In the past few years, Bangladesh has seen an increase in mob violence, resulting in 12 deaths on an average each month.
Lack of trust in law enforcement agencies and a weak criminal justice system are cited as the reasons for people taking law into their own hands and publicly lynching those involved or suspected in crimes like robbery or child lifting.
In most cases, innocent people fall victim to thoughtless mob attacks as callous participants never verify the allegations or listen to the appeals of the prey.
Studies conducted by the human rights organisation “Odhikar” and Centre for Media Research and Studies show that an alarming number of 650 people have been killed in mob violence, during the last four and half years, averaging in 12 deaths per month.
Of them, 127 people were killed in 2009, 174 in 2010, 161 in 2011, 126 in 2012 and 61 in the first six months of the current year.
In the most recent example of mob violence, three persons, suspected of being involved in a robbery were killed at Kapasia upazila, Gazipur on July 12.
The mob violence is not justified at all times and in some instances, the violence is allegedly used as a smokescreen to settle past scores. For example, on May 16 this year, three youths all from Rangpur were beaten to death at Yarpur’s Diakhali area in Ashulia, for alleged armed robbery.
Bakul Mia, uncle of one of the victims, Sumon, told the Ashulia police that his nephew was working at a garment factory in the area and his murder was pre-mediated.
However, Badrul Alam, officer-in-charge of Ashulia police station justified the mob violence and told the Dhaka Tribune: “Those three youths were dacoits and were killed by a mob.”
Sometimes innocent young people fall victim to the senseless mob violence, like the six students who were beaten to death and another one injured by a mob in Bardeshi village, Aminbazar, Savar on July 18, 2011. During the course of investigations, it was learnt that all of them were college students and one of them was a merit student.
According to observers, the rising incidence of mob violence is due to the fact that at times, it seems to be the only way for people to vent their frustrations.
When the Dhaka Tribune asked the common people as to why they chose violence over peaceful protests, 95% of them said the authorities concerned did not respond to peaceful demonstrations.
Prof Dr Azizul Islam of Dhaka University’s psychology department, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Peaceful protests are usually ignored in this country. Those who participate in street violence know that there is hardly any scope for them to get justice. So their vengeance comes out in a different form.”
He added: “Smashing the window of a car is not a reflection of social breakdown, but a symptom of social breakdown.” Prof Aziz stressed that change should be brought about with a push towards an “equal and just society.” Otherwise, he added, social inequality would continue to grow, and so would social disorder.
“With waves of protests sweeping the globe over voting rights, labour disputes and discontent with economic trends, Bangladesh is hardly immune to them,” experts said.
Advocate Alina Khan, executive director of the Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights, told the Dhaka Tribune that mob violence was the outcome of the dismal state of the law and order situation in the country. The authorities concerned need to tackle the situation through proper initiatives, she added.
People are taking law into their hands, which shows their lack of confidence in the country’s administration and judicial system, said Secretary Adilur Rahman of “Odhikar”. It was regrettable that extra-judicial killings had become a norm in our society, he said.
Hassan Mahmood Khandker, inspector general of police (IGP), said: “Mob violence does not mean that there is no law and order in the country.” He added that perpetrators of road rage seemed to have forgotten that harming innocent people was also injustice.
“What we need is awareness among the general people about the evils of such incidents,” he said.
Prof Borhanuddin Khan of the Department of Law, University of Dhaka, told the Dhaka Tribune: “It is a question of mental attitude and we need to create awareness among the general people.”