How many bodies fell before it was noticed?

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How many days went by without a crossfire death encounter? Perhaps people no longer bothered to count because it was and still is considered a part of Bangladesh today. It's true that most killed are criminals but it's also true that no one has a legal right to take a life the way encounters do.

Sinha's death has drawn attention to it like never before.  And it's not because he was an innocent person killed in cold blood. His identity and uniform made all the difference in the world. Even to gain some attention for an extra judicial death one has to belong to a power group in Bangladesh.

We still don't know what transpired at the police check post but we know that something that was both common and unusual at the same time did happen. Investigations are on, arrests are being made and suspicions flung all around. Going by social media noise, it would be impossible to hear the truth now because of the din. It will be a while before matters get known though some doubt if it fully ever will.

These are not great times to think that Bangladesh is a safe place for anyone except those who are very privileged and very powerful. Even their safety is limited, episodic and uncertain. In the great scheme of things, ordinary people simply don't matter.

The reality of the informal economy

In a country where the economy is not market but connection driven, where rules and laws are disregarded because they are not needed to be, where corruption is part of the system, some structural analysis is needed to even begin to understand what is on. One very conflicting aspect of crime and anti-crime actions is that production of violence continues unabated.

Drugs have become the symbol of the Bangladeshi economy that can't be explained through legal and formal lenses. No one can be certain where and when lawful ends and illegal begins. In almost every sector of business this is prevalent. If one remembers Shameem, the contractor with a train full of body guards, was not into drugs but construction contracts. He, as per recent reports, had crores in hundreds of bank accounts. But what is less noted is that in every case he was sharing his booty with government officials and political leaders. In fact, in every construction contract money changes hands. It's considered part of the process of being awarded the deal, completing the work and getting paid for the same.

This is the ultimate large scale example of connections, corruption and wealth making coming together in a system where bribes act as a legitimate part of the economic deal. It's similar to the banking sector where loans are obtained by bribing which are not meant to be paid back.

An acceptable part of life

But these are almost in the in- between world where depending on how one sees wealth making, can be both legal and non-legal. Actually, it's driven by practice and that is why it defies any clear categorization. Just as bribing is acceptable no matter what ACC or TIB or other agencies may say, it's not here to stay only, it's the norm.

However there are a few other sectors which are criminal by legal standards and against whom the Government has declared zero tolerance etc. Gambling etc was one, now probably mark timing or gone underground and of course there is the ever growing drug economy.

No one can say with certainty how big the drug economy is but it's got at least a million regular consumers all over the country. We won't even try to calculate how big the economy is but suffice to say it involves several million people at different tiers and levels. Nobody has done any study on its sociology so we have no profile on consumers but it's obvious that millions are involved in the economy.

The limits of zero tolerance

It's so secure that despite so many crossfire killings, drugs smuggling has increased. Zero tolerance works when supply is reduced but it seems the economy is stronger than the supposed law and order regime.

Hence the crossfire killings aren't a problem by itself but a by-product of a major economic sector of Bangladesh. The problem is in managing the economy not managing the killings which can safely go on. It's obvious from the Sinha episode that as long as the killed are not significant people, they can be killed with not much bother. It's not just the Councillor in Cox's bazar who was killed by RAB and nothing happened but even Tonu killed inside the cantonment met the same fate.

It's not crossfire and killings that are a problem but who can be safely killed or disappeared and who can't be. In case of Sinha, the cause of death is mysterious, the circumstances are still vague but the person is ex-army. The entire most powerful segment of the ruling class is angry and some price will have to be paid. But killing will go on but only with more discretion just as drugs will go on as happily as before.

  • Cox’s Bazar
  • Killing
  • Major (retd) Sinha Rashed

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