Monday, October 11, 2004

Bangladesh: In for a Rough Ramadhan?

[The minister has reassured the traders who have met him that steps will be in place for them to pursue their businesses without fear or intimidation. Exactly how do the authorities mean to do that job? A few weeks ago, there were reports that the police and other security personnel would be deployed at markets to keep an eye on prices during Ramadan. And Ramadan is only days away.]

Ramadan, Puja, law and order

The worries that traders have been expressing before the authorities are also those of the country. As Ramadan and Puja approach, it is the fear of citizens that nefarious elements are out there to derive maximum benefit from the occasions. This is something they do in quite a few novel ways, one of which is described as silent extortion. It is nothing but exercising gentle pressure on traders for donations, which as everyone understands are only a euphemism for extortion. Now, a traders’ team has been meeting the minister of state for home to talk about the insecurity which stalks them on the eve of the Puja and Ramadan seasons. And the minister, we have been informed, has directed the law enforcing bodies to ensure security for these traders. Which is quite an admirable move, for it is the responsibility of every government to make sure that the fears of people on its watch are neutralised effectively.

Given the social realities in the country, though, there are reasons to think that not much may actually be seen in terms of an implementation of the directive. We are not projecting here an image of pessimism. Let there be no misunderstanding on this score. But when you have a situation in which a section of the traders’ community itself has been enhancing the prices of essential commodities on various pretexts — rains, floods, absence of good communication facilities — you tend to think that not much good can come of mouthing the old platitudes about keeping prices under control and keeping lawlessness at bay. The minister has reassured the traders who have met him that steps will be in place for them to pursue their businesses without fear or intimidation. Exactly how do the authorities mean to do that job? A few weeks ago, there were reports that the police and other security personnel would be deployed at markets to keep an eye on prices during Ramadan. And Ramadan is only days away.

Going by what has happened so far, in terms of a rise in prices, it is safe to predict that traders will not likely stay back from a further increase in prices once the fasting season begins. In fact, the authorities should by now have made moves to force the traders to desist from raising prices. That they have not is a sorry affair; and we all somehow get the feeling that come Ramadan people will be at the mercy of these seekers of profit. One does not, again, quite know how the presence of the police at markets will lead to caps on prices. In much the same way, one is not aware of a system where extortion, of the kind the traders meeting the minister have been talking about, can be stopped or checked through the government ordering the police into action.

And while we are on the subject of the police, let the point be noted that there are long-standing grievances about the force itself. Its propensity to check vehicles, especially trucks, at every opportunity has long been a sign of the wrongs it often commits. And the wrong comes through especially in the way drivers are harassed even when their consignments are legal and their papers are in order. The necessary question here then is one of who will carry out the job of policing policemen who themselves are often guilty of turning their backs on the calling of their profession? The point here is that it is not enough to make assurances, to use the old clichés while speaking about the sufferings of people. There really must come into the exercise a degree of sincerity and a determination to do the job well.

New Age 11/10/2004