Pahela Boishakh scandal: Some heads must roll

Syed Badrul AhsanSyed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 25 April 2015, 09:03 AM
Updated : 25 April 2015, 09:03 AM

You can only be left stupefied at the depths to which denial of reality has sunk in this country. The assault on women at the Pahela Baishakh celebrations in the Dhaka University campus does not seem to have moved the powers that be.

The government, always vocal through its many ministers on issues of relatively minor significance, has not said a word. The Prime Minister has not issued any statement condemning the medievalism which an organised group of young men resorted to on the day.

The police, always caught napping or indifferent, have now sat up – to little effect. They have not convinced the country that they are professional or resolute enough to net the miscreants who pounced on those hapless women caught among the hundreds of Bengalis celebrating the advent of a New Year.

That the police inquiry will likely yield little or nothing has now come through loud and clear: a senior police official, known for his regular appearances on the media, tried the other day to put a bizarre spin on the entire shameful incident.

He spoke of his department going all out to nab the culprits and then, in the next breath, rendered his words meaningless through 'educating' the media on the many ways in which photo-shopping can throw up a story that in real terms has not happened. What was he trying to prove?

The minister of state for home has not reassured citizens that the scandal will be probed to the hilt – that the guilty will be brought to justice. If this were a developed, full-fledged democracy, any minister presiding over an incompetent or politically docile department would have owned responsibility for such failure and would have resigned.

That has not happened and, given the country's history of ministers hanging on to their jobs despite some of the more manifest of lapses noted on their watch, it is likely that the minister of state will not walk away from his job.

A prominent BNP politician goes missing. Citizens die in petrol bomb incidents. People are killed in 'shootouts' and 'crossfires'. The nation cries foul. Not a single minister, not a single police official resigns out of embarrassment or through the prick of conscience.

That brings us to the far graver issue of why the Dhaka University administration has put up a miserable performance in coming clean over all this Pahela Baishakh-related outrage and the resultant ramifications arising from it.

The Vice Chancellor has not convinced the country that he is on top of things, that he is qualified, determined and independent enough to take stern action against the ruffians who molested those women in public. Public conscience dictates that the head of an institution, any institution, will step down voluntarily when he or she is unable to bring lawbreakers to book or provide protection to those who come under the ugly assaults of these elements of perversion.

The Vice Chancellor has not resigned. Neither has the Proctor, whose waffling and dissembling over the scandal has left a nation questioning the competence of such an individual in holding on to such an important office, offered to quit. Measures should have been taken to facilitate his resignation or dismissal. He stays on, even as the young men and women of Dhaka University, as also people across the country, voice the loud demand that he be shown the door.

There are the whispers all around. Are the men who carried out those organised assaults on the women linked to the government? If they are, is the administration going out on a limb to ensure that they stay away from facing justice?

How would the government, especially the police department, have responded if the situation under review had been brought about by people linked to the political opposition? And since no action has so far been taken against these men who saw little that was wrong in grabbing and groping women and trying to divest them of their clothes, will it not be reasonable to conclude that the administration is on a mission to cover up the scandal?

It is unacceptable that despite all the evidence out there about the identities of these predatory sex maniacs, the law enforcers have so far been unable to zero in on them and haul them to justice. Contrast this inaction or contrived sloth with conditions where senior figures of the opposition are charged with torching vehicles, detained and rushed to court and swiftly placed on remand.

Contrast this too with an instance earlier this month of some young people, one of them home from abroad for family festivities, being questioned over the absence of stickers on their vehicles entering the DU Senate building and eventually sent into police lock-up on a complaint by a vindictive university official.

The parents of the young man traveling all the way to Bangladesh are both respected senior academics at Dhaka University. His uncle is a professor at Chittagong University. These young are slapped with charges of drugs smuggling, produced in court, denied bail and are sent off to jail. They are freed only when a politically influential family steps into the scene and intercedes for them.

Where was the Vice Chancellor when these young people were being put to such incredible psychological and physical agony? And what action must be taken against the DU official who played such a nefarious role in tormenting these young people?

The world we inhabit is not a blighted star. The country we call home is not a hell hole. Which is why we demand that those who hold positions of power and influence use that influence that power and that influence to right the wrongs committed on a quotidian basis in this land. Let them begin by ferreting out those who humiliated the young women on Pahela Baishakh and having the machinery of justice work swiftly and pitilessly against them.

And if the ministry of home affairs, the police department, and the authorities of Dhaka University cannot or will not do the job, there is an alternative way of handling things: replace the individuals manning these bodies with better, more competent and more professional ones. Some heads should roll.

Pusillanimity in the exercise of power and political partisanship in handling social crises are a surefire way of ensuring the creation of a fragile republic. The people of Bangladesh deserve better.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a columnist.