Dead men’s rights

Raihan Amin | Update:

We hardly ever think of the inevitable - death, and wish for a natural one when we do. Had it been otherwise, perhaps we would have abstained from trampling on others’ rights. 

In Bangladesh, the rate of death by unnatural causes is on an uptick and no serious steps are visible to arrest the trend. In the backdrop of national amnesia, the commonly cited reasons are crossfire, homicides and accidents (traffic and industrial), the last-mentioned reported with sickening regularity in the media. It’s not hard to imagine the emotional toll on members of the family, relatives, and friends of the departed. The nation loses its promising sons.
But alas! Ordinary law abiding and shell-shocked Bangladeshi citizens, here and abroad, are mere spectators. As the initial shock wears off dependents of the victims are left to carry the unbearable pang of separation and longing. Wives and children try to rebuild their shattered lives, sometimes when the breadwinner is no more.
We therefore demand that death by unnatural causes be prevented and redress provided where it does occur. Justice demands no less. We are simply asking that citizens be afforded a fundamental human right - security of life and limb.For a start, a white paper may be published inviting public comments and at the same time a database on violent crimes set up.The nation needs a shot in the arm and our leaders need to awaken to a man-made calamity.
I believe that the indignity faced by victims of unnatural deaths should be given due recognition especially because we could not provide the security that rightfully belonged to them.
Based on this premise,the following steps may be taken to show, at a minimum, that the state is serious about correcting the many lacunae in enforcement.The victim should get a decent burial (or last rites) at state cost after a proper post-mortem. The coroner should call the next of kin and have the report delivered. He should be willing to answer any questions patiently during the call. Criminal investigation should get the highest priority. Redeployment of resources from non-essential duties may be necessary.
A constitutional body needs to be setup to carry out the tasks mentioned above (and below).
Annual reports (including statistics on violent crimes) published should be placed before the parliament. Hearings in the JS should be open to members of the public where heads of law enforcing agencies should be present. Policing needs to be strengthened both administratively and by clever means. For example, informers may be recruited from among the guards posted at ATMs that pepper the landscape. Cameras should be strategically placed for 24/7 surveillance and notices to this effect made visible as a deterrent.
Police should be subject to independent and surprise review. Training of new officers should be tailored so as to gradually earn public trust and ingrain a mindset of service.
Dependents of the victims of industrial accidents should get compensation from an “accident fund” that should be started immediately. Dependents of the victims of homicides should get compensation from the proceeds of attached assets of the criminals. Law should be suitably amended. Legal assistance for prosecuting criminal cases for a limited time should be provided to heirs for free. Ditto for psychological counselling for wives and children.
Religion asks us to honour the dead. Shouldn’t the state show victims of mindless violence a modicum of respect?
Raihan Amin is Adjunct Faculty, United International University, Dhaka

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