Monday, April 09, 2007

Mob Justice

I haven’t written on here for a while, and this is for a number of reasons. I worked for a week in the VSO office helping with the strategic plan review, which was very interesting and more challenging than some of my placement work, and I have added to my collection of tropical illnesses with giardia, a parasite that has seen me lose a fair bit of weight, be sick and generally feel rrrubbish. Then mum and dad came out to visit and that took a lot of time!

On top of all this, however, I also have now witnessed the darker underside of Bangladesh right in the heart of the area that I live. The poor and destitute do not get much attention or recognition anyway, but the viciousness of the beating that I saw on my walk back home was startling.

I was crossing the green by our flat a couple of weeks ago and heard some shouting down the road. I looked to see a group of people dragging a body along the grass. At first I thought that there had been some sort of accident, but as the crowd began beating the formless shape on the ground with cricket stumps and bats, its was clear that something else was the problem. This group, of between 20 and sometimes 50 people (passers-by seemed to just join in for a bit of mob justice on their way home from work) kept up the repeated beating and dragging across the green. The force with which they were hitting the person in their midst was phenomenonal, bringing the stumps down from way above their heads on his feet, shins and back, and then garnishing this with swift, hard kicks to the back and stomach.

Though sickenly compelling to watch, I decided to go back to my flat and collected some water and my first aid kit, and went to see some other volunteers to ask whether they thought I should get involved. I decided that it would be better to at least try to say something, so having walked back out to the green I went over to the group to try to find out what the problem was.

Luckily, even when they are administering retribution, Bengalis seem deferential to authority (which comes with being a bedeshi) and they stopped their work to let me through. Covered in dust and bleeding from his head, shins, feet and eyes was a kid of about 14 or 15, surrounded by standing, towering middle class Bangladeshis. He had no shoes, and was wearing two old rags made grey by years of washing in filthy water and living in this grimy city. I was the only person who was at his eye level, crouching opposite him as he squatted with his hands bound crudely behind him.

I asked what the problem was and the group said that this kid’s friend had stolen a mobile phone from one of them and got away, and they wanted to know where he had taken it, so where beating the answer out of the alleged accomplice. I asked why they did not go to the police, but they told me that police had given him back saying it was their problem: in this way they were given license to exact their own justice. I was told they would carry on until he revealed where the phone had been taken, assuming he knew.

They would not let me give him water or clean up his face and legs, and said that (now the beating seemed to be over) they had called the police and the doctor. I am pretty certain the first was the only one coming, and the way the police will treat kids like this it is unlikely that he made it through the night without more beatings, if he even made it through at all.

The whole thing was very upsetting, especially the absolute righteousness with which these people delivered their mob punishment. There is no care for the poor or marginalised in Bangladesh at all: no one is asking why these kids are on the street and why they are forced to steal and beg. It’s a very vicious society for those at the bottom.

1 comment:

Mikey said...

Man, good on you for getting in there, but don't you think that's risky to get involved too?

Pulling out the bideshi respect card...