Four persons were sentenced to death in Sylhet for killing a 13-year-old young boy Rajon in 2015. They tortured him to death accusing him of trying to steal a rickshaw. They video-taped their inhuman acts and posted the grisly event on the social media. This video of gruesome murder triggered a national hue and cry. The perpetrators were arrested, prosecuted and convicted at the lower court. The High Court, too, maintained the maximum penalty the lower court had handed down to these four men for clubbing Rajon to death.
In recent years, nature and character of violent crimes have taken a different dimension that the people of Bangladesh had never seen before. A couple of violent killings also shocked the people. Killings of Tanu and Risha and attack on Khadiza have raised questions about how over the years our societal values have been eroded.
In Bangladesh, 4,035 people were murdered and 21,220 cases of women and child repression were reported for the year 2015 (http://www.police.gov.bd). These data have been compiled after the Women & Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 was passed.
Violence is not taking place in Bangladesh alone. It has become a global phenomenon affecting millions across the world. It is caused due to many factors and carried out by many actors. According to UN Global Status Report on Violence Prevention (2014), half a million people are murdered around the world every year. Beyond the deaths, millions of more children, women and men suffer from far-reaching consequences of violence in homes, schools and communities.
In the Western world, most of the violent acts have been recognised as crimes with due punishments. But in many countries of Africa and Asia, many such acts of violence are culturally acceptable as part of traditional values. These behaviours are approved by many elders or persons of higher status who are called 'non-state authoritative actors'. These 'authoritative actors' want to impose discipline by using physical force.
The Bangladesh government is responding to the call of time and passing laws to fight inter-personal violence. For example, it passed (1) Prevention of Cruelty Against Women and Children Act 2000, (2) Domestic Violence Act 2010, (3) Child Act of 2013 and (4) Child Marriage Act of 2017. The full impacts of these laws are not still discernible due to cultural values that treat many violent acts as corrective measures. Social scientists have already established that punishment does not always work as an effective deterrence to violent acts. Even death sentence has little effect on homicide rates (Nagin and Pepper, 2012).
In 2011, the Bangladesh High Court declared all types of corporal punishment in schools illegal and unconstitutional following a writ petition to stop cruelty on children. The Ministry of Education has also banned corporal punishment in schools. Despite all these laws and regulations, a large number of incidents relating to inhuman punishment in various educational institutions are taking place.
Due to age-old cultural values, many Bangladeshis still support many acts of non-state actors that would be considered as violent acts. For example, let us examine the role of a husband over a wife, a 'murubbi' over the junior family members, a father in a patriarchal family, a teacher of an educational institution and a 'hujur' of a religious teaching institution over his pupils and a malik/monib over his employees. These actors do traditionally enjoy enough prerogatives to employ violence against their subordinates without any hesitation.
Many 'non-state authoritative actors' use physical force to achieve compliance from subordinates. Among some sections of the population, even elder brothers do have social sanction to use physical force to rectify his junior's behaviour.
In the case of Rajon, two things happened. These are: 1) an apparently socially-approved behaviour went out of control and the boy died and 2) a video was posted for public consumption; otherwise, beating of Rajon would not have become public.
There are many incidents of culturally-accepted violent behaviours that are not customarily reported to the authority. The victims have no choice but to accept physical and emotional consequences of those violent behaviours as fate accompli. The type of behaviour Rajon faced due to accusation of stealing or trying to steal a rickshaw was not unusual. This gang-of-four went too far; they did not stop for a while or others did not intervene before it turned into a fatal one. Violence is very cruel. It not only takes lives but when it fails to take lives, it shatters lives and leaves long-term impacts on the victims.
Not all laws cover culturally-accepted behaviours that have far-reaching consequences of violence. Because, many elders or persons of higher status agree on these behaviours. These people have societal non-legal approvals of carrying out these acts that have consequences of violence. These behaviours have social acceptability and the actors are known as 'non-state authoritative actors'. Many Bangladeshis are still in favour of punishing children at home or in schools thinking that corporal punishment can be an effective technique of training and discipline. They feel these children are better controlled, develop better social skill as well as improve moral character and learn to better social discipline (State of Child Rights in Bangladesh 2013). Those who still cherish the age-old values do not agree that this type of torture causes pain, humiliation, low self-esteem, and deep psychological trauma. Those who believe in positive outcomes of physical torture are very likely to continue with their behaviour because, they are still sure that the 'non-state authoritative actors' do play positive roles in correcting many unruly children. In view of this, mere passage of anti-child abuse laws would not stop child oppression unless social scientists evolve ways to change their age-old views. Without that change, it would be very difficult to stop another incident where physical torture would go out of hand and a life will come to an end.
The writer is Professor, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Virginia State University, USA and Chairperson, Bangladesh Institute of Crime and Justice Studies (BICJS).