Dhaka Courier

The roots of the criminal rich

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The F-R Towers blaze case has displayed once again that many aspects of life are rotten in the state of Bangladesh.  The buildings that go by the same of sky scrapers are mostly unsafe. That those who make them unsafe- owners, builders , buyers etc.- are all well off and know that they enjoy impunity in a country dedicated to their welfare.

The reason why they enjoy such power is because the regulators and supervisors are willing to look the other way when their palms are greased regularly and well. However, the authorities are also not very competent and no matter what their duties are, they are not very good at them.  Finally, urban governance in particular and governance in general is breaking up and we are all in trouble. Unless one is rich who are always safe.

The roots is in 1971

The state of the rich didn’t happen in a day.  It has a long history and goes back to the mother year- 1971. Just as it was the year during which the people of this land displayed their highest level of sacrifice, courage and collective spirit, it was also the year that the worst traits of some were in full play.

While people mention the dual crimes of murder and rape, what was most prevalent were looting and arson. A section of Bangladeshis devoted their entire time to stealing even if meant in cases killing them for doing so. In the rural areas, professional dacoits received a revival and many new ones joined the profession not to mention the traditional political criminals. Human suffering escalated but so did wealth making for a few.

After liberation, many of these looters got their just deserts but not the majority. While the poorer looters like the Razakars were subjected to harsh social justice, the members of the Peace Committee set up by the Pak army under whom the Razakars operated mostly got away due to their social and political connections.  They later returned to normal life and obtained restoration of their status and privileges.

Thus the example that was set was that crime could and did go unpunished.  While the politically significant Jamaat-e-Iislami members were punished, the class of traitors and looters were left unscathed.  The fearful lesson of 1971 was written and distributed to all.

Post 1971 expansion

Another lesson that was established after 1971 which was the looting of Pakistani property in Bangladesh. In every part of Bangladesh, Pakistanis owned property were stolen in the free land. Naturally, as privileged people before 1971, Pakistanis owned most of what was there and after independence this was up for grabs. It was very openly done in every city and town including Dhaka. Such was the level of this “theft revolution” that Sk. Mujib had lamented that he had inherited a “mine of thieves”.

It’s this tradition that began in 1971 that has escalated under the patronage of a new breed of traitors. Though they were citizens, their role in all aspects was treason of another kind. The howling blaze of crime without punishment that was lit in the year of our birth continues to grow gloriously even as we are about to celebrate fifty years of birth.

The F-R Towers has brought back focus to the nexus of the rich and the powerful. How they protect each other in the making and preserving their wealth. In one of the most still economically inadequate zone, we have the largest number of rich people. They make money in many ways but this money can also not be made without sleaze and cover up.

The latest trend is to invest in media and this is happening regularly. So the rich not only make money through organized corruption but also ensure protection through corruption. And when one reaches a certain stage, they use media as well to protect their corruption in the name of promoting freedom.

The zero urban governance

To this is added the low grade of urban governance. While one of the 2 mayors have spoken of  “sabotage’  behind so many fires meaning politics,  the other Mayor  himself  headed the BGMEA which built a huge colossus right in the heart of the swampland in Hatirjheel violating every environmental rule and sense of respect for the land.  One should ask how BGMEA got the permission in the first place to build that illegal building. Later BGMEA fought tooth and nail to keep it going despite court orders. They relented only when the Appeals court refused to grant them any more time. As a representative of the rich who broke the law how does one expect such a person to uphold the law?

If one looks at the list of instructions which the PM has stated, one feels that these are something any supervisory body should be paying heed to since they existed. Sadly,  when the PM has to remind people that high rises must have  fire exits and such basic needs, the problem is systemic not administrative. By failing to do what should have been done long before, the official have embarrassed the PM and are becoming a threat to her popularity.

Unless the rich have some laws to pay heed to, Bangladesh may start wanting to return to the age of social justice as well. One can never predict history with full confidence.

  • The roots of the criminal rich
  • Issue 39
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • Vol 35

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