mass and their lives are always at stake.

By Shahnaz Parveen
Artists: Mistri, Russell, Shiplu



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