By Ashis Biswas
A curious paradox prevails in Bangladesh: There is more anger at home about the growing spiral of non-political crimes and violence, than among Western diplomats, companies and investors. In broad sections of the Bangladeshi media there is much anguish expressed over the recent spate of murders, thefts, financial fraud and drug trafficking. A strong criticism of the functioning of the police in such a narrative follows naturally.
Ironically, US government/World bank sources do not share such pessimism about what they describe as the general security environment, judging from their periodical studies and reports. Some are available as open source information. Dhaka-based observers say that largely other western countries also take a similar view.
This is not to suggest that these countries and their serving diplomats necessarily regard Bangladesh as a sanctum of peace and tranquility. Their assessment is more nuanced. Bangladesh is seen as a country where casual travelling for the uninitiated foreign visitors may involve some hazards. They are advised to take a few special steps. . The country belongs in the high risk category relating to terrorism/related crimes and activities. The possibility of sudden outbreaks/flaring of anti-West sentiments and political violence also cannot be ruled out.
While such an assessment can usually cause enough to persuade most casually interested tourists to give the country a wide berth, it is also somewhat misleading. There is general agreement that despite being an extremely congested city with nearly 20 million people, very few foreigners are ever targeted by criminals in Dhaka. .Still, the varying local conditions especially relating to travelling locally, differing modes of transport, general public/crowd behaviour / manners, and police arrangements may prove unsettling for the average tourist. No wonder aspirant visitors are warned not to walk out alone or hire a taxi as a lone rider. The same applies to getting involved with ‘friendly’ strangers offering unsolicited assistance in airports or elsewhere, to first time visitors. .
On the credit side, when it comes to crimes such as muggings, snatchings, cheating etc, there is usually no targeting of foreigners. ATMs and internet activities are relatively safe. In non- political crimes, it is agreed that existing levels of anti- social behavior and misdemeanour in Bangladesh do not exceed the levels seen in most major cities in the US –an endorsement that should certainly cheer most Bangladeshis, especially those in the ruling establishment.
However, the tone of a recent editorial in a leading Dhaka-based Bengali daily is anything but cheery. It went to the extent of declaring that the recent spurt in muggings, dacoities, robberies and killings it appeared that in Bangladesh criminals had been offered a carte blanche to operate! In the capital city alone, there had occurred no fewer than 20 murders in a month. Worse, nearly 250 children —children!—had been killed in one month recently! A composite collection of crimes stats, it was claimed would prove shocking in the extreme for most readers.
The writer noted that there was general satisfaction over the economic progress made in recent years. But what use was such economic progress he asked, if murders, violence, robberies etc continued to rise and criminals enjoyed a free run?
While there was no doubt that better policing and crime detection methods could make a difference by helping to reduce crime, the social malaise had gone deep. Activating the law enforcing agencies was not the right answer. A far better permanent solution would be to prepare the foundation for the kind of society where such crimes would not occur, the piece ran. Deterrence for criminals must be decisive and discouraging.
Unfortunately, even when the criminals were often arrested after a long delay, their trials often took too long to complete, if at all. Clearly justice delayed was justice denied in Bangladesh as the criminals made merry. The issue must be addressed at the general level. The proper conditions for a educational/cultural improvement must be laid by policymakers without delay.
In contrast, the view of a UN trend monitoring agency was that in Bangladesh, there had occurred a marked decline in the general crimes including murders etc going by official stats. Between 2016 to 2018, for three consecutive years, the volume of crime had gone down, which attested to improved police performance, better law enforcing, intelligence and monitoring. Only in 2018 there was an increase after a long spell.
Again, when it came to non political murders, Bangladesh fared better than Pakistan and India in recent years. Pakistan at 3.88 killings per 100 persons topped the list in South Asia, India followed with 3.08 while Bangladesh recorded only 2.37. However Sri Lanka came first with 2.15, but with a considerably smaller and better educated population.
Kolkata-based analysts felt that the homegrown concern in Bangladesh over the general crime and law and order situation was an indication of how popular attitudes changed as living /educational standards improved in a society. By way of comparison, one observer said that Indian states like West Bengal normally highlight a single positive statistics/an observer’s appreciation in official ad campaigns to insist that the law and order situation was highly satisfactory , that the state policing was effective and commendable.
It attested to the growing sophistication of Bangladeshis that they were no longer impressed by any ‘phoren’ praise of their ways, as was common before 1947. There was no mention in the editorial, for instance, of the appreciation in a foreign agency report that the Bangladesh government had successfully tackled the challenge posed by the Islamist IS groups and its myriad armed followers by going on a strong counter offensive against their activities and successfully reducing their power in recent years. This was a marked improvement from the disturbingly ominous situation that prevailed in 2014, 2015 and 2016, when there was the massive attack on the Holey bakery and repeated murderous attacks on Hindu, Christian and Buddhist minorities. (IPA Service)