No room for mistakes

I am riding the No. 6 bus between Gulshan 1 and Farmgate. The bus is crowded, though I managed to get a seat. At Mohakhali, the bus gets into a race with another No. 6 bus. They edge past one another. First the other one gains the advantage. Now ours does. Meanwhile, traffic around us is stalled, so the race doesn't exactly take place at break neck speed. Passengers are however frustrated by this pointless exercise. The bus driver is having a bit of fun. I hear curses under people's breaths.
    At the Mohakhali turn, our bus gets the advantage and leaves the other one behind. We head towards Jahangir Gate, turn left, zip along Airport Road. Our bus still has the advantage. The other one's been left behind.
    At Bijoy Shoroni, our bus driver makes a blunder. For some reason he gets into the middle lane. The middle lane however is for those who will take a right at this intersection. There are cars and buses ahead. Now the other bus comes up from behind, takes the left lane and roars past us. Our bus has lost the race. But it's also now stuck at this intersection until the policeman allows the middle and right hand lanes to move again.
    Now the curses start to really pour from the mouths of passengers. Break the leg of the driver. Hit the helper on the head. Son of a bitch. Swine. It's all words of course, but with words like this, in certain circumstances, words can turn to action. This is a volatile country.

So the driver made a mistake. It was wrong of him to race the other bus. Now the passengers are paying for his mistake. But with what? Five minutes of delay. Five minutes. Is that the end of the world? Does that really justify breaking the legs of the driver and helper? But I can understand passenger sentiment. On country highways, bus drivers — to get a few minutes advantage — often overtake, lose control, kill passengers and pedestrians. Bus drivers are not a popular group. And there's a constant state of war between passengers and conductors.
    We are quick here to verbalize violence. Beat. Kick. And in the right circumstances, we act too. Rage is right below the surface.
In July, right after this bus ride I remember my heart sinking when I read three newspaper reports.
    Two passengers beat a rickshaw puller to death. He had asked for 8 Taka. They would only give 5 Taka. Words turned to deed. And a man lay dead.
    A street kid named Rana. His father dead, he lived with his mother. Roaming around the old town he went to Abdul Hakim's house. He doesn't know why. The owner asked Rana to clean his warehouse. Rana refused. To teach him a lesson, the man began to beat him. His son Maksud joined in the beating. The two of them then dragged Rana to the third story and dumped him to the street. When the people in the area got a hold of Abdul Hakim he said the boy had stolen some papers from his house. Did Rana steal some papers? It's not clear. But for such an offense, should he be dumped from the third story?
    In some village, a boy received two relief biscuits at his school. Instead of eating them right away, he put them into his pocket. Perhaps to eat later. Perhaps to share with a brother or sister. The teacher beat him on his head. A few days later the boy was dead.
    In each case, a perceived wrong. The wrong then seen as a crime, the crime calling for on the spot punishment. Such a casual brutality. I doubt these are even thought about much. Life moves on.

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1 Comment

  1. Rumee

    I’m not sure if its really about mistakes or if its the “power” thing that motivates so many other crimes. In all these cases, the weaker is paying for trivialities. Rickshaw pullers, drivers and street kids are treated like subhumans in Bangladesh. To err is human; I guess for subhumans to err… probably is unacceptable.

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