The Banani incident has, on the one hand, exposed a decadent urban youth culture stemming from the rise of a hedonistic ideology, but on the other, this has opened up discussions about several social issues that may not have been discussed at length.
With the accused of the alleged Banani rape already in custody, information about the lives of these young men and how much money they got from their families to spend for their entertainment has come up.
One report claims that the son of the jeweler, now in custody, used to get Tk2 lakh every day and, when he needed more, he simply called one of the eight jewelry shops in town.
I am not sure if this is true or not, but my immediate instinct tells me that perhaps the stated amount is deliberately exaggerated to present the accused person as a profligate.
Whatever the case, and whether it’s two lakh or much lower, we can be certain that, in this city, a lot of young people get astronomical amounts of money from parents as regular expenses.
Not taking luxuries for granted
Reports of parties at swanky restaurants, spending freely on alcohol, drugs, and other luxuries, state unequivocally that many young people have plenty of cash to spend on fun.
If going out for coffee at an upmarket fast food place with a few buddies is deemed very normal behaviour, now then let me tell you that, once upon a time, most urban families in Dhaka and other cities were so hard up that the notion of young people hanging out at a fast food place, just as a regular habit, was unthinkable.
Not that I am denouncing the economic growth plus the improvement of socio-economic conditions, but what I am trying to point out is that, in the 80s, young people never took any added pleasure for granted.
Just to give you an in-depth idea: We were students at St Joseph High School and, at that time, the monthly school fees, Tk140 if I recall correctly, was often regarded as “very high” by many.
Obviously, students realised, vis-a-vis the austere socio-economic conditions, that since their parents were spending so much, they had a duty to try their best academically.
In the mid-80s, trainers became a must have fashion item, with Nike, Adidas, and Reebok coming to the local market, and I remember, for many students, the main incentive was a pair of Nikes at the end of the year with impressive marks on the report card.
Parents did not hand out something just like that, any desired item had to be won either through academic results or by some other feat.
A watch, usually a black plastic Casio F-10, was the standard gift for a student going for his/her Matric (SSC) exams.
A wealthy father is most welcome to give a BMW to his son or daughter but maybe the car should be earned and not given away just because there is enough to spend
When someone went to college, the present from relatives inevitably was a Wing Sung fountain pen or, in special cases, a Phoenix (mispronounced Fonix) bicycle.
All throughout the 80s, Dhaka and all major cities had a very homogeneous middle class, and almost all families had similar income and expenditure patterns. New clothes were bought only during Eid, families went out to a Chinese restaurant twice a year, holiday meant going to the village, and youthful transgressions meant stealing mangoes from someone’s garden, setting off fire-crackers, reading a frayed adult magazine in the toilet, or playing truant to head to the movies.
From austerity to excessive spending to dark pleasures
The trend to spend freely came with a transforming social scenario and a booming economy. Interestingly, many families which lived through privations and hardship in the 70s and 80s prospered and were often heard to state: “Since we had to live through so much belt tightening, we will make the lives of our children filled with comfort.”
I am, perhaps, not wrong in stating that this permissive attitude has had severe repercussions.
The relaxed mood towards pocket money which started in the mid-90s with possibly a few hundred taka, morphed into stupendous amounts, ending in a situation where we now see an invisible competition among well-heeled parents to give the best of the best to their children.
This means increasing the pocket money to pander to any whim.
With plenty of money in hand, the lure of the forbidden is too much.
The lax attitude of parents is buttressed by the erroneous belief that if young people dabble in some illegal substance, it’s just a passing phase.
As a journalist, I once visited rehabilitation centres around town and found that, in most places, young people from wealthy backgrounds with addiction problems were the main headaches for counselors, because reportedly, they regularly raised a pandemonium over the quality of food, lack of domestic help, and other everyday luxuries.
“These young people from affluent backgrounds are the most difficult to cure because when they make complaints to their guardians about the hardships at the centre, the parents take them away, eventually giving the youngsters more liberty to slide into the abyss,” commented a seasoned rehab counselor.
Luxuries with a little responsibility
I am not against giving the young the perks of the age but there has to be some restriction and monitoring.
A wealthy father is most welcome to give a BMW to his son or daughter but maybe the car should be earned and not given away just because there is enough to spend.
Also, some parental guidance is needed, some words of moral responsibility.
Let’s hope the recent Banani episode will act as a wake-up call for other guardians who are trying to dismiss the errant behaviour of their children as youthful mischief.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.