Martin Swapan Pandey
An office is locked, a blockade is called, death and destruction follow.
But today we begin with Selina Begum, a blind and widowed mother, who lost her only child in an arson attack on Sunday. We begin with Selina because, we hope, our prime minister and our opposition party leader are mother enough to be able to grasp the pain of losing a child, the only child that is. When Sohagh, just 18, set out for his first day at work as a truck helper on Friday, he promised his mother that he would return home with “plenty of food”.
This very phrase — plenty of food — speaks volume about how the mother and the son spent days or even months and years without some good food on their plates and how the two lonely souls assured and reassured each other that things would change and that better days would come. Better days did come, for Sohagh got the job that would fetch them Tk 3,000 a month. But in the end, what Selina gets is the charred body of her son. In so receiving the body, Selina becomes the mother of a nation pitched into madness. At least 25 people have died in two weeks for something not of their own making.
Indeed, it is sickening to think that after every such death the BNP leader and her party men would pat themselves on their backs for a job well done, and smell power. Why, Khaleda Zia, a three-time prime minister, has never once offered an apology to the families for all these deaths and destructions for which her party men are believed to be responsible. Nor has she asked her party men not to attack and kill us. No less sickening is the thought that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling party men would praise themselves for their “success” in keeping Khaleda locked in her office while the whole country burns. Hasina, also a three-time PM, too never apologised for her failure to save all these lives, which she is oath-bound to. While basking in success, politicians may think good times never end. They always do.
We cannot teach our politicians politics, but exercising one’s political right to demonstrate and killing innocent men, women and children are two so different things that they do not warrant an elucidation. We have seen political demonstrations in the civilized world, most recently in Hong Kong.
Killing spree we have seen none. At the core of why many western countries do not have the death penalty is this old verse: Thou shalt not kill. In Bangladesh, we kill in peace time as if it were war time, as if our lives depended on it. Here, policemen kill, Rab men kill, BNP men kill, Awami League men kill, Jamaat men kill. One wonders if any other nation has so many groups to kill its fellow men.
But what is all the more perplexing is the rationale behind the government keeping Khaleda confined to her office and giving her an excuse for continuing with the blockade and hence all this bloodshed. In an ideal world, freedom has no limit (though one must enjoy it responsibly). But for argument’s sake, let’s pretend it has. What, then, is Khaleda’s limit? To move between her home and her office and not go anywhere else? If this be freedom, what do we call a several hundred yards long iron shackle tied to one’s leg while its other end remains in the hands of an invisible master who would allow only as much? And if freedom has a limit, must its restrictions not have a limit as well?
To return to Selina, the mother of nobody for nobody will call her mother ever more. But she had her Sohagh to call her so, maybe hundred times a day, until Friday of course. Today, the apple of her eye sleeps in the cold as politicians ready themselves for show time. In one sense, it’s been a good thing that Selina is blind, that she hasn’t seen how terribly deformed the body of her son became. But for those who have seen it, haven’t we seen enough? If that is not enough, what about the other bodies burnt beyond recognition and equally deformed, including the child who literally turned into a piece of coal in an arson attack on a running bus in Rangpur? Selina Begums cannot be one of our two leaders, but in their imagination can the prime minister and the BNP chief become one of them, just to stop this madness?
We feel humiliated and almost hate it when some western newspapers call our two leaders “Battling Begums” and “Drama Queens”.