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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 232
April 1, 2006

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Law Vision

Theorising the crime and violence of Dhaka city

Sheikh Hafizur Rahman Karzon

Socio-economic reality of urban areas is totally different from that of rural areas, hence the types of crime are different. All the banks, shopping centres, government offices are situated in the cities. People carry hard currency, females wear valued ornaments, huge amounts transacted for business purpose. All these realities create huge opportunities for miscreants to commit different types of crimes such opportunities are almost absent in rural areas. People of cities experience two types of realities, one during day-time, and another at night. For instance, as soon as night falls the drug dealers start selling their contraband items. In mega cities like Dhaka and Chittagong, a number of professional criminal gangs commit various types of delinquencies. The criminal gangs are often alleged to have patronisation of police and politicians. People of urban areas, therefore, always run the risk of falling victim to any type of crime. The crimes committed in urban areas are hijack, murder, kidnapping and abduction, burglary, pick-pocketing, rape, smuggling and abuse of drugs, smuggling of gold, suppression of domestic servants, acid throwing, fraud and deceit, and also white collar crimes.

Social process and urban crime
An agro-based peasant society is relatively uniform and consistent. China exemplified this situation until recently. An individual was brought up in a large family, which determined his career. An individual had full security within this group. In case of sickness, accident, old age, or any other emergency the group cared for him/her. Surrounding communities were harmonious in their traditional culture and they supported the large families. Under such uniform social organisation there was few opportunities to develop 'individualism', also few opportunities for committing crime. Because of uniform and consistent character of society crime was almost absent, except some occasional offences.

Consistency and uniformity are not seen in urban centres developed in line with western civilisation. This situation is considered as 'social disorganisation'. Under this circumstances a society cannot determine uniform societal goals for all its members and even cannot prescribe means of achieving agreed-upon societal goals. Consequently, the members of the society are confronted with alternative goals or means. An individual discovers that behaviour which is 'correct' to one group is 'wrong' to another group. S/he falls in a condition of anomie. Social disorganisation has taken place because of this heterogeneity of norms on the ground that uniform and consistent social organisation has disappeared or is disappearing.

Competition, mobility and cultural conflict are three components of the process with which social organisation of modern cities has developed. Obvious concomitant of these processes is an individualistic ideology, which is logically and intellectually may turn a bit criminalistic when a premium has been placed both on committing crime and on refraining from it. In such differential social organisation of a city the crime rate is relatively high.

Economic and political individualism is not a positive ideology for a sound social organisation. It creates selfish interests among the people and disregards social welfare and solidarity. Industrial revolutions have created ambition for luxurious life and materialistic culture has set everyone to pursue money. In a modern urban society poverty is considered a disgrace and simple life is no longer satisfying. Wealth is the symbol of prestige and status; easy money has made the social organisation unstable, which augments the frequency of crime in urban areas.

In earlier societies people and obtaining conditions were controlled by some social practices, namely, large family, religion, social values and homogeneous culture. Because of mobility the large family and homogeneous neighbourhood which had been the principal agents of social control, disintegrated. They are replaced by small families, consisting of parents and children and by a neighbourhood where the mores are no longer so homogeneous. Now the individuals are detached from one another and the behaviour of one person is a matter of relative indifference to other persons. The role of religion and social values have been marginalised. Cumulative result of all these conditions is the high rate of criminality in urban areas.

Between the recently filled Dhulai Khal and Buriganga river Dhaka city started its journey sometime before seventeenth century. The present Dhaka city was first formally established in 1610 as the capital of Subah Bangalah. In 1905 because of the partition of Bengal, Dhaka was made the capital of new province East Bengal. As capital of East Pakistan, Dhaka experienced rapid expansion after 1947. But it recorded titanic growth as capital of an independent country, Bangladesh. Mughals selected Dhaka as the capital of Bengal because it was surrounded by a ring of rivers and was protected against any possible enemy attacks. Being at the centre of a productive agricultural area and good communication with the hinterland through its rivers made Dhaka city convenient location for trade and commerce.

Professor Nazrul Islam in his recent book, "Dhaka Now: Contemporary Urban Development", has pointed out that Dhaka city has been developing at a faster rate than other cities of South Asian region. In 1985 United Nations assessed Dhaka city as the 31st largest city in the world. Because of its speedy expansion it has already become the eleventh largest mega-city in 2000. It will be the sixth most populous city by 2010 and the second largest mega-city in 2015.

By all functional and socio-economic indicators Dhaka occupies urban hierarchy. Administrative functions and employments, educational, cultural and political activities, financial and banking services, international commerce and business services -- all are largely concentrated in Dhaka. Development of Dhaka city is not the result of urbanisation, rather mitigating cause of the rural people. Poverty, periodic famine, river erosion compel hundreds of thousands rural people to migrate to Dhaka city. Now this city has been characterised by high level of illiteracy, low level of energy consumption, huge traffic jam and environmental pollution. Being a poorly managed city, Dhaka now stands as one of the least developed mega-cities in the world.

Crime and violence
New phenomenon of crime and violence of Dhaka city is that more than half of the crimes are committed by the juvenile delinquents, their age ranging from 12 to 20. Everyday there happens one incident of killing, sometimes the frequency is less. Every month 5-6 persons are kidnapped for ransom. There happens about 12 incidents of hijackings everyday. Moreover another 35 to 40 different types of crimes are committed in Dhaka city everyday. (Daily Bhorer Kagoj, 03.04.2002)

Seventeen per cent out of the total crimes in the whole country are committed in Dhaka city. For every 1000 persons 8 crimes had been committed from 1990 to 2001 in the whole country. But the number of crimes committed in Dhaka city 18 per 1000. And there has been an increasing trend. In 1990 crimes were committed in Dhaka city at a rate 5.1, in 2002 it increased to 8.9. An article published in the Detective, the official publication of the Police Department, has revealed all these information. (The Daily Janakantha, 12.01.2003)

There are 80 crime syndicates in the whole country out of which 28 are operating in Dhaka city. Usually they use small arms. There are 2 lac such small arms in the whole of Bangladesh out of which 50 thousand are in the hands of the crime syndicates. Voluntary organisation South Asian Partnership (SAP) revealed this information. The situation has turned grave because of the use of small arms, availability of arms and political patronisation of terrorists. The deplorable situation is that Bangladesh is being utilised as a transit point in the trafficking of illegal arms. All these 80 syndicates are alleged to be somehow patronised by political parties. They allegedly control the committal of the criminal activities. Getting pat from these syndicates criminals are committing crimes all over the country. Criminals at the lower level are arrested sometimes, but high profile members of the syndicates and godfathers remain beyond the reach of the police and criminal justice system. (The Daily Sangbad, 03.12.2003)

Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, invoked the term “anomie” in his book “The Division of Labour in Society”, published in 1893. When any deregulation occurs in any society, that condition is depicted as anomie. In such a condition the rules, according to which people behave with each other, have broken down and people do not know what to expect from one another. Anomie may be defined as a situation where norms are confused, unclear and not present. Simply it is normlessness, which leads to deviant behaviour. Durkheim delineates the transformation of a simple and non-specialised 'mechanical' society into highly complex and specialised 'organic' society. 'Mechanical' society is characterised by likeness of thought and behaviour. They think and behave alike and do the same works and pursue similar social goals. When society becomes organic, people are divided into different professional groups, social bonds become impersonal, people live a life of anonymity.

By anomie Durkheim means the breakdown of social norms where those no longer control the activities of the societal members. “Individuals cannot find their place in society without clear rules to help guide them. Changing conditions as well as adjustment of life leads to dissatisfaction, conflict and deviance. Durkheim observed that social periods of disruption brought about greater anomie and higher rates of crime, suicide, and deviance.”

Is it possible to explain present situation of Dhaka city in terms of the anomie theory propounded by Durkheim? Have the rules regulating the behaviour of the people of Dhaka city totally broken down? Has total normlessness occurred in Dhaka city? How can we explain high rate of crime and deviance in Dhaka city? Anomie situation has not totally devoured the urban life of Dhaka, rather the situation of Dhaka can be termed as “anomie-like”. Normlessness has not totally occupied the social life of Dhaka, but the norms are confused and unclear.

If everything is all right, why no one in Dhaka city is secured? Social disorganisation, together with 'anomie-like' situation, may be the cause of high degree of insecurity, crime and deviance. Derogation of norms and values has taken strong hold among the young generation of Dhaka city. Many of the people have been confronting with erosion of values and bad impact of pornography and satellite culture. Cont...

The concluding part of the write up will be published on April 08, 2006

The author is an Assistant Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka.


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