What is the most redneck area of Bangladesh? Why it would be no other than Brahmanbaria? Fighting is their daily exercise. Breaking lockdown rules to attend a funeral by the thousands is just a matter of fact. These people of Brahmanbaria are so aggressive that they believe coronavirus does not stand a chance if the virus wanted to fight them face-to-face.
Before you sue me like Brahmanbaria Chhatra League president Rabiul Hossain Rubel sued media personality Dr Abdun Noor Tushar for defaming Brahmanbaria district, please consider the following facts.
Between February 13 and April 21, people of Brahmanbaria took part in nine acts of violence, leaving eight people dead and 135 injured. These include murders of an ex union parishad member, a father by his son, and a number of clashes.
Of these nine violent cases, four incidents took place after the government announced the countrywide shutdown, in which 103 people were injured and three individuals died. All but one incident of these four were clashes between two groups where hundreds of people participated with weapons, bamboo sticks etc.
Besides, the rednecks of Bangladesh defied the national shutdown to slowdown the coronavirus pandemic like no one else. On April 18, around one lakh people gathered at the funeral prayer of esteemed Islamic scholar Allama Maulana Zubayer Ahmed
Ansari at Brahmanbaria's Jamia Rahmania Madrasa of Sarail upazilla.
What's eating the people of Brahmanbaria?
If you go through the news, you will find that almost all these clashes stemmed from old rivalry, land dispute or simple altercation.
We came across unverified news that one of the big fights took place over one person farting out on the street and another person reacting to it. We do not know if this was the real cause. But you cannot rule it out.
This unverified news has also gone viral that after one fight: a television channel asked the 'fighters'- why they violated the social distancing rule? The fighters replied that they fought with long bamboo sticks and did not get into physical contact with the rivals. "We washed our hands thoroughly with soap after the fight," one said, claimed a news. Again, we cannot be sure that this news is true. But we cannot rule it out either. It can happen. Its Brahmanbaria.
Have you heard of any other place, beside Sarail of Brahmanbaria, where people of same community cannot stand each other, so often and for such a long time? Or cannot accept the opinions of others or frequently have claims over the same land?
There must be something about Brahmanbaria that we do not understand.
Why would they ignore the virus threat and congregate at a funeral in thousands? This has nothing to do with political restriction. Even Saudi Arabia, the hub of Islam, has enforced restrictions.
I have an outrageous explanation for this. This was told to me by a friend of mine named Zulfiqar, who used to work in the tea gardens as manager decades back. He liked to mingle with villagers a lot and had extensively visited villages between Brahmanbaria and Sylhet over a period of time.
Zulfiqar told me, "Have you noticed that crime rate is very high between Brahmanbaria and Habiganj? Do you know why? It's because the villages in between have ancestors of Mughal fighters who brought in a culture of violence when they were posted there."
Zulfiquar claims that the Mughal emperors had sent troops several times to conquer the eastern Bengal. Every time they came, the king of Manipur who ruled the area then expressed allegiance to the Mughal ruler- promising to pay taxes. But as soon as the Mughal troops were gone, they declared independence and did things their own way – knowing that the Mughal headquarters were located 2000 km away.
Emperor Akbar sent a troop of 10,000 soldiers led by a general to kill the king of Manipur and his clan and establish Mughal rule for good. The soldiers came. Blood spilled. The general then left, leaving the soldiers in several outposts—with a mandate that they may raise their own taxes for living.
"Since then on, they have been here. They got married locally and they passed their culture down the generations," said my friend. As a proof of this myth, he said, "Where did you think the Sarail hound came from? These hounds were part of Akbar's army. And the fighting cock Asli chicken? They came with the soldiers for entertainment. Asli chicken comes from Pakistan."
Well we will never know if this is true. But a senior police officer who had served as Superintendent of Police in Narsingdi, near Sarail, says maybe there is some truth in it.
"It's their culture. And it's a business for the local leaders to fight," he said. "Indeed there was a large Mughal outpost in Sarail. But we cannot say exactly if 10,000 troops were left in that region," he added, noting that he has interest in the history of police in Bengal and studied a lot of it.
During his tenure there between 2002 and 2003, the officer saw several rounds of fights in shoal areas where thousands of people would jump in, killing or injuring each other. He agreed that violent incidents over trivial matters are common in the region between Brahmanbaria and Habiganj – but Brahmanbaria is special.
"I tried to find out why they behave this way. Someone must be gaining something from these fights and if we must stop it, we must stop the profit-making process," he said.
Upon his investigation, he found out that After each fight, each rival group files cases against each other. The leaders of the group list the accused persons by the hundreds. Then they contact the people who are to be made an accused, and ask for money – Tk500 to Tk1000 - so that their names are not in the list.
"Just imagine, if the leaders raised just Tk500 each from 500 people, they make Tk 2.5 lakh. So I figured, it's a business for these leaders and I could stop it," he said.
Following one incident, he went to the locality and asked them who their leaders were. They named them. "So I told the public that other than these leaders, nobody will be charged for the violence."
Then he quickly filed the case accusing the leaders.
"Soon, the violence stopped. Because the leaders could no longer raise their money from others, they became busy fighting their cases. In the remaining 16-17 months of my stay, I did not have to face any such mass violence," he said.
If this officer is right, then we believe we can actually stop the people of Brahmanbaria from being such rednecks. I hope the police authority will take some real action.