Mark Twain once famously said that truth is stranger than fiction. Truth’s ability to outperform fiction is limitless, not just in terms of strangeness, but also in the most outrageous, disgusting and horrifying way conceivable. Just imagine: in Greek mythology, Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks, kills his daughter Iphigenia to remove barriers put in their way by the goddess Artemis. Agamemnon angered the goddess by accidentally killing a deer in a sacred grove. And so, to appease her so that she allows the Greek fleet to sail to Troy, he is advised to sacrifice his daughter, which he does. In real life, however, some among us have taken this macabre practice to a level that there is even a term for that now: “filicide.” And it happens not just under compulsion—like in the case of Agamemnon—but often purposely and remorselessly, without any celestial provocation.
The story of Tuhin Miah is one such case that horrifies us about truth’s alarming potential and about what human beings, stripped of senses that separate us from beasts, are capable of doing. Tuhin, a child of only five, was brutally murdered on October 14, not far from his home at the Kejaura village of Derai Upazila in Sunamganj. The way he was killed—an image of his lifeless body hanging from a tree surfaced on the internet—was so shocking that it would take a herculean effort for anyone to see the picture for more than two seconds. The following day, a report by The Daily Star thus described the image: “Feet several inches above the ground. Both ears cut off, throat slit, genital cut off and two knives pierced deep inside the abdomen.”
But the worst news was yet to come: Tuhin was killed by none other than his father, who was assisted in this despicable act by his uncle and cousin. It’s hard to process information like this as it challenges our notions of family, love and the much-idolised relationship between parents and children. Subsequent newspaper reports (as well as confessional statements given by the accused) provided a context for the gruesome murder: Tuhin was apparently killed by his family to frame their rivals in a land dispute case. He was slaughtered like a duck in a game of the grownups, by the very people who were supposed to protect him, who he had loved and trusted.
Cases like this make us wonder about the fundamental nature of human beings. But there is also a backstory to these cases which threatens to blow the lid off a country struggling to face up to its many challenges and to narrow the gap between appearance and reality: it’s about two Bangladeshes, living side by side. In one, you have a soaring GDP, a robust economy, an achiever par excellence in various social indicators, a pioneer in poverty alleviation and primary education, a defender of human rights. This is the Bangladesh that you’re told about. This is the Bangladesh that exists as far as the official story goes.
The other Bangladesh—the one you’re not told about—lurks somewhere behind these glossy images of success and abundance. It comes badly dressed, poorly fed, and is seething by all accounts. It’s one where the soaring GDP hides the soaring inequalities, and the economy is a crumpled mess, where corruption and nepotism are rampant, where human rights are not necessarily inalienable, where women are raped every day and young girls drop out of school as often as they are enrolled, where democracy and dictatorship are cut from the same cloth.
Stories that emerge from this Other Bangladesh are a chilling reminder of how far we have gone off our once-cherished visions—our vision for justice, for fairness, for empathy, for enlightenment, for creating a caring society. These stories disturb us. They give us sleepless nights. They also speak of a society going through a rapid, chaotic transformation in which people are growing more individualistic, self-centred, and desperate. Tuhin’s murder should be seen from the prism of that societal background. It is not an isolated incident, nor a one-off freak accident. It is the inevitable outcome of our collective “derailment” as a society, our failure to read the signs of moral decadence that are fast spreading across the board, sometimes with devastating consequences. In other words, it lends credence to fears about the increasingly dehumanised side of our society.
Around the time Tuhin was killed, there was another news of a 55-year-old man who was arrested for raping four children. The children were aged between five and nine—all of the same age as, or slightly older than, Tuhin. According to the rights body, Ain o Salish Kendra, at least 1,644 children faced violence between January and September this year, and 182 of them were murdered. A great number of children today are working when they are supposed to study, looking after their family when they are supposed to be looked after, living under the open sky when they are supposed to be sheltered, being harassed or killed when they are supposed to be protected. The tragedy is, rarely do these incidents end with convictions, thanks to shoddy investigations, questionable trials, and so on.
It is the continuation of this situation—and the resulting climate of impunity—that emboldens the criminals, be it relatives like Tuhin’s or random people taking advantage of the vulnerability of the children. As the psychologists say, children are targeted as criminals find them to be easy prey. In some cases, children become victims of attacks carried out to punish their adult family members. Also, increasingly, because of the many challenges that growing up in today’s complex world entails, a large number of children are showing suicidal tendencies, or getting involved with criminal gangs.
All these illustrate the need for an urgent intervention in the way children are growing up—and in the way we treat them as a society, and in private spheres. Our society needs a fix, and it requires a deeper introspection on our part about our own culpability and responsibility to make it work for all of us, especially for children and other weaker members of the society.
Badiuzzaman Bay is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org