Have law and political accountability been rendered meaningless?
Mohammad Shahed and Dr Sabrina Arif Chowdhury are symptomatic of the deep malaise abroad in the land. They are a mirror image of the social destitution we have been reduced to in this country. Both these individuals are, of course, to be taken to task for all the wrong they have committed.
These two individuals have been accused of handing out, like peanuts, false certificates relating to diagnoses of the coronavirus malady in citizens. Step a little ahead, to wonder how such acts have once again laid us low before the world beyond our frontiers. When not one but two aircraft flying in Bengalis from Dhaka to Rome are compelled to go back home with that human load, because the Italian authorities are not persuaded that the Covid-19 positive testimonials they carry are genuine, we feel the shame deeply in our souls.
We are reminded by those who believe they know better than everyone else that the image of the country must not be tampered with. Of course, we understand them and agree with them. But there is the larger truth, which is that the image battering is not what the common, simple, hard-working citizens of Bangladesh have been doing.
Think of the humble, ageing freedom fighters eking out a bare existence in the hamlets and villages of this land. They did not go to war for a section of our unscrupulous businessmen to hoodwink foreign buyers with crates of nails-laden prawns and lobsters and then be caught abroad. And yet, that is the dark truth. That is the image, a process that has been pushed deeper into the mud over the years.
Rare is the instance of a country that has one of its lawmakers in a foreign prison. There is no Paplu in our neighbourhood or anywhere else for that matter. It does not make us happy that he is in a Kuwaiti jail. It makes us terribly embarrassed knowing that in a foreign territory he dished out bribes to some of the powerful men in Kuwaiti politics and government.
There are all the Paplus who have consistently thrust us into shame, at home and abroad. And how do we expect the government or those who gave him that seat in the Jatiyo Sangsad to defend him, to bring him home? It is, ladies and gentlemen, once more that national image issue. It is getting battered all the time.
There are the money launderers. There are all the powerful and therefore the influential who have cheerfully siphoned off money abroad, have bought homes in foreign land with resources that belonged to the state. Have any initiatives been taken to question these people? Have any attempts been made to bring all their ill-gotten money home?
The Indians have done it. Why didn’t we? Why couldn’t we? Money which belongs to the state is pilfered from the Federal Reserve in New York. Much noise is made for weeks and months; a report is prepared and yet no one knows the details which fill its pages. No one has been brought to justice. The crisis, for the powers that be, has blown over. Ah, but it has not. It has merely been pushed under the rug.
And we keep reminding ourselves that the image of the country must not be tampered with. When a bunch of fanatics, in clear defiance of God and faith, exhume in sheer barbarity the corpse of a three-day-old baby from its grave, all because its parents are Ahmadiyyas, it is the country which pays a price, at home and beyond its frontiers.
Image gets to have fresh new scratches -- and they are red and swollen -- and we lower our heads in shame. When two siblings, having shot at and beaten up some bank officials, are permitted to fly out of the country with the full cooperation of all those powerful men at the airport and perhaps outside it, there is little that we can do to preserve our collective image as a nation. The image is not restored when the law enforcers detain the vehicle of the siblings, for the vehicle did not engage in criminality. Its owners did. You don’t arrest the gun from which the bullets fly. You go after the man who pulls the trigger.
Our poor workers perish in tragic circumstances abroad. They are confined in fearsome locations in the Middle East, through the connivance of brokers in Tripoli and Dhaka. Their poor, struggling families in the villages of this country must cough up the ransom demanded for the release of their sons and brothers and husbands.
A good number of those hapless workers are done to death. And what do we do about ensuring that their killers are apprehended and brought to justice? Has there ever been a time when we have demanded that the Saudi authorities punish their priapic men who have with regularity raped the Bengali women working for their families? These women, molested and subjected to cigarette burns and outright physical violence, have come back home wailing. No one appears to have spoken up for them in Riyadh.
The image of Bangladesh does not get a boost when men behind shares scams are not prosecuted. The image is laid low when a casino scandal is exposed and then is conveniently pushed aside. When journalists are slapped with draconian laws for reporting what they see are put in handcuffs and frog-marched to incarceration, it is not a charming picture.
The national image is bruised when those whose questionable doings have been reported by the media remain beyond the periphery of inquiry and investigation and therefore beyond the pale of the law.
Mohammad Shahed has only followed in the footsteps of those who observed the benefits of corruption, who saw that such corruption was good, and that they could mine the gold it held and get away with it, no questions asked.
Impunity does grave damage to society and politics. It renders meaningless law and political accountability. No one committing crime will escape the law. It is an exhortation that has turned into a cliché. Shall we sit down to compile a list of all the men and women who have turned to dishonesty and crime as a way of life, have nurtured it and celebrated it as an article of faith, the law not touching them at all?
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.