Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beyond time to say good-bye to vandalism

Published in The Independent, August 19th., 2010
M. Serajul Islam

The tendency by various groups to take law into their hands and vandalise vehicles and private property at will for achieving their demands is spreading dangerously. In such acts, the workers in the garment factories and the students in the universities are behaving in the same way in breaking someone else's property in publicly expressed sadistic acts that do not achieve the desired results for the perpetrators but harm innocent people and in case of the RMG sector, the economy of the country. Acts of violence by the public by taking law into their hands is not an unknown phenomenon in other countries. Sometimes such acts are also accompanied by looting. In countries that have a control over law and order, as majority of the countries have, public vandalism is quelled quickly and the perpetrators and abettors are brought to face the law.

Bangladesh, however, is exceptional in acts of public vandalism for a few reasons. First, such acts in Bangladesh are not motivated by looting and have started historically by active encouragement of the political parties to fight oppressive, undemocratic governments under the principle that end justifies the means. Second, the political parties have encouraged such acts even when governments have been elected democratically. The party that failed to win power in an election placed the elected government on the same footing as an undemocratic government to encourage the public to force it down. The aberrations of extra-constitutional governments only enforced the argument that a government perceived to be in power illegally had to be forced out by any means. In the post-1971 period, public vandalism became more destructive when attack on private cars, buses and other vehicles was added as a strategy to bring the government down by force, both elected and extra constitutional. It is because of the nexus between vandalism and politics that has made it so difficult to tackle this menace in Bangladesh or bring the perpetrators to face the law.

Public vandalism has become a major issue of concern of the government and the country because it is now being carried out in a sector that is extremely important for Bangladesh's economic survival. It is the RMG sector's success that has given Bangladesh the hope that it could eventually make sense to its potentials and bring the country out of its tryst with poverty. Uninterrupted public vandalism in the RMG factories is now threatening not just the RMG sector but the country's economy as well. The pointing of fingers by the AL notwithstanding, the opposition BNP is today also concerned with the growing public vandalism in the RMG sector. Despite there being very good reasons for grievances of the RMG workers over pay that has caused the latest round of vandalism, there is no reason at all for the workers to carry out the rampage as they have over the latest increase in pay. The Government has shown its goodwill to back the RMG workers that has more than doubled their minimum pay to Taka three thousand although it has fallen short of the Taka 5000 they have demanded.

There is an eerie similarity in vandalism carried by the RMG workers and those being carried out by other groups in the country to force the authorities to meet their demands like the students of Chittagong University who vandalised over a slight raise in tuition fees. Hartal activists vandalise property in the same manner. It is difficult to believe that the garment workers or students or any group would be able to carry out such perverse acts on their own in such a destructive and systematic manner as being witnessed in the current public vandalising in Bangladesh. There is often accusation from the government about foreign hands in addition to encouragement from opposition parties in vandalising in the RMG sector. So far nothing has emerged from such finger pointing except unproven accusations. Although the BCL has in recent times taken part in public vandalism in a major way, it would also not be correct to assume that such acts have any political encouragement. In fact, the ruling party has publicly disowned the BCL for such acts.

There is therefore reason to believe that many decades of indulgence given by the political parties to public vandalism has created a cadre of agent provocateurs who have now become "free agents" as they no longer have sponsorship from political parties who are now giving leadership to the current surge of public vandalism wherever the opportunity arises, including the RMG sector.

The media has been responsible for exposing the criminality in public vandalism and its danger to the economy in the context of the RMG sector. The exposure has now convinced the public that there is nothing but perverse criminality in public vandalism forcing the political parties also to see these acts in the same way. The reflection of this is now clear in the stand taken by the Government to deal with public vandalism firmly. The opposition is also is in no mood to back public vandalism anymore knowing that they would only incur public displeasure and wrath for supporting or encouraging it. It is thus now up to the law enforcing agencies to do the rest and end this menace before it takes the nation down. It is beyond time to trace out the agent provocateurs and bring them to face the long arm of the law.

The way to go about tackling this menace should not be difficult, given the fact that the public mood is dead against it and the political parties have distanced themselves from such evil acts. The law enforcing agencies now have to draw the line and deal with public vandalism as essentially a law and order situation of grave national significance. It would be very easy to catch the miscreants, the agent provocateurs, involved these days in public vandalism because of the private TV channels catch them in their cameras while committing their heinous crimes. Once they are caught, they should be put on a fast track for trial and punishment to send an unequivocal message that the government is not going to let such acts of sadism be tolerated anymore. In dealing with these acts, the law should make no difference whether the people involved are garment workers or students and definitely not about their party affiliations, if they have any. The law should treat the perpetrators of public vandalism as criminals of the lowest type because they target, one, people who are innocent and give the perpetrators no reason for their dastardly acts, and second, as is in the case of the RMG sector, threaten the backbone of the country's economy.

(The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt)

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