We often use the term ‘jantra danob’ when referring to vehicles such as buses and trucks. This, literally translated, means ‘monster machine’. Why have we dubbed these vehicles with such a name?
We see these as monster machines because in our country they can hurtle down the highways with reckless speed. They can smash anything under their wheels, be it human, animals or birds, and then vanish into thin air. Like monsters and ogres, they abide by no rules.
It is not possible to put monsters on trial.
Actually they don’t become monsters on their own accord, they are made and run by people like us. They are owned by humans. There are laws for the owners and the drivers about how to maintain the vehicles, how to drive them.
Even so, thousands of people die every year, crushed under the wheels of these vehicles. Yet why do the owners and drivers of these monster vehicles get away scot-free?
It is said there are no effective laws for them in the country. There is a Motor Vehicle Act, but it provides a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment. This is hardly a punishment for killing a person and so no one is really bothered to resort to the law.
Is there really no other law to tackle the owners and drivers of these killer vehicles? Is there no law to deal with fatal accidents resulting from over-speeding and reckless driving, driving faulty vehicles and so on?
Of course these crimes can be brought to justice. We have a penal code. The rules applying to manslaughter can certainly be applied for killing in road accidents. Manslaughter is a slightly lesser crime than murder. There need not be any intention in case of manslaughter, just having the knowledge is enough. For example, if I have the knowledge that my actions can lead to the death of a person and I go ahead with those actions and kill someone, then that is manslaughter.
For instance, I take a loaded pistol to the roof and start shooting randomly in all directions. Someone is hit by a bullet and dies. I can say in court that I had no intention to kill the person and don’t even know the person. Can I evade punishment? I simply cannot. I had the knowledge that my actions were dangerous and could lead to death. According to the law, this may not be cold-blooded murder, but it is criminal manslaughter. It can be awarded life imprisonment.
Similarly, if I drive a faulty vehicle, over-speed and ignore traffic rules and regulations, anyone can be killed by the monster machine. Any person in their sane mind has this knowledge. So this is a crime, criminal manslaughter. This is not simply an act of negligence or an accident.
Drivers have never been tried and punished for such fatal road accidents in our country. It was only a few days ago that for the first time such a verdict was passed regarding the killing of Tareque Masud and Mishuk Munier. Yet the transport owners and workers reacted with a countrywide strike, supported by a minister of the government.
They had simply one demand. No one can be tried for killing with their monster vehicles -- neither the owner of the vehicle nor the driver. And they are protected by an even greater monster.
If we are conscious we may be able to bring these highway killers to justice. But will the monsters who protect them ever be tried and punished? I think not.
The monster machines are at least visible, their owners and drivers can be found. The issue of bringing them to trial can be raised. But there are other monsters whom we cannot see, whose owners and drivers we cannot identify. That is why they cannot be brought to justice.
These monsters simply take off with someone and go to another unknown destination. Just two years ago BNP leader Salah Uddin Ahmed disappeared only to find himself a few months later in Shillong, India. He has no idea who took him there, how he got there.
Similar mysterious incidents have happened before in this country. AB Siddiqui disappeared only to return a few days later, having no idea who had whisked him off. On Thursday night, Humam Quader Chowdhury suddenly returned. Unidentified persons simply left him in front of a mosque in Dhanmondi. He had no idea who they were, where he had been and who had picked him up a few months ago. He remembers nothing.
Surely then these incidents must be the work of some supernatural monster. That is why the victims and their families seem to hold no grudge against the abductors. I know the families of AB Siddiqui and Salah Uddin. Their wives incidentally were my students at Dhaka University. I know they are not at all eager to discuss the identity of the abductors. They are simply happy to have their dear ones back.
That is why the families of the abducted persons now simply hope that one day their dear ones too will be returned to them. There will be no talk of where they were, who had taken them or who had brought them back. They are happy that the lost persons have been found.
They have all reasons to be happy because not all persons who disappear in this country, reappear. Some return dead, some are never heard of again. Only once could the public recover disappeared persons in the Narayanganj incident, and the accused were punished. But in the other cases, the perpetrators remain mysterious monsters. They grab people and whisk them off to lands unknown where they are kept in a state of unconsciousness. Luckily some return. But they remember nothing.
These certainly are ogres and monsters. How else to they remain out of reach of the courts and the law?
Then there are other monsters too in this country. There are those that leak out examination papers. Sometimes a few minor cogs in the machine and caught, but the leakage continues. After all, this is being done by the monsters whom we see not. We know not their drivers and owners.
We know not the monsters of cyber crime. People in this country are caught and convicted if they speak against the prime minister or ministers on Facebook and the electronic media. But no one is every tried if they write perverted things about the former prime minister or other respected persons of the society. Why are the law enforcers inactive then? Surely then it is the monsters and ogres who are writing about the others! The police and other law enforcement agencies have no training how to nab them.
Our country has quite a number of other monsters too. They adulterate the food, repair roads at overly exorbitant costs, pilfer off money from the banks and share market, kill Sagar and Runi.
With these monsters around, how do the people of this country have any rights? When will the country ever get a government that can annihilate these ogres?
* Asif Nazrul is a professor of law at Dhaka University. The article, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.