Around 4pm on October 12, an SUV driven by a teenager who was racing with another vehicle injured four people when it ran into two rickshaws. The driver, 16, was the son of prominent businessman HBM Zahidur Rahman and the director of Premier Bank Shaila Shelly Khan.
Most significantly, he is the nephew of former ruling party MP HBM Iqbal. Due to the child being a minor, the Dhaka Tribune and some other media sources have refrained from publishing his name.
The police has, as of yet, not filed a case against the child, saying none of the victims have come forward to do so. They were advised against it because they were poor and needed the money and could not afford a legal battle. However, the police reported that there were several bottles of alcohol inside the SUV, claiming the accident was a result of drunk driving.
But I do not wish to spend too many of my words detailing what had happened, though that is required to get a full understanding of the issue. For example, the family tried to sweep the incident under the rug, claiming it was nothing more than a brake failure, which it obviously wasn’t.
But, more importantly, social media and the general public latched on to the kid’s shoulders, ostensibly blaming him for what had happened. #RichKidsofDhaka and #ClassyKidsofDhaka started to trend, as is the norm for the armchair hashtag activism generation that I, too, am indubitably a part of, and who, funnily enough, probably live almost similarly cushy lives.
Also started to spread was an Instagram picture he had posted, apparently hours before the accident. It featured a bottle of Chivas Regal on his steering wheel with the caption “My life>Your life.” The universe’s sense of irony was not amiss.
This motto, which he had used, no doubt, to show that he was living a better life than most of us, has since then become the rallying cry for the social pike on which his metaphorical head now rests. If you have enough money and powerful friends (or family members, in this case), you can get away with murder.
There is little question that what happened was a tragedy. Because of the blatant, insolent behaviour of a teenager, four people are now in a hospital. Ensuing reports have claimed that the family members were awarded a measly Tk15,000 as compensation. The police were probably paid off for a lot more than that.
But (yes, there is a but), should the child in question, the one driving the car, really be the one who should be hung out to dry? Aren’t the bigger culprits in this debacle the parents, and the culture we have of kissing the hands of the richest and the most powerful, a culture that revels in excess?
What did he know, a mere teenager, barely having lived any of his adolescent life, and not yet into adulthood? The burden of responsibility, though it can be hoped, cannot be expected to reside on the shoulders of a child in his mid-teens. The blame undoubtedly lies with the parents of a spoilt brat who had bitten off way more than he could chew.
Why did a kid have an SUV all to himself? Secondly, why was he getting enough money to be able to afford not just one, but multiple bottles of alcohol on a regular basis, which we all know are so expensive as to render them unaffordable even for foreigners?
The blame also lies on the culture of impunity we have running as an undercurrent in our daily lives, especially for the rich and the powerful. In a less dramatic form, on the roads we see the dandawala cars of ministers and apparent “VIPs” driving however they wish, even when the VIP in question is not even inside the vehicle itself, and being given preferential treatment while we stand for hours on end at the back of queues.
And then there’s this: Politicians and businesspeople and their sons and daughters treat the city as their playground because they know, for a fact, that their regal presence will not grace the inside of a jail cell or be subjected to any other form of punishment even for a day. And this kid too will run off scot-free, if not here then somewhere in the first world, taking a page from the book of the sons of our ever-so-prominent leaders (though the perpetrator in question has so far been prevented from escaping).
This accident is merely a microcosm of everything that we as citizens have to put up with on a regular basis, our voices oppressed by the weight of money and stolen power. What are these incidents, if not just collateral damage in a massive game of monopoly? And what was this unnameable spoilt child, if not a mere pawn soon to be replaced?