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How to not do humanity

  • Published at 06:04 pm July 1st, 2019
Complicit through inaction?

Murder by any other name is still murder

It’s a trend that, after someone is hacked to death, social media gets all syrupy with utmost disillusionment. We protest against injustice, we demand that officials take action so that no one ever faces the same horror, so that precious lives aren’t lost again. 

But even these widespread outcries, at this moment, are disconcerting. It feels like the citizens of Bangladesh are fooling themselves in thinking that someone would’ve actually done something to stop such brutal killings. 

Expecting that sort of humanity musters an idealistic illusion, because, in the real world, one case after another, people apathetically watch; they outrageously videotape the heinous crimes that cut lives short.

Now that Rifat’s murder in Barguna is gaining traction, the public has been condemning the vile killers and bystanders, after the video of the appalling attack -- featuring the machetes, the victim’s blood-smeared shirt, and his wife’s desperation -- went viral. 

Defenseless herself, the victim’s wife, Ayesha, tried her best to save her husband, whereas her cries for help from those around, were blatantly ignored; she told journalists: “Not a single person came forward.”

Even if bystander complicity happens far too often to stun us anymore, it’s still significantly vexing to grasp this cruelty that underlines today’s reality. The question is: What explains this pervasive heartlessness?

One could argue that overpopulation and all-consuming life in Bangladesh dilutes one’s moral responsibility, and that results in inaction in such cases. 

It’s the explanation offered in the sociological theory called the “Genovese Syndrome,” in which people don’t offer any help when violence and victimization takes place in front of them. There are certain variables that account for that, including cohesiveness and ambiguity. 

These reasons themselves call on larger issues in this nation -- citizens are increasingly uninformed about what constitutes “proper” conduct, along with the societal scarcity of “guidelines” that tell you what to do when someone is in grave danger in front of your eyes (it’s to call 999, and it’s on the staff to pick up the phone, which in my experience so far, they haven’t).

But as people auspiciously and atrociously videotape murder, it’s not really accurate to call it “inaction.” We live in a community where tormenting human beings to the end of their lives become the next viral video. 

So, it’s not the lack of action that’s the harm, it’s the frequency of “ill actions.” In this digital era, the definition of progress seems to encapsulate the inhumanity stationed in a contemporary fast-paced life.

Yet, if social “development” with increasing accessibility to technology is reflected in circulated snapshots of a man meeting his death, instead of someone calling emergency police force to stop the killing, then that’s backpedalling from any progress whatsoever.

And Rifat’s death isn’t the first time our nation has been scarred with sickening news of murder in broad daylight. We should’ve already started grappling with this problem a long time back, but we’ve furtively brushed it under the rug.

Time traveling to 2012, the murder of 24-year-old tailor Biswajit Das happened under the public view, including reporters, and the media, who took images but shamefully failed to initiate protection for the victim.

In the end, a rickshaw-puller came forward, but it was far too late. And it’s not just high-profile criminal cases that envelop the recurrence of social indifference. It happens every other day when someone is harassed on the streets, and people gather around to consume the first-hand sight of conflict, while many take photos as though it’s an accomplishment to not offer a helping hand.

It happens when a crowd gathers as buildings catch fire, and gapers click still-lifes of the tragedy, in photographing which, they end up recording their own callousness. These incidents unequivocally evince a value-free society -- one that needs to find a moral compass and confront that everything that’s good in the human spirit is in decline.

In expressing shock over the Barguna murder, the High Court has reviled the role of bystanders as “social degradation.” There isn’t a legal obligation for bystanders to come forward, but it might just be time to punish complicity.

What we’re witnessing today is a recession of all the empathy or sympathy there should be in this nation, and in human beings, addressing which requires some form of concerted action. Yet, as we all know, punishment isn’t always the way to enforce good conduct, just as longer sentences don’t curb crime.

To get to the bottom of all these abominable instances, we all need to caution ourselves with the guilt that will follow complicit bystanders for the rest of their lives -- that they could’ve saved a life, but they chose to kill instead. 

Ramisa Rob is a freelance contributor.

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