At this time, in this city, on this land along the shore of the Bay of Bengal, the angel of death works double time. There is always someone to kill, someone to trap or exploit, someone to drive crazy, someone expendable. How else will you explain the seismic waves of tragedies, misfortunes and betrayals that are breaking on our shores every day? How else will you justify your existence in a country so self-righteously preening itself over its moral credentials when, clearly, it is being dominated by thugs, rapists, and misanthropes?
Such distressing thoughts are increasingly the price you pay for living in this age and time—a time when a tragedy as heart-breaking as that of Rajib Hossain no longer produces a sense of disbelief. Rajib Hossain, the 21-year-old college student, was admitted to hospital after he lost his arm to a race between two buses. It happened on a very familiar road, one that I take every day on my way to office. Every day I stand on the seventh-floor balcony of my office, my heart racing as I look down on the streets below, and I wonder if today is the day someone will have their bubble burst. The bubble we hide out in and feel secure until security proves illusive.
I was distraught by the news of Rajib's accident but I hoped, still clinging to my own bubble, that the worst was over. All that could happen to him now was a lifelong disability, the unpleasant readjustment with the new realities of his life, and possibly a sobriquet along the lines of “the one-armed man.” But he would get used to it, like most people with disabilities do, and he would survive. People who had never seen or heard of him before also prayed for his recovery, sure of the power of their prayers and the collective weight of their tears.
But Rajib died early on Tuesday. Now I don't even know what to pray for anymore.
In life, Rajib represented the majority of our students that come from low-income families and try to fulfil their dream by acquiring a degree and getting a decent job. In death, he represents the shattering of that dream. These students are taught to be responsible not for their own sake but for their parents and siblings who depend on them. Every step they take is measured, and monitored, for a mistake can be costly for the entire family. For his own two younger brothers, orphaned at an early age, Rajib was both mother and father. His dreams were entwined with theirs. Did he ever despair that he had to take this responsibility on his shoulder? Did he ever wonder what life could be like without the burden of having to live for someone else? In the end, it didn't matter. Through his death, Rajib has shown that a tragedy, in this city, is never too far away.
The fact is, we don't get to live anymore; we survive. We barely hang on to a thread of life that can be torn apart anytime. The fragility of our life manifests itself through tragedies of heard and unheard kinds: a boy maimed or killed in “accidents”, a five-year-old child raped and killed; an activist wiped off the face of the earth because his/her existence presents a threat; a student blinded because he dared to join a protest, another killed because he was caught in the crosshairs of intraparty feuds. These unfortunate and unnatural deaths and tragedies stand as a mockery in the face of our right to life and natural death. You can lay the blame squarely on the failure of our current system of governance that has internalised violence and made tragedies seem normal—just another body count—but when young men take their own life, for whatever reason, or a random child is left for dead by a police car after running him over, or a sick mother is thrown away by her son, you wonder: surely there is something wrong with this society too?
French sociologist Émile Durkheim, in his labelling theory on deviance, had said that all forms of deviance are simply a challenge to the normalised repressiveness of the state. Durkheim was the first person to suggest that if there's something wrong with our society, then criminality is a response to that. He also said: “Society is not a mere sum of individuals. Rather, the system formed by their association represents a specific reality which has its own characteristics…the group thinks, feels, and acts quite differently from the way in which its members would were they isolated.” Durkheim was a 19th-century sociologist and I'm pretty sure his conclusion would have been different had he been alive today—because, frankly, the way I see it, here on this land, on these streets, in our shared spaces both private and public, in the way we go about our life, we are really a mere sum of individuals better isolated than in a group, who don't believe in the idea of a society anymore. The state, or “the system,” that invisible force we so readily blame for all our misfortunes, functions under the shadow of that disbelief.
I remember older people reminiscing about a time not in the distant past when people valued life, not just their own, and had a minimum degree of decency and respect for the rule of law. My own father, through his recollections, gave me a glimpse into a time when people believed in the common good. There were criminals and corrupt people as well, and differences along religious or political lines, but those were kept to a tolerable limit. But now, humanity is in a historic descent. Last year, during a hiking trip through the villages of Teknaf, I came across strangers who offered me food and invited me to spend the night with their family. I fear these days are numbered. The modern city culture that is creating isolated, restless and unfeeling homo sapiens may soon completely engulf the last vista of innocence still found in some parts of our country.
Although preaching love and compassion is no longer in vogue, something tells me that love, unconditional love for all life-forms, is the missing link in our search for a cure for the cancerous growth in crimes, murders and all sorts of deviance.
Badiuzzaman Bay is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.