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July 25, 2003

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The Yong and The Invisible

Can we Hear Them?

Aasha Mehreen Aamin

They are everywhere yet invisible. Invisible, because we have no time to see them. They are bright, young, energetic but little to look forward to. They are in their teens and twenties, an ambiguous stage in which they must grow up all too quickly and become men. Trapped in the whirlpool of poverty, with hardly any opportunities to grow and develop and with no role models to look up to, no mentors to guide them, these young men are struggling to keep their heads above water. Many times they are lured into the world of crime and drugs, a hell from which few can escape. Some, in spite of the unsavoury temptations, manage to keep away, earn their own keep and even dare to have dreams of their own.

The uninspiring education system will ensure more school drop outs in the future.

But for how long? In the absence of any concrete policy to provide educational and employment opportunities, in the wake of increasing materialism of the rich and class hatred among the deprived, in the reality of institutionalised crime, can these young souls be saved? SWM explores the frustrations of our less privileged youth, their aspirations in life and the social and psychological reasons behind the increasing corruption of our young men.

One of the most disturbing trends in our society is that a large number of heinous crimes are committed by young men in their late teens or early twenties. Thirteen year old Fahima was kidnapped and raped by a young man called Sumon helped by his cronies. Three of them are in their early twenties. A few months ago a teenager with his friend killed a school teacher for failing him. Shihab and Bappi, both children faced violent and grisly deaths at the hands of men in their twenties. The cases are endless _ young men engaged in the most vicious acts of violence with no compunction for their crimes.

So what triggers criminal behaviour in young men? Professor Hedayet Islam, Founder Director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Shere Bangla Nagar and a professor of psychiatry, says that crime is a complex phenomenon and can be caused by a myriad of factors. In most cases, Islam explains, the person is suffering from a personality disorder. In other words he cannot adjust to normal settings, to his family or society in general or conform to social norms. This results in an abnormal personality pattern.

By institutionalising crime, political parties have encouraged young people to resort to violence.

There are various types of abnormal personalities. The 'anti-social' person says Islam, is someone who is usually aggressive and turns to violence at the slightest provocation. He wants to achieve everything through force. “
These individuals cannot conform to moral or ethical values set by family, society or state laws”. The 'passive depressive' types are those who fall victim to gang behaviour. They are usually passive followers rather than the aggressors and follow the rules of others. They do not have their own views and easily get involved in crimes instigated by the 'gang'. Then there is the 'dominant borderline' personality disorder adds Islam who is also the founder- director of the Institute of Community Mental Health. These individuals may seem normal outwardly but they have an excessive urge to dominate others. “They maybe highly intelligent and are often perfectionists. They tend to show off their apparent superiority and want to play the leading role. People with such personality may become involved in criminal behaviour."

While pornography and vulgar films are often blamed for rise in sex crimes, Islam says that such factors only instigate individuals who have abnormal sexual tendencies. Added to that, the fact that sex crimes often go unpunished only encourages such individuals to commit such crimes. Usually, says Islam, normal individuals do not turn to violence from such exposure.

The rise in acid violence by young men too, can be attributed to the failure of law enforcers to catch the culprits and punish them.

Individuals who commit cold- blooded murder, explains Islam, are violent people who have no care for values, the legal system and feel no remorse for the acts they commit. He refers to the television interviews of several murderers who have given unemotional accounts of their crime with the slightest sign of repentance.

Yet Islam insists that while such psychological anomalies contribute to criminal behaviour the external environment the person is exposed to is just as important.. “In cases where the law enforcement is lax and the environment is not conducive to the normal growth of an individual, where he can get away with crime or where crime is the easy way of earning a huge amount of money, status or political power, these individuals will be encouraged to follow this pattern of behaviour.”

Personal factors are also to blame says Islam. Many young men in our society come from broken homes, from dysfunctional families or have grown up without the love and affection that every individual needs for normal development. If the parents or guardians do not teach their young ones about social and moral values, if a young person gets away with crime without being punished by the family, society or by the law of the land, it will only encourage him to continue with such crime, especially since it brings in rewards that are extremely attractive to young people.

A Prothom Alo news item on June 15 reports the case of a couple in Gaibanda being mutilated by an acid attack by his step-brother over a property dispute. The attacker took the help of his sons to pour acid on the couple which left them critically injured and scarred for life. In a society where a parent actually encourages his children to commit such a gruesome crime, how can they distinguish between right and wrong?

The state has not provided enough opportunities of empowerment for young people, resulting in a growing number of frustrated youths.

Drug addiction among young people has phenomenally increased largely due to the proliferation of drugs into the country. While rich addicts can pay for their drugs with their pocket money or a tantrum, poorer addicts have to resort to extortion or even worse, to get their fix. Many young boys are drug peddlers who soon get addicted and get into crime to sustain their habit. Here again the law enforcement agencies have failed miserably to catch and punish organised drug rings which allegedly enjoy the patronage of highly placed individuals in society.

But overriding all determinants are the biggest anomalies in our society that accounts for the growing moral degradation of our youth. The increasing gulf between the rich and poor, the criminalisation of politics and ineffectual law enforcement coupled with the corruption of law enforcing bodies give strange and unsavoury messages to our youth. Organised crimes such as extortion, terrorism, murder, fraud etc are given tacit approval by political parties since many of their bigwigs are involved. Youth wings of political parties have introduced the cadre culture which hand picks young men and give them arms to fight political battles which translates into grabbing power and money through violence. For young, unemployed men from poor backgrounds who have no prospects of a better economic existence joining a political party or a crime ring, where the material benefits far outweigh the stakes, is the easiest solution. For many young men, crime is a glamorous thing and being morally upright is a weakness.

Young people need more outlets to express their thoughts and opportunities to grow into well-adjusted, productive individuals.

The gaping divide between the rich and poor may also be a contributing factor to crime among youth. The rich in our society are very indifferent towards the underprivileged. They unashamedly display their wealth yet do little or nothing to improve the lives of the less fortunate. In an interview in Prothom Alo's weekly supplement 'Chutir Din' (July 19) a young boy from Karwan Bazar who use to earn his living as a petty thief ,expresses his feelings towards the rich. Answering to the question of what he would do if he won the lottery he says: “ I would buy a poisonous dog and a car… With the dog I would catch people. Now you will see.”

So what will you gain from the dog biting people asks the interviewer. “ My pleasure. Every rich person has a fat dog. It eats what people eat, sleeps with people, eats with them…” Responding to another question on why he would not go to school given a chance, he says: “Those who are educated are especially bad. I hate them. I'm going to blow them up…”


Still There are Voices of Hope…

Dhanmondi Lake, on a Friday afternoon is a pleasurable spot to visit. On this hot humid, summer day, we welcome the soothing breeze and the canopy of shade from the abundant greenery. Among the obvious scenes of romance, we are looking for young boys and men to interview. A wild bunch of boys from ten to fourteen squeal in delight as they jump from a bunyan tree and dive straight into the water. They swim a little, get back on the tree and jump again and again obviously having a whale of a time. We tear our eyes away from this happy scene and approach a group of young men obviously on an outing at the park.

Economic hardship is a reality for Dulal (far right) and his friends yet they still manage to think positively and dream about a better life.

Md. Kawser is 18 and works as a telephone operator in an NGO. He wanted to complete his education but bad results in the HSC and a rejection from the Board to sit for a second time, dashed his hopes. “I was always a bad student but our teachers were no good either. At school our teacher would say 'if you come for coaching then you will pass otherwise you will fail'. I went for his coaching but he failed me. When I challenged him I got expelled for insulting a teacher.” At one point Kawser got involved in politics. The ward commissioner of his locality promised him good 'increments' if he could bring three or four people to political processions and meetings. “We use to get Tk. 100 per head for three hours of chanting slogans etc.” But later Kawser realised that this was not a good choice and he came out of the party. As for his aspirations for the future: “Dal bhat kheye, bachte parle bachi” (to survive eating dal bhat).

Ripon, his friend has more definite ambitions. He has just taken his HSC and wishes to join the army “to be a proud soldier." He has very clear ideas about the problems of youth today. “If the government is not on the right track what are we to do?” “We have seen three consecutive governments and they all turn out to be the same. In the next election we will be eligible to vote. But who do we vote for. The only thing we can do is go into the booth, close our eyes and randomly put our seal.” When asked if he had a role model among the politicians he laughs and says: There are no good leaders because even if one is good he has to be bad because of others around him. Politics is just a business.”

Md. Kamal Hossain, another friend, who has his own little electric shop, has been working since he was eight. He is the only bread winner of his family and has little interest for politics. “I don't like politics. If you support a party, the other party becomes your staunch enemy.”

Md. Nurul Alam, the shy one of the group works at a sari shop in Gulistan. He could not continue his education after class six after his father died and was forced to make a living. His role model is his older brother who works in a sari shop in Islampur. “After my father died, he has taken care of me. He is very honest and always tells me when I do something wrong.”

What are his chances of being unaffected by a corrupted system?

Eighteen year old Md. Amir Hossain is in his second year of HSC at Bangla College. He has dreams of completing his Honours and Masters in English. “ If I do bad I will go abroad.” This means going to Kuwait to an uncertain future that may or may not have a happy ending .

“If I could work and study that would be good,” says Amir who has to tutor three students to help out in the family expenses.

Sitting near the bank of the lake are two young men, one a muri walla and the other his friend. Md. Abdur Rahman Saimon, a 20 year old unemployed youth from Faridpur says he met his muri walla friend Md. Al Amin when Saimon had run away from home to Dhaka ending up as a security guard at the Dhanmondi lake. “But it was really difficult, I was not able to eat properly or have a decent place to sleep and so I went back home.” Saimon has a lost look on his face as he talks about his life. He tells us that he stopped going to school after class seven because he was mentally upset. “My parents were always fighting and then my mother left to live with her brothers. It was very painful. I was never close to my father.”

Twenty-year old Saiman stopped going to school after his parents split up.

Back home Saimon is a fisherman and one day he wishes to have his own fisheries business.

His views on life are not surprisingly cynical. When asked why young men of his age resort to crime he retorts: “What do you expect--political parties have always been giving arms to young people. Young men are unemployed, frustrated, they go through a lot of mental tension. Then if they fall into bad company they do bad things.”

“Drugs", he adds "have been brought to this country to destroy young people. Heroin is 'dog poison'. I have seen addicts vomiting like dogs when they take too much.”

Nineteen year old Al Amin laughs in embarrassment at his friend's words. He is an earnest young man whose sole purpose in life seems to be to support his family back home. Before Al Amin worked for 12 hours a day as a gardener and security guard at Dhanmondi Lake. But he was not paid properly so he quit and started selling jhal muri, living in a mess in Rayer Bazar shared with four other jhal muri wallas.

Sometimes says Al Amin, he sees young men taking heroin in the evening and extorting money from passers-by. “

Sometimes there will be a girl sitting by herself planted by a gang. The minute someone comes to talk to her, they swoop on him, beat him up falsely accusing him of trying to assault the girl and then they take everything from the victim.”

Al Amin's own life is far less eventful. “I like to keep to myself. I work, sleep and don't talk to people much. If I can save money I will go abroad so I can send enough money to my parents, brother and sisters. You see I'm the eldest.”

Further up the lake grounds we meet Dulal and his friends--all around 18 or 19, most of them working as carpenters at furniture shops. Dulal says he couldn't continue studies after class three as he came from a poor family. He is learning carpentry and one day hopes to have his own shop.

Sabbir, who is in his first year BCOM at a college in Madaripur is here on a visit. He is planning to go to Switzerland to work as a driver.

When asked why young men become involved in crime Sabbir says, “ Because they are poor. Everyone wants a good life but they don't have money. So some people think this is the only way to have a good life.”

Society gives strange messages to the young and impressionable.

Life is a struggle for young men like Dulal and his friends but somehow they manage to find ways to enjoy it. Thanks to the generosity of the staff at Abahani Club, they have the opportunity to play football or cricket at the Abahani Field from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. after which they go to work. On weekends they watch Bangla movies in the cinema hall or roam around the lake and chat with each other.

Few young men from lower middle class or poor backgrounds are as lucky as Dulal and his friends to have an open field to play in or a park to hang out at. Most neighbourhoods are congested with over construction and offer no outlets for the young and restless.

We are again distracted by the group of tokais expertly diving into the lake, dodging the woman security guard who waits menacingly with a stick. Swimming is forbidden in the lake she grumbles after giving a few whips to the youngest and most helpless one.

Khokon, a gangly, slightly cocky 14 year old, is the oldest and the gang leader of the younger ones. He sells Kadam flowers to school children in Kathalbagan. The group often come to the lake to swim and play. “We also watch cartoons, Meena is my favourite,” says Khokon who does not need much provocation to use swear words at his friends. Khokon says he has no dreams, desires or plans for the future. “Whatever fate holds for me will be it. Perhaps I will be a pichchi (errand boy) at New Market.”

When asked whether they feel angry when they see rich boys zooming around in their fancy cars, Khokon says “Why should we? Allah gave them wealth and not us.”

“If Allah wills it, we may also be rich”, pipes in 10 year old Shafiqul Islam.

'There are no role models among politicians.'

The reality of their situation is far less optimistic. The number of unemployed, uneducated and uncared for youth is on the rise. How many of them will be able to resist the temptation to engage in crime when that seems the only option left to survive? With no security in life, physical or financial, they are being pushed to the wall. Those at the helm of the power structure are not providing them with the role models they so badly need. The lessons that society is teaching them are that honesty does not pay while deviousness and violence brings material gains. It is up to us to set the example of what it means to be a morally upright citizen. Society must give stern messages in the form of exemplary punishment to perpetrators of crime to show that such acts come with a heavy price. Young people need opportunities from the state and society to be educated, to get jobs and to have wholesome avenues of entertainment. We can no longer indulge in our continuous neglect of our youth. They are a powerful force that needs to be channelled in the right direction. After all, it is they who will ultimately determine the future of our nation.

 
     
   

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