Culture of Impunity

 Published in: The Daily Star on November 11, 2015

Three days ago, in the heart of Madrid, while trying to get to the next street, I was stopped. There were at least twenty thousand people, mostly women protesting against violence against women. They marched, staged demonstrations and blocked streets. Sure, traffic was disrupted and people suffered inconveniences.

According to European Union, 13 million women suffered physical violence in Europe in 2013. So, people had gathered in the heart of the capital of Spain, crowded the busiest city centre spot in Sol and sent out a clear message to the world: Stop Violence. While I wondered if these protesters belonged to any association, union, or political party, I was pleasantly surprised to learn from a local that these were regular women who came from all ranks of the society and were not only from Madrid. Many had flown in from Balearic and Canary islands.

So this got me thinking. Maybe, just maybe, we protest a bit too less. Apart from Gonojagoron Moncho, and the students protesting on the streets against the imposition of VAT on their tuition fees, I cannot recall a single incident in recent times where a couple of thousand of women like us have left our homes to silently demonstrate against a crime. I often joke about the television camera crew taking shots from the bottom at a particular angle, which camouflages the real situation of a thin attendance. While headshots reveal the true picture, shots from below conceal reality. Somehow with every murder, every crime, only a few go out on the streets. Somehow there just aren’t enough within us to say ‘No’ to what goes unpardonably wrong in society. Why, though?

The latest breaking news of a Bangladeshi court swiftly handing four men the death sentence over brutally killing 13-year-old Samiul Alam Rajon in the North Eastern city of Sylhet ushered in some public satisfaction. That two other men were also ordered to hang for the separate torture and murder of another 13-year-old, Rakib, whose body was pumped with air by the owner of a garage less than a month after Rajon’s case, was also great news. But do notice that there is a pattern of criminals being apprehended. Few get caught, few escape, and few are allowed to evade arrest. 17-year-old Riyad Hossain was shot and killed by the owner of the Motijheel restaurant owner, Ariful Islam Sohel, on October 29 this year and he is still missing. Riyad was beaten and kept in bondage for three days and then finally shot to death. Police are yet to get him. Why, though?

On April 13 this year, the son of a powerful lawmaker, in a drunken stupor, indiscriminately opened fire from his car near Dilu Road leaving rickshaw-puller Abdul Hakim and daily Janakantha’s auto-rickshaw driver Yakub injured. The police pressed murder charges against Bakhtiar Alam Rony in a case filed over killing two people on the street, as there were a total of 37 people who were made prosecution witness in the case, which led to the Dhaka court finally taking cognizance of the double murder on August 14 of this year. That was heartening. But while the case takes time, one wonders if time favours the powerful and if the minute hands of the clocks run slower in the cases of people with deeper pockets. The Sagar-Runi murder case has still not seen the light of justice. Every year on February 11, a few journalists hold rallies and protest, yet to no avail. Why, though?

Also in October, a teenager had posted “My life is > yours” as his social media status in an app called Snapchat. The app allows users to post pictures and express their feelings of the moments. At that particular moment, the sixteen-year-old boy had felt over-entitled about his life and had also felt that those around him mattered less. A picture of a bottle of whisky resting on the steering wheels was posted. The minor was drinking, driving, taking selfies and using social media to brag. In a spot at Road 74 of Gulshan, the boy apparently hit three people: a woman, a Grameen bank official and a rickshaw puller. The police rushed to the spot, picked the boy up and handed him over to his family, but was kind to confirm that they had found alcohol in the SUV. No cases were filed. Why, though?

Most of the time, societies mirror each other and social trends are often the same. A blatant example of “showing off” is Richkidsoftehran, on the photo-sharing service Instagram, which attracted almost 100,000 followers, with its users saying they wanted to break away from the stereotypes perceived in the West. Ferraris, Maseratis, luxury watches, expensive residences were all photographed and put up on social media. That is when print media stepped in. Hafte-Sobh newspaper wrote about ‘a class of young people who stubbornly and with the backup of their wealth’ were recklessly having fun and the Iranian system could not ‘touch them.’ Taadol newspaper scorned ‘a class of nouveau riche who cropped up like mushrooms’ and became all powerful during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’ s presidency between 2005 and 2013.

Most of the time, the definition of the classes controlling power changes. For example, in the 1990s, a few business tycoons took advantage of their relationship with Boris Yeltsin’s Kremlin by reaping the benefits of privatising its vast oil wealth. They were the same ones who bankrolled Yeltsin’s re-election as president in 1996, controlled ministers and redefined government policy. Following that phase, oligarchy continues in Russia with Putin curtailing the power of other Yeltsin-era tycoons, by raising new groups of businessmen having deep ties with the old Soviet security services. One of them is Igor Sechin, head of Russia’s largest oil company, and is undeniably the second-most powerful man after Putin.

In today’s global system, coverage stems from self-glorification and instead of being photographed, one can easily take a “selfie”, instead of being published, one can easily publish blogs, instead of being televised, one has YouTube channels to sing one’s own glories, instead of being elected many autocrats rule without elections for years. This is how globally we are breeding monsters within ourselves. Aided by the growing disparity of wealth, many of us have just stopped being accountable to our own conscience and helped by the occasional lapses in the system, many are covering their tracks and protecting their sins with power and pride.

Taking lessons from history most certainly helps. References to contemporary mistakes perhaps may lead to a few quick corrections. Therefore, it is crucial to examine the culture of impunity in our own country and check why there are fewer voices to protest and why our patterns of violence and crime are almost becoming textbook examples. It is also worth being critical of many amongst ourselves who might have become beneficiaries of the system and have stopped being who we once were.