Last week I was having a haircut at the saloon of our local club. As the haircutter (using a synonym of barber) worked deftly with his comb and scissor he started gossiping. Since I'm a member of the club he knows me well. I decided to listen. In the days when there was no newspaper, no television and radio and no social media barbers used to be the sources of many a gossip and news. At barber shops it used to be a give-and-take situation. Take some information from the clients and give more to them for spreading it to more eager listeners. In the ancient days the kings and their palaces were the centre point of gossip. Today, it is the government of the day. My club barber (haircutter) was no exception.
He began with the repeated incidents of accidents and growing deaths on the roads in Bangladesh. So many innocent and promising lives get lost on Bangladesh roads, he exclaimed. "The students were on the streets for road safety, the public protested the deaths and families lost their loved ones," he said adding "Nothing has changed sir." Why is it so? He wondered and gave answer to his own question. "It's politics sir." According to him there is defiance of rules all over the streets. The drivers don't care, the helpers and conductors don't behave, traffic police take bribes or neglect their duty and the law does not work, especially in cases where the powerful are involved. The culprits all get scot-free because they are the power or they have deep links with the power. Sir, he said, consider the case of Manranjan Hajong, the father of a female police sergeant, who lost his leg after his motorbike was reportedly wrongly hit by a BMW car driven by the son of a powerful man. Police at first refused to take any case and when they took it at least 10 days had passed. In the meantime, police did not waste time when the alleged offender lodged a complaint against the victim Manroranjan accusing him of riding from the wrong direction. Why sir? The middle-aged hairdresser wondered again. His closed this subject with a definitive statement: nothing will happen to the offender. Manoranjan will not get justice.
Before I could comment on his despairing statement he switched over to another subject. This time he took up the subject of rape, a crime against women which shows no sign of abating despite a recent amendment of the relevant law providing for death penalty to offenders. "Look, how beastly this act is!," he exclaimed again. "They don't even spare young girls, some as young as four or five years old." Again he is unhappy with the way the judicial process works in dealing with the rape cases. He said he has a solution. Those found guilty of rape must be punished in the public. Their organ must be castrated, he said providing an extreme prescription.
This time I opened my mouth and told him that he was right in his expressing his anger over the growing incidents of rape and sexual attacks on girls and women. But I may not endorse his method of punishment. Soon I remembered he is not the only one to suggest public castration of offenders. I heard it from others too. They included academics and senior citizens who often get tired of lengthy judicial process in rape and sexual harassment cases.
As my haircutter was going about his work leisurely he embarked upon another issue as recent as the restrictions the government had planned to impose to fight the growing onslaught of Covid-19 with its latest weapon: the highly transmissible Omicron variant. He scoffed at the idea of barring unvaccinated people from restaurants, educational institutions, public transports and so on. He ridiculed the idea of barring still-to-be-jabbed bus drivers from sitting behind the steering and so on. He had a point and I agreed it was valid and strong. In country where over half the population has remained unvaccinated how can such curbs be imposed and if done will it be fair? He nodded when I pointed to him that the prime minister has ordered the officials to jab the unvaccinated people as fast as possible. At least three crore people will be given the shots in next three months. When I pointed out to him that many people are still hesitant about being jabbed he softly disagreed. In his family, he said, some members have got no message despite being registered with Surokkha apps months ago. Some have got only one dose and the message for the next dose is not coming yet. "Is it out fault, sir", he asked.
As he was nearing the finish line in his haircutting job I began wondering why this man, an ordinary man for sure, is unhappy with so many things happening in his life and around him. In his mostly one-way gossip with me he opened up his mind. He said he believes that the prime minister has been doing her best to make the people happy. She works hard and with honesty in her purpose. Yet, the haircutter said there is a deep sense of unhappiness hanging in the air. So many people have died in the clashes during the UP elections and sadly much of the violence happened between AL candidates and their own party men contesting as rebels.
As I left the saloon and began walking back to my house I kept wondering about how the man felt and what he said. Being an admirer of the prime minister I too feel bad when I find even ordinary people like him talking less about the mega projects and development and more about rape, accidents, rising prices of the essentials, irrational decisions of the government and above all the ever-prevailing perception of corruption.
Is it a phenomenon of the ordinary people being myopic in their assessment of the government's performance? Or is it something else?
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