The evil that men do

Towheed Feroze

Lest we forget, the root of the problem is not the force per se, but the ruthless political hand behind it

  • Has RAB’s original vision become diluted?

In the wake of the recent abductions and murders in Narayanganj, allegations of complicity have been placed against the elite crime-fighting force. Since an investigation is underway, we should not make any definitive comments, though the common observation all around is rather straightforward – RAB was involved.

I was hanging out in the university area soon after the mutilated bodies were recovered from the water, where a student leader, without flinching, said: “This bears all the hallmarks of RAB.” His explanation: When the main person was being taken away, the others were witnesses, and as the plan was to leave no witnesses, the number of killings rose.

These are of course assumptions. However, given the nasty and insidious politicisation of almost all public service departments, there is no reason to state that the elite crime-fighting unit is taint-free.

In fact, there possibly isn’t any department that can claim to own a closet with very few or no skeletons. At the same time, evidence is needed first before assertive claims are made.

A few years ago, working for the British High Commission, I had the opportunity to be present at the RAB headquarters in order to oversee a training offered by the UK government. At that time, without the right information, many media outlets insinuated that RAB was being provided harmful anti-human rights related training by the British. In reality, the trainings were for rescue operations and dealing with emergencies (First Emergency Response), emanating from an insurgency or terrorist related incident.

It is of course true that with the introduction of RAB, the fear of deaths in crossfire has become a major concern. When the force first came to the scene ten years ago, the idea was to implant apprehension among criminals, especially within the unassailable ward-based crime syndicates ruled by gangsters.

From a psychological angle, the whole usage of the “black” colour accompanied by the bandana and the dark glasses was to send a no-nonsense message across. To be just, area-based “mastaani, rongbaji” or gangster culture has seen significant decline in ten years.

Just to corroborate that statement, here’s a contrasting picture of Elephant Road: About a decade ago, this area, falling in ward-52, was a hotbed of gun-violence perpetrated by politically linked goons. Extortion was openly done with SK Group and Sujan Group regularly engaging in open gun battles. In one such incident, innocent people ended up with bullet wounds. No case was lodged in fear of retaliation. Both SK and Sujan were later gunned down as a result of some factional feud, but the interesting thing is, contrary to the common culture where one kingpin falls to allow another to rise, no new terror emerged. Local people attribute this fortunate development to the emergence of RAB.

This is not my own thought. An impartial survey of the residents will reveal their feelings. When SK and Sujan were constantly at each other’s throats, law enforcers were often left as spectators since both these guys openly flaunted their political connections.

In one incident, I was trying to mediate an extortion demand made by one of them from a local businessman who coincidentally went to university with a top political leader. The businessman, believing that he would be able to wriggle out of this unjust demand, called his university pal and asked him to talk to the local goon. Not surprisingly, the senior leader did not discourage the local “mastaan” from taking the money. Instead he simply stopped answering the businessman’s calls.

Petty extortion still happens, though the direct demand for money has become rare. In the Elephant Road area, no group terrorises anymore.

RAB’s main technique is to use fear as a weapon – that much any psychologist will say – and this human emotion has reportedly been wrongfully exploited, creating a distance between the force and the common man. The errant act of shooting Limon Hossain and maiming him in 2011 detracts heavily form the image of the unit.

Not pointing any fingers, my understanding is that over the years, with morality as a whole eroding heavily and politics becoming aggressively crony-culture based, it’s possible that the vision with which RAB began has become somewhat diluted.

Today there is a firm belief among a large number of ordinary people that the law enforcers are colluding with vicious political forces to carry out heinous deeds. Again, lest we forget, the root of the problem is not the force per se, but the ruthless political hand behind it.

As more days pass after the Narayanganj killings, several inner layers are being brought out in the open to pinpoint the actual motive. Is it contention for political authority or is it, as several papers have alleged quoting local people, the fight to control a thriving illegal drug trade? The highly lucrative yaba trade has been mentioned from time to time as being the core issue.

I have a feeling that the investigation, currently underway, will open a can of worms. Of course, firstly, all details need to be revealed and the top masterminds should not be carefully edged out.

Even if members of the elite force are found to be involved, it’s common sense that unless they had political backing, they would not have turned into professional hitmen. The problem is, in emotional outbursts, most of our observations often become one-dimensional, leaving out the crucial aspects like the overall decay of society brought on by legitimisation of a putrid culture where political connections almost inevitably offer some sort of impunity. There is only one solution to this – taking an uncompromising stand against vice, irrespective of party allegiance.

We need to see punishment of top criminals, not just the middle ranking operatives. Disbanding RAB, dismissing officers, strict monitoring of the force – several suggestions have come up but maybe the main component of fear is not in the men wearing black clothes, sporting dark glasses, holding automatic weapons, and sometimes speaking roughly … the devil is perhaps in men wearing plain clothes, who keep hoodwinking society with their pseudo halos and fake solicitous expressions.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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