• Saturday, Dec 07, 2019
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The spectre of the jongi

  • Published at 12:03 am December 2nd, 2019
Holey Artisan ISIS
A harbinger of change? MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

The Holey Artisan incident changed the whole nation

The Holey Artisan tragedy has had a profound impact on Bangladesh, the first being the term “jongi” being propelled into our colloquial diction. Come to think of it, prior to 2016, the word “charampanthi” was used instead, but now jongi seems to be in vogue.

But Holey has also injected a national sense of awareness or caution which has made us all a little more observant or suspicious of activities that may involve people holding radical beliefs. 

Since the attackers of the Holey Artisan stayed in rented homes, the first area where the law enforcers concentrated was the rented apartment culture of the city. 

Safety vs inconvenience

After the Holey Artisan incident, renting in the city, especially in Dhaka, has become … difficult. Don’t get me wrong here, the law enforcers have asked all landlords to be cautious and collect the essential information from prospective tenants, which is a very timely move because, as the city expands and becomes more cosmopolitan, it also attracts swindlers, fraudsters, and con artists.

So, from the angle of keeping a tab on the people living in the city, the rule is perfect. 

At the same time, the police can also investigate further if landlords share information of tenants showing unusual (read: Suspicious and strange) tendencies. 

However, some landlords have decided to stop renting out to bachelors altogether, saving themselves the trouble of having to keep an eye on them.

The victims are countless young people who live and work in Dhaka. The other day, a few young store managers at a well-known fashion outlet were expressing their grievance, saying that they find it very tough to get a flat in the city: “When they hear that eight to ten young people will stay, the landlords lose interest,” said one person. “Bachelors always have had problems finding a place but now it’s even tougher,” others chimed in.

To be honest, this unwillingness to rent out a flat to bachelors goes back decades, to the social belief that young men staying together will inevitably bring some sort of complication, with the insinuation made to “women” related issues. 

Landlords with daughters were totally averse to the idea of renting out to young people, fearing a romantic relation between the daughter and the tenant. 

Such fears were of course fanned by similar themes regularly portrayed in local movies. 

The rise of the lone wolf

In the period after Holey, there have been several drives by law enforcers to root out possible radical pockets or units and the success has been remarkable. As groups, radicals are now emaciated, but lone wolves pose a real threat. Just take the recent London Bridge attack where a known extremist, who was released from prison last year, went on a rampage with a knife.

And, of course, “lone wolf” is yet another term which has made way into our current day vernacular.

Lone militants or mini groups of two to three radicals may try to cause harm, either by posting inflammatory social media messages or by carrying out sporadic attacks on law enforcement. Such events have happened in the last three years. The other worry is about impressionable young minds being proselytized by radical beliefs.

In the much talked about Holey Artisan Bakery attack, seven individuals were recently handed the death sentence by an anti-terror special tribunal. During the trial, 113 people gave testimonies, but the testimony of one teenager was given the most importance by the court.

Indoctrination of young minds

During the drive, Tahrim’s father, Tanvir Kaderi, decided to take his own life. His mother, Khadija, and two other women were arrested. After the arrest, Tahrim gave a sensational account about the background of the Holey attack: Of the 211 witnesses, he was number 39. Tahrim had been at a youth correction centre for eight months and was released on bail in June 2017.

During his testimony at the court, Tahrim said that Tamim Chowdhury, the mastermind of the Holey incident, and others had talked about carrying out a big operation while staying at Tahrim’s home as guests.

On the day of the attack, Saad, Mamun, Umar, and Alif went out with a bag saying to each other: “We will meet in paradise, inshallah!”

Tahrim said that his father, who supported the radicals, told him to pray for the “uncles” so they would be able to carry out the operation without being caught. On the next day, after the commandos stormed the Holey Artisan and took out the militants, Tahrim’s father told him: “Your brothers have become martyrs.”

When parents, guardians, and mentors hold such views, it’s easy for teenage minds to veer towards extreme ideals.

 Law enforcers can prevent radical operations but stopping the militant in the mind will be the biggest challenge. Someone sitting at home, surfing the net, and reading global news can decide to form intolerant views as per his/her own interpretation of events.

One other result of the Holey Artisan incident is the active participation of many religious clerics and maulanas in denouncing violent religious doctrines. At the Friday sermons plus large religious ceremonies, extremism is regularly condemned. 

In the raids against militant hideouts after Holey, the involvement of female militants left us stunned. In our current fight against radicalism, the notion that there can be women “jongi” is vexing but not shocking. 

Most women who were found to be harbouring radical views where indoctrinated mostly by their husbands. Overall, following the Holey Artisan incident, the nation seems to feel the need to stand united in stating that while religion is intertwined with their lives, there’s no place for fanaticism. 

Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.