Monday, February 26, 2007


I’ve mentioned the RAB briefly before, but these guys really deserve further elaboration. They are only three years old, but already have notched up an impressive 1000 or so extrajudicial killings plus innumerable torturing and beatings. Not only that, they have a penchant for smuggling, corruption and general poor behaviour not befitting their status as Bangladesh’s elite policing force. However, they are immensely cool.

The Rapid Action Battalion was originally to be named the Rapid Action Team, a sort of superhero style naming of a police force (‘who you gonna call’…etc). Wisely they decided that calling out the RAT would not generate the same level of respect and fear, and opted for the more military sounding name. The RAB has a lot of attractions for its members: they get to participate in the best policing events (no directing traffic for them), they get better pay, they get respect and fearful looks from the public, and they get almost blanket judicial impunity.

However, without a doubt, their biggest perk is their uniform. The RAB are the coolest paramilitary/policing unit in the world. Firstly, there are the standard issue black army boots, often highly polished. Tucked into these are black combat trousers, kept up with a utility belt and buckle of which Batman would be proud. Above this is a black shirt, with a RAB silver badge and red lapel badges: some also wear a waistcoat with ‘RAB’ in bright yellow on the back. Black mittens with the fingers cut of is pretty standard, especially in winter, as is an enormous gun (or two) slung nonchalantly across the shoulder or aimed lazily at a passer by.

So far, pretty normal for a militarised police force. But what makes the RAB different is their head gear. They must wear black bandannas, of the sort with a flap hanging down the back of the head and over the neck. It looks like a bunch of rappers coming out Harlem. They also almost universally wear wrap-around sunglasses (black, or course). In all, they look like some bizarre cross between Italian police men, a 1980s US rap group and Bengalis. They never cease to be entertaining (unless they are ‘crossfiring’ you – a euphemism for killing you and getting away with it), and are rarely not posing. My local RAB hang about the corner of the field, sitting on 1970s style white motorbikes, at all times of the day (I think even when they are off duty). Others cruise (and they really do) about the city on bikes or in pick-ups, generally loving the fact that they are RAB.

If you ever have trouble, you just need to find a RAB and you know that the perpetrator will get crossfired if you need or desire it. I was sorely tempted when 12 eight-year-old street kids mugged me last weekend. A friend – Kathy – had secured some boursin for me from her visiting boyfriend and so I went to the only bakery I know that makes baguettes and spent a whole 40 Taka on one. This makes it a very expensive piece of bread. I had previously been pestered by some kids, and managed to strike a deal that I would take a photo of them in exchange for them buggering off and pursuing a bedeshi who actually had money. Yet a few minutes later, this time laden down with this prized baguette, they were back, surrounded me and grabbed my arms and were generally being annoying, until one little hand slipped into the bag and broke of most of the baguette and disappeared with shrieks of glee down the road, pursued by former comrades and now would be usurpers of the bread.

It is at times like this – when you feel violated, vulnerable and afraid of going out at night carrying expensive bread – that a quick call to the RAB, a whispered request and a promise of new sunglasses beckons satisfying revenge. I can hear the crossfire now…

I should point out that in seriousness, the problems the street kids face are multiple and terrible, and that the reality is that a little bread is the least we can do. The major problem is twofold. Firstly, as volunteers it is genuinely difficult to spare money from our allowance to make such gestures. If some people do this, all bedeshis become a target, which could endanger some people (unlikely, but possible). Secondly, most of the kids that are begging are being run by some local strongman (a real life Fagin – Dickens would have relished Dhaka), and money given goes to these people, not the children that collect it. The British High Commission makes contributions to charities working with street children, and some VSO partners are also involved in this. This is the better way to address the issue: ultimately if kids do not generate donations they would not be needed and could get to school instead (which in Bangladesh is more than a feasible alternative, at least up to the age of 11).

1 comment:

Maria said...

no one deserve to die Bangladesh ravage by terrorist activity.

Maria[big suit]