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          Volume 10 |Issue 47 | December 16, 2011 |


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Labels of liability


Once upon a time it was good enough to own a fancy car to get about town and receive a palta salute from the VIPs (read veridical inspector of police). Those not so blessed to inherit such vehicular fortunes (no other way then) would carry a smug face while riding their jalopy if that rickety contraption merely bore the tag of a fancy car. All good things come to an end.

It is now common practice for several years, and the menace is growing. Almost every fifth vehicle has the profession or purpose of its owner printed or finger-written by chun-kaam on the windscreen. The make of the car is secondary. Some are so horribly conceited that their position is plastered on the front and the back and also the bumper lest the police personnel be a midget.

It all began in the 70s with doctors (not compounders or staff of medical practitioners) to display 'Doctor' on the front of their vehicle, which was fair enough. This was followed by 'daktaar', and later more fancifully with the Red Crescent symbol. Then perhaps came the 'Sangbadpatra' sign, as the delivery of newspapers too was exempt from hartal and similar democratic programmes. It was natural for the sign 'Sangbadik' to follow when they realised that the person inside the sangbadpatra vehicle was not a newspaper.

Garment factory owners took cue from the knowledge that people were aware of the importance of their export trade to the national economy. And so they put up first 'emergency duty', which English when they realised was Greek to our traffic police, they wrote in loud and clear letters, 'joruree raptani kajey neeojito', meaning 'engaged in emergency export duty', whatever that means. This important sign is uniquely Bangladeshi and not to be seen even in China, the largest exporters in the world. Such exclusivity we owe to our increasingly deflating hartal culture, but not wholly so.

This cue was inherited by every jadhu-madhu running the export business (and even those importing), even if it were a poly-bag filled with old chicken drumsticks that resembled frog legs. (Hey! That's a business idea!) For some reason or none at all, no one has dared till now to write 'joruree aamdani kajey neeojito', which, by the way, given our trade deficit, is far more important to keep us alive.

The system then went haywire. Lawyers, ministries, police, RAB 1, 2, 3..., EPZ, trade fair, medicine suppliers, electricity engineers, and some of their kith and kin, f & f, assistants and assistants to assistants put up labels on their cars, microbuses, vans, pickups, trucks and buses, and would you believe it, occasionally on motorcycles. The tags are exceptionally effective, as will be evident from the ambulances competing in decibels and not moving an inch. They cannot write 'engaged in emergency export duty'; after all, they deal with human lives, howsoever old and thin may be the legs.

Now the big question is why the identity labels have become so popular. Firstly, it gives the joruree message that the passenger inside is not an idiot. Secondly, the vehicles can get a pass at every crossing as the traffic police will wave them on with one hand and stop an ambulance with another. Thirdly, if the labelled vehicle is in a takkar with a disgustingly, abhorring non-labelled vehicle, irrespective of culpability, the labelled one will get the salute and the move-on signal while the non-labelled vehicle owner/passenger/driver will commence to spend another two hours at that spot for an interrogation that can end anywhere but will begin with two routine questions: one, whose vehicle is this? And two, why does it not have a label?

Needless to say, some vital vehicles need to get the pass; and none more than an ambulance with an emergency patient. This too has been abused by not only doctors but by passengers catching a flight in the face of a city shutdown. Sadly, more often than not, the labels are being widely misused.

One must remember that every single person on the road, including school-going children, those who live there, and those who urinate (thankfully facing away from the road) are out there on some essential work. No one is out there on the road to enjoy the air, the sound, or the ammonia pollution.

If we do not soon have a policy on the entitlement and the standard of the label, we should be sooner ending up with signs such as 'engaged in important teaching duty' by teachers, 'involved in emergency shooting schedule' by actors or 'employed in critical task of returning loan' by a debtor given till noon to pay up. Or worse, 'doing emergency nation building' by politicians.

We are a very advantage-seeking nation of people, which is great when it does not harm or hurt someone else. Most of us will try to get an extra mile when an inch is illegal. We console our guilty conscience by the erroneous understanding that someone else would have done it if not I.

Let all rights be enjoyed by one and sundry equally. Let us not elbow out another just because we can label ourselves, rightfully or wrongfully.


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