Development means nothing if there is utter lawlessness all around
It would have been an ordinary event in a country where lawlessness has been the norm. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people lose their valuables every day to snatchers while passing through Dhaka roads. But the ignorant snatcher might not have understood that this time, their target was not an ordinary citizen, but a senior minister of the government.
According to news reports, the planning minister of the longest-surviving and mightiest government in the history of Bangladesh has lost his iPhone to a snatcher while on his way home from his office in the Agargoan area of the capital -- a highly secured area -- which happens to be close to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Of course, there is an uproar in social media, where people are mocking the incident. I do not have any interest in this line of discussion. In the last couple of years, I have taught myself about learning from mistakes. I was thinking about what this unprecedented event could teach us.
So yes: It tells us many things. Most importantly, it is an indicator that there is a problem with our planning, development narratives, and, of course, our priority settings.
We envisioned making the country a developed one like Singapore or Malaysia. We thought we could achieve our goals by investing hugely in infrastructure, and we did it right in the last couple of years. We must say that we were successful in many cases- -- Dhaka will soon experience the Metrorail while people of the southwest will not have to wait long for a ferry to cross the Padma River, using the bridge instead.
However, while we have put all the concentration on infrastructure development, lawlessness has crippled our lives. A careful reading of newspaper headlines will tell you how unsafe it is to live in Bangladesh.
From being mugged on the roads to being murdered, all types of things can happen on roads here. Though the country lacks innovation in most cases, criminals do not. There are plenty of homegrown mugging innovations in the country. One such innovation is the “molom party,” in which a gang of muggers puts ointment or other substances on the victims’ eyes, which causes temporary loss of vision, and the muggers take everything, even clothing sometimes.
If you are a woman traveller, Bangladesh is perhaps one of the most unsafe places on earth. Often, women are raped inside buses. A total of 59 women were raped and sexually harassed on public transport in 52 incidents in 2019, according to a report by the Jatri Kalyan Samity -- a platform for public transport passengers.
Given that such incidents are often unreported, the figure must be just the tip of the iceberg. A few days back, Bangladesh was an international headline when a 22-year-old woman was gang-raped inside a bus in the Ashulia cattle market area in Savar. Reports said the victim was heading home to Narayanganj from her sister’s house in Manikganj, and was raped on the way.
One development of the street crimes in the country is that it is now not only limited to the ordinary citizen, but senior ministers are victims of them too. I fear that the renewed confidence the criminals have gained has far-reaching consequences. Soon, snatchers will double down their efforts in their businesses. When a senior minister can be mugged, who cares about the repercussions when the victim is an ordinary citizen?
Elsewhere, we have learned that a gang has trafficked 1,500 women from Bangladesh to brothels in India. News reports say this has been happening for quite some time. Law enforcers have become active against gangs only after Indian media outlets reported the torture of a Bangladeshi woman at the hands of five traffickers on May 27. We often hear that our law enforcement monitors social media sites, but we understand now that the monitoring officials are more concerned about dissidents than criminals.
One thing always puzzles me: Why is a government that can suppress opposition, muzzle the press, and turn a blind eye to the criticism of rights groups so shy with criminals? Why don’t we see the same effectiveness in law enforcement officials while dealing with criminals? The government would have been hugely popular if only it were sincere in dealing with criminals the way it is with the opposition activists.
Let us now come to the point about how lawlessness can make all our infrastructure development a waste. Foreign direct investment inflow is the single most important thing for a country to prosper. We can never be a Singapore or a Malaysia if investors do not want to invest in our country. And I doubt if any investor would be willing to invest after reading the news that even the VIPs are not spared from snatching on Dhaka streets.
Checking this lawlessness should be our number one priority if we want to be a Malaysia or a Singapore.
Mushfique Wadud is a journalist currently pursuing his PhD in journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder in the United States.