Dhaka Courier

Sin City Notes: Driver Malek: Thou shall not steal...too much!

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Abdul Malek, a driver of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) who has been arrested by RAB on charges of possessing an illegal firearm and trading in fake currencies, accumulated wealth worth crores of taka through illegal activities (Collected).

It's a small incident but indicative of the Sin City mood. I hand over Tk 10,000 in Tk 500 bills to the Bkash shop. My regular man is missing so he is a default guy. The man starts counting and then tells me that I am 500 short. I see him take a note and drop it on his drawer. I ask, "What about that note?" He says, "That's my money."

He speaks confidently like a man used to it. I have counted the notes many times so i know I am right but I can do or say nothing. I give him an extra 500 note. I wanted a receipt of sorts but he refuses. I ask for an sms and he says," I can't do it." He is not grumpy but plainly brushes me off. He knows i can do nothing.

In Sin City life is not easy if one is 68 years old, has no connections and doesn't belong to the ruling party if not the army, amla or the police. The city is not for the powerless or the coward. But most are either so for the ones who become victims, the best is to grin and bear it.

But the short story would not be complete if the shop keeper next door hadn't said something. "People can't say anything to the driver but they say to shop keepers."

Enter Malek

Driver Malek seems to have touched more Bangladeshis through his corruption than other corrupt ones.

However, there are other dimensions of this event. One, it's ok if businessmen are dishonest, politicians are corrupt and officials are probably expected by many to be so. It means corruption is normalized. It is no longer corruption but "extra income", a new category like housing support, festival bonus etc. It's not a small achievement.

But another aspect raises its head. Corruption is also a class thing, an entitlement true of all but as per a corruption's warrant of precedence. It means drivers are not expected to make a supposed 100 crore. That should be reserved for the Director whose car he is supposed to drive. So a DG will have a 500 crore ceiling and it will go up as the level goes up.

So people are not disturbed by corruption but who can be corrupt and how big. Had Malek stuck around the under 10 crore mark, there would be public sympathy for him. But he broke the social code of corruption by going three digits. He is corrupt which is no problem but made money beyond the acceptable level of corruption as defined in the social manual of corruption.

Poor Malek, he is derided not for being corrupt but for being a driver who is so successful at corruption, thereby crossing the limits.

As Karl Marx once must have said, “We must identify the drivers of revolution." Malek?

The kukur and mosha debate

Sin city is a great place to study social semiotics. Every word and act have so many different meanings and to different people. In a city where lives have no meaning, the dogs have suddenly become meaningful. As the Municipality went on a dog killing drive, dog lovers went on a protest. But even the protest raised a counter protest and led to more. It's a fascinating tussle where class, culture and governance all became fused. Others are not so lucky.

When the City corporations decided to cull the dogs, a FB based campaign began protesting it and it did create interest but one corporation did go for it and killed several. Photos of slaughtered street dogs gathered in a truck went viral but officials protested it's a fake. Meanwhile "manob bondhons" of pro-dog groups took place.

At this point, the pro and cons groups discussed class issues too on social media. The groups supporting the killing said that this was the issue of the well off people who ride in cars and never have to face the wrath of street dogs. The ant-- killing group said, better ways to manage the canine population culling.

However, public opinion in general seemed to be anti-killing. The other city corporation then announced that instead of killing, they would be sterilized. Certainly a nicer and more practical idea.

A lady on the street however stood with a placard saying, "My kids can't play on the street because of street dogs. "Ahem.. right.. but what are they doing on the street anyway. Streets are for cars and dogs not children.

When asked why the authorities were so intent on killing animals when they failed so badly with moshas, the official is supposed to have said, "Moshas are very small and we can't see them. But dogs are large. ahh.. so that's why the moshas do so well in the sin city. Too small to be noticed....

  • Corruption’s class war
  • Driver Malek
  • Sin City

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