Of Human Bones and Brotherhood
4th Century BC, Athens
"If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes," so said Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, conqueror of the Persian Empire, and one of the greatest military geniuses of all time.
Legend has it that Diogenes walked through Athens carrying a lighted lamp during the day in search of an honest man. That's cynicism at its height, or should it be low?
Once Diogenes, regarded by most as the founder of Cynicism, was looking attentively at a large collection of human bones piled one upon another. Along came Alexander. He asked the philosopher what he was looking for. 'I am searching,' said Diogenes, 'for the bones of your father, but I cannot distinguish them from those of his slaves.'
19 December 1997, Dhaka
Chintito wrote in SWM an open letter to His Excellencies in the Emirates. It took His Highnesses seven long eight years to respond.
To recall the context here is that dispatch.
Your Excellencies, Aassalamualaikum!
As a Muslim, I consider it my obligation to bring to your esteemed attention a matter of profound tragedy. The issue is of such poignancy that it shall also stir your benevolent emotions.
I pray it be unknown to you that, just outside your palace walls, one of the most heinous crimes against humanity is being orchestrated by some of your subjects in league with several foreigners, perhaps illegal immigrants. The nefarious act is further condemnable because it involves children, Muslim children.
As a signatory to the UN convention 1990, you have put your hand and seal on a pledge that, among other things, States shall protect the child, that States shall prohibit the sale of children, the trafficking of children, and the abduction of children. You have justly expressed your concern for the 250 million children all over the world who are being exploited at this very moment. For championing the cause of children in the world body, you have rightfully earned the respect of people from all over the world.
It pains us, however, that there are people in your country who are hell bent to see your covenant broken. Their amoral deeds can only shame the Arab countries. Confident that, given all the facts, you will not only condemn this brutality but also take judicious actions to root out the evil, I take this opportunity to narrate some parts of the scandalous tale.
Abdur Rahman, fondly called Babloo, is just another child from another village in Bangladesh. Born in a poor family he may have often winced from the pangs of hunger. In the five summers of his life, Babloo had grown accustomed to half meals, not always thrice a day. But, strangely enough, he lived in contentment with his parents, brothers and sisters, in the ambience of his own home.
One day the tranquil realm of the childhood was shattered. Babloo was forced to make an arduous journey to a faraway land. There, his pitter-patter feet could no longer make vague imprints like on the moist earth of his village. There, in the sandy desert, his footprints crumbled behind him. As did his little world.
Babloo joined a herd of children, some younger to his five years, some a little older. They spoke in a strange language: a conglomeration of Arabic, Bangla and Urdu. Soon he was speaking it too. The children were all camel-jockeys. Men dressed in long robes chased alongside in motor cars as Babloo and the other tiny tots tried desperately to hold on to the hump of the galloping camel. The children would often fall down and hurt themselves. But, there was no respite. Several children have died. Many have disappeared. Babloo and his friends were kept unfed for two days before a race. They needed to be as light as possible. As it were, Babloo and his mates would be no more than three to four stones, far below the regulation weight for a jockey. Between races, they slept on the sand in shanty camps. Did their hearts cry out for their mother at bedtime? Was that a trickle of tear down a scrawny cheek? Who knows?
Many such children have been taken to the UAE from Bangladesh. They have been snatched from their mother's lap. In their formative years they have been brought up unloved, uneducated. There is hardly any difference between the treatment meted out to Allah's best creation and the animals which they are forced to ride.
As Your Excellencies would surely agree, this is a clear case of exploitation of kidnapped children, a despicable example of child labour.
When the children grow older, their visas are not extended. Some of them are forced to return home, the more hapless ones fade into the shadows of illegal immigrants. They have forgotten Bangla, their parents, their home. They are roaming the streets of another Muslim country like "yatim". That is more the reason why they qualify for Your Excellencies' love and affection.
It is obvious that people in the Gulf States would not spare their own children for racing camels. Otherwise, the camel-racers in your country and their foreign cohorts would not have taken so much trouble to import children from Bangladesh and perhaps elsewhere.
Babloo and his lot are poor. But, they are children. Just as any other child in the world, just as any child in the Emirates, they need the love of their parents. It is for you to ensure, Your Excellencies, that they are denied no more by the selfish abductors of innocent childhood.
If they are considered slaves, order those that are violating the law of your land and the UN convention to free them. For in it there is bounteous reward. If they are considered poor, open wide the doors of charity. If persons of frail body are indeed required for racing, those employed should not be children and those engaged should be afforded dignity of labour.
On the advent of the holy and auspicious month of Ramadan, as a momentous gift on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, may we be ensured that Your Excellencies will take quick and drastic measures to ban once and for all child jockeys for camel racing in your country. And, indeed, all forms of child exploitation.
Hundreds of mothers are awaiting your benevolence. The children, confused though they are, would surely appreciate your act of compassion, if only they could understand. Please arrange for them to reunite. We are aware of several of your magnanimous gestures in the real world. Generosity is not only to be found in the pages of the Arabian Nights.
19th Century Moscow
The writings of Leo Tolstoy profoundly influenced much of 20th Century literature. One of the world's most celebrated novelists, the moral teachings of the Russian writer helped shape the thinking of several important spiritual and political leaders.
Once when a famine was on in the land, a street beggar reached out to Tolstoy, who was passing by, for some alms.
The moral philosopher, Russia's great man stopped, searched for a coin but found none. With genuine sorrow he said, 'Do not be angry with me, my brother, I have nothing with me'.
The beggar's face lit up as he replied, 'But you called me brother. That is a great gift.'
December 2004 Doha
Qatar banned the use of children, many of who were from Bangladesh, in camel races and launched a project to develop robot jockeys. And indeed a remote-controlled robot jockey has now been developed.
UAE also banned use of jockeys below the age of 16 in 1993 but violations have been rampant and only now the measures taken are having effect. The Emirates too tested robot jockeys last April.
The Qatari robot project undertaken by a Swiss firm has involved in its first phase 800,000 US dollars. In 2006 Qatar hopes to introduce 20 robot jockeys at the annual Qatar Grand Prix.
By that calculation the worth of every human child is in the first phase at least 40,000 US dollars. How much did a Bangladeshi five-year-old get?
The traffickers, many of them Bangladeshis, should get at least a life behind bars.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005