To think I have a bee in my bonnet would be a gross injustice to me. Last week's unwelcome nightly guest to a grocery drew not only my attention but maybe the public attention by virtue of his ingenuity of seeking help from the law enforcement agency which is always after such housebreakers. This week's submission may in fact startle any reader ---if of course there is one at all to have the patience to go through this column ---to the extent that s/he may feel prompted to look around if there is one of the 3,610 thieves roaming about the length and breadth of this 360 square kilometre capital city.
Why? The ubiquitous presence of that number of thieves in a space of 360 sq km means 11 of them on an average are there in 1.0 sq km. Who knows the man you are passing by or he passing by you or someone standing nearby keeping a watch on your movement or on the very residence you live in is not one of the 11 out to take advantage of breaking into your house and running off with the valuables!
No, there is no way of questioning the number of thieves because the Bangladesh Police has made a list of professionally active thieves or burglars in the capital. It is not just a list but in fact a digital databank with detailed information --- photos and finger prints included --- of the thieves of 50 police stations of this city has been prepared courtesy of a software called SIVS.
Now you ought to be convinced of the apparently exaggerated number of nightly --- not excluding daytime ---unwelcome visitors. Of course, the housebreakers are not particularly biased against time. They do recce to see if wet clothes are hung or not from the portico or veranda. If there are no such clothes, it means the flat is vacant or the occupants are away and it waits to be burgled.
A few of the thieves are expert climbers of walls of tall buildings with no aid or equipment. Even security people sleeping on ground floor or keeping a vigil are no obstacle to them. They use hacksaws to cut off window grills and make way into empty flats. On August 22 last, thieves broke into the residence of a retired additional inspector general of police (AIGP) at Eskaton and made good their escape with gold valued at Tk 4.0 million. During the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday three daredevil burglaries were committed in the capital. In one of these at Mohammadpur, gold worth Tk 3.6 million was stolen.
According to the police as reported in a Bangla contemporary, such organised thefts apart, the incidence of this type of crime is on the rise. In January, 161 cases of theft were filed, in February the number rose to 184 and in March to 206 but by September the number has gone up to a staggering figure of 2,346.
Does this give any indication? Most likely, circumstances have forced more people to take to stealing. Abnormal price escalation and shrinking of income and sources of income have left few options before people with criminally bent mentality. But to blame the mental makeup alone will do injustice to these people who are no less victims of circumstances as well. Society has failed to take care of them in order to redirect their mentality towards honest living. In fact, no such option was made available to them.
In time of crises of this order, the hapless need generous support in order to tide over their pecuniary problems. In a world that is growing increasingly avaricious and selfish, the lifeline of generosity is shrinking fast. Compassion and fellow feeling are drying up. Maybe not all, but certainly quite a large number of the newly turned thieves have turned to this risky profession out of desperation.
The police have launched a four-day special drive from Wednesday against the city's thieves. What if a choice of voluntary surrender was offered to thieves with the promise of livelihood options in exchange for leaving the demeaning profession once and for all? This would have given a lifeline to many to return to normal life. As human beings, they deserve this much from society at this critical time.
This reminds me the universal truth uttered by a little girl who wanted to see a thief caught red-handed and was being pummelled by the crowd. On her insistence, her father took her on his shoulder to the spot to have a clear view of the thief. On seeing the thief, she said, "Where is the thief? He is a man". Indeed a human being, the thief did not shed tears until then although his body was battered but now tears came down flowing from his eyes.