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Lust In Disguise

January 13, 2017

Bangladesh is witnessing an unusually warm winter this year. With the arrival of winter, fire accidents crop up every now and then. Worst of all is the mysterious fire.

Mysterious fire usually breaks out in commercial areas, markets or apartment complexes and does not injure anyone, but causes a lot of financial damages to the owners. The very nature of this fire reeks of foul play.

Dhaka has recently fallen prey to this mysterious fire. Despite being unscathed, the victims sustain a great deal of mental trauma due to their financial losses. A mysterious fire gutted down a semi-pucca market complex and damaged its adjacent two-storey market building, both owned by Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) whose mayor won a controversial election when agency-leaked information led to the detention of an aspirant mayoral candidate.

Few lines are required to grasp what has been going on DNCC market prior to fire. DNCC market had ownership disputes. Previous DNCC administration inked deal with a developer company to build a multistory commercial office cum residential complex. The deal however fell through because of disputes over new office complex and delay in its implementation. Many of the affected shop-owners are the sole bread winners of their families and took commercial loans from banks to bring fresh impetus to their sluggish businesses.

But the fire nipped all prospects in the bud.

Mayor’s ensuing remarks generated further smoke rather than diffusing tensions. Mayor sahib first commented that he was 99% sure that it had been an act of sabotage. He later retracted the comment and said he was not a sabotage expert to make such comment. He heaped opprobrium on current chair of shop-owners’ association for deceiving them. There had earlier been several abortive attempts to evict them. In a recent move, DNCC cut off the electricity connection of the market. Shop-owners alleged that firefighters took a long time to douse fire.

Two days later a floor of another commercial market in Mirpur and an office building in Motijheel caught fire. In 2015, on the eve of Shab-e-barat, a spice market in Dhaka’s Karwanbazar area was leveled to the ground by another mysterious fire. Luckily, no one was hurt.

When I was a reporter, I interviewed several victims of arson attack. To my surprise, I found out how costly the treatment is for lower-income group. In addition, some of the drugs need to be imported from abroad. A US-made ointment costs over Tk 1000 and runs out within a week if it is applied regularly. But the mysterious fire does more damage to tangible assets. It is a hassle-free solution to get rid of undesirable occupants. Recent fire accidents at Santal settlement, Bihari camp, Nasirnagar, Karail slum and Sattala slum happened right before our eyes and media. Legal ways to evict them are cumbersome and lengthy and often higher court intervenes in such cases.

So why don’t go for “force majeure” solution?

Politics and businesses are mingled into such a mess that can only offer and invite troubles, just like the mix up of our sewerage line and tap-water supply line. And such mix up is a perennial source of maladies. And, here winner-takes-all is the norm of politics. That’s why, yesterday’s winners are today’s losers. Since we have lost all civic sense in politics, we also lose the civilized way to settle dispute in society and in business.

Recent attack on Santals is the eye opener. Local administration, Police and ruling party stalwarts took part in that eviction drive. Local politicians used them as pawns to settle in the areas. As soon as the local election was over, they were evicted.

In Kurmitola Bihari camp, which sustained arson attack in 2014, billboards of real-estate companies popped-up. These companies have already grabbed the surrounding swampy lands. They wish to churn out flats for the nouveau-riche who are eager to live in the vicinity of capital city.

Affected communities and businessmen withstood shock, but have lost their confidence in the govt and the party it represents. And the new offices and market complex may be occupied by those who deem closer to the ruling coterie and the men-in-uniform.

Maybe we are living in an age when being an exclusive member of army-run golf club, numbers of the powerful on your mobile phone and boozing with law-enforcing officials give you the ticket to fame and fortune.

None other than DNCC’s current mayor grasped it better. For this reason, he, being an outsider, quickly moved to the mainstream. In his campaign, he coined a catchy slogan:”Amrai Dhaka”![We are Dhaka!] Having been elected as mayor, he is seen with a motley group of men-in-uniform, whenever he visits a place or holds a press conference. The message it conveys and confirms that power is nowadays indeed come from uniform! His “Amra” is not us!

Committees after committees may be formed to probe on the causes behind the fire. But whom will they blame when lust for riches camouflaged the motive?

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From → Analysis

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