Holy month or not, the unscrupulous always find a way
Ramadan is the month of abstinence, moderation, soul-searching, and self-purification. However, as we come down to the harsh, shrewd world, this is also the time when swindlers and con-artists will be all over, trying to take advantage of the gullible and the trusting.
Just at the beginning of Ramadan, the young guy who cooks for me was made a victim of a cleverly laid-out con. A devout man, he went out to pray in the morning during fazr and, afterwards, was walking to catch the early morning air.
Suddenly, an elderly person, accompanied by a young woman, approached him and wanted to go to a toilet since the mosque washroom was dark and the commode low.
The young man had no suspicion since the bearded man who had just come out of the mosque after praying seemed anything but menacing. So, he unlocked the gate and let them in. Next thing he recalls is lying on the floor with several people pouring water on his head, myself included.
Oggan Party -- a group which uses a substance to render victims unconscious and take away money, phones, and other items -- is nothing new, but with time, their methods of operation have undergone massive change. As for my unlucky cook, the common understanding of the general people is that “something was put before the nose” and inhaling the smell did the act. In the case of my caretaker, his phone, cash and a ring were stolen. For two days, he was in a daze, looking more like a jilted lover, bereft of any sense.
Beware of the lady in burqa
In a Muslim country, a woman in a burqa is always respected since most of us are programmed to believe that anyone seemingly religious must be devout and, therefore, won’t have any association with something immoral. Unfortunately, this pre-conceived notion is flawed because burqa-clad con artists are in operation across the capital and in major towns.
About a month ago, a young salesperson passing through Jigatola in the evening noticed a distressed woman in a burqa but without the face covering. The woman’s clothes and her appearance seemed to show that she was from a middle-class background which drove the young man to go and talk to her.
The lady was facing an emergency and needed some cash immediately to pay to have a dead body of a relative released from the hospital. The man should have asked the name of the hospital or the cause of death but did not simply because the woman in question was attractive.
Eager to help, he offered to encash money kept in his bkash account. As soon as the money was paid, the man was surrounded by five burly looking men, one of whom was accusing the man of trying to elope with his wife.
The young man was naturally baffled and as the woman in question broke into tears, asking forgiveness in a loud voice to one of the five men in the group, the conned sales guy was left stunned.
You must be wondering, what others on the road were doing, right?
Well, imagine the scenario: A young man surrounded by five people, a woman crying loudly asking to be forgiven and accusations of wife stealing made in a loud voice. Would you step in to ask or investigate? Thankfully, while the hapless salesman was being taken away by the group, the police came to the scene and rescued him. The woman and the group scarpered. Another type of con is again carried out by embarrassing people in front of others. Sorry to say, this also includes con groups with women working to entice victims.
In this sort of con, a woman may walk into a building asking someone to use the washroom -- an innocent request which many may honour. The actual problem starts when the woman comes out of the toilet and demands money. Otherwise, she will raise a pandemonium and say that she was brought into the house/apartment for pleasure and was not paid.
Obviously, in a situation where a woman is screaming, the public will, at least initially, support the woman who appears to have been mistreated. When the woman starts to scream, her male cohorts will instantly rush in as if to save her and drown out the protests of the victim by raising an uproar. Others, not knowing what is afoot, will join in for the hell of it. By the time the con is discovered, the reputation of the man in question is already in tatters or he has endured quite a beating.
The down-er side
In a megacity like ours, for every fraudulent dealings, there’s at least one genuine case where someone is urgently in need of help. Obviously, when so many women in burqa are involved in crime, all of us become extra cautious and in the end, the Good Samaritan is overtaken by the shrewd conman. Take my caretaker or the salesperson whom I mentioned. Will they ever trust anyone on the road?
I doubt it.
Swindlers and fraudsters are not major criminals since they do not kill anyone or cause any major disruption, but they cause irreparable damage to society by making all of us suspicious of everything. The common trust is irrevocably eroded.
Consequently, genuine victims who often need a helping hand in an emergency, do not get it. The other message of the involvement of so many women in fraud indicates that men and women both are now equally involved in criminal activity.
They have unceremoniously swept aside the scruples which people link with Ramadan for a fast profit. In a predatory society, we need to be extra cautious.
A sweet voice on the phone, offering discounts and plenty of other mouthwatering benefits? Don’t rush in -- use your gut instinct.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor for Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.