In Martin Scorsese's seminal 1976-film Taxi Driver, the young and unhappy protagonist Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) said, "Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets." Travis took part in the Vietnam War as a marine. Later, he became a taxi driver in New York City and was appalled by the repulsive squalor of the place.
Like a few other dialogues of this film, this dialogue is also much-quoted. As murder and rape marked by horrific cruelty and crudeness has become commonplace in our country, I also long for a cleansing rain that will rid the society of social scum and all sorts of moral decay.
An engineering student named Abrar, a young man named Rifat Sharif, a retired military officer Major Sinha, and a schoolgirl Neela Roy have been brutally killed in different places of the country since last year. Recently, in Noakhali, members of a local criminal gang entered the house of a woman and raped her. The hoodlums also filmed the incident, and later uploaded the footage on social media.
The horrifying video shows despite the agonised cries and the tearful pleas of the hapless woman, those perpetrators remained unperturbed and continued assaulting her brutally. A few weeks ago, some young men forcibly took a young woman in a deserted dormitory of Sylhet MC College and gang-raped her.
Recently, in various places throughout the country widows, housewives, teenage and preteen girls, mentally disabled girls were raped. It has been reported by a human rights organisation that in our country from January to September this year every day more than three rape incidents took place on average.
Conscious citizens have become infuriated as such dreadful crimes occuring frequently. Many people take to the streets in protest. But, the menacing situation makes many of them worry about their safety, too. Organising a rally, a human chain, or standing outside carrying placards and banners demanding the punishment of the rapists and killers or lamenting in a newspaper article about the lack of safety of women in our society today will not frighten the perpetrators.
In order to take effective measures to resist the wrongdoers we must understand the actual reasons for the rise of such vicious crimes in contemporary society. The causes that generate such crimes need to be discussed and perceived.
Since last year, people were arrested in connection with murder and rape. Some of them also underwent trial. Yet, such hideous and violent crimes did not cease. It seems certain people have now become so frenzied, insensitive, and vicious that in order to make an obnoxious display of power and to satisfy their perverted lust they can resort to murder and rape without any hesitation and fear.
It is always of crucial importance to instill good sense and good taste in many people through the transmission of discerning and edifying messages by the families, educational institutions and the mass media. Over the years, this very important duty has been neglected in our society and now we are paying the price. In spite of witnessing the persistence of various practices that served to make individuals especially young people aggressive, unrefined, and bigoted we remained indifferent.
For quite some time now, both mainstream and social media are inundated with contents conveying spectacle, flashiness, and extravagant entertainment. Reality shows, dramas, music videos deliberately present women in a way that creates titillation and serves to ensure pleasurable male gaze. Did we give it a thought how the taste of many people in our society was conditioned by such contents?
Instead of denunciating the media productions marked by mindlessness, frivolity, and objectification of women many people even became enthusiastic about such components. It is unfortunate that they mistake triviality and tastelessness for instances of creative expressions.
As Facebook abounds with hostile texts and sensational and titillating video clips and pictures rather than intellectually engaging elements, it becomes clear that many people in today's society lack good taste. It is often reported that in different places in our country using their mobile phones men captured the scene of raping or molesting a woman, and then, either began blackmailing her by threatening to disseminate the video via social media or sometimes they uploaded the video online.
If people are devoid of refined and sensible attitudes they may start using mobile phones and social media irresponsibly and in that situation technological innovations turn out to be a burden rather than a blessing.
The students arrested in connection with Abrar's murder and the young men held on the charge of raping a woman in Sylhet were affiliated with the student wing of the ruling party. In Noakhali, the woman was raped and assaulted by the members of Delwar gang. From an auto-rickshaw driver and a petty thief Delwar became the leader of a criminal gang. Despite facing a murder charge, Delwar was roaming freely in his area.
It is known that he had a close connection with the local leaders of the ruling party. When the video depicting the brutal assault of the woman provoked a huge public outcry, Delwar was arrested. But why was he not arrested before this gang-rape in spite of his involvement with various criminal activities? How could he form a criminal gang? What was the source of power of Rifat Sharif's killers who also formed a ferocious and violent teenage gang in Borguna?
When people having political affiliations are arrested in connection with serious crimes in our society, political parties either expel them or the leaders deny their association with those people. But, it is obvious that because of political backing those persons got the courage and opportunity to display power nastily and to inflict harm on common people. It is such a shame that individuals having immoral and vicious disposition and a bent for crime can form a good relationship with major political parties in our country.
In an ideal political culture political parties do not need musclemen to assert dominance over other parties and general people, nor do politicians get the chance to amass enormous wealth.
The young men who hacked Rifat Sharif inhumanly with large heavy knives in broad daylight in Borguna were involved with illegal drug trade. Newspaper reports inform that yaba trade continues to exist in Borguna and a large number of young people are becoming yaba addicts. If the administration truly intends to stop drug trade, can such illicit and dangerous trade thrive and jeopardise the lives of the youngsters?
On the one hand, people are rarely encouraged and aided to develop good taste and rational disposition in our society today. On the other hand, they are being constantly offered cultural elements lacking cultivated aesthetic taste and intellectual depth. For many teenagers reared on a diet of titillating media contents, internet and mobile phones turn out to be tools for watching pornographic materials.
Because of the addiction of yaba and other deadly drugs many young people are becoming unfeeling and reckless. People involved with various crimes often obtain political protection. During some waaz mahfil held in our country certain speakers made very offensive comments about female bodies and clothes worn by females. One of the speakers once described women as evil spirits.
Such utterly unpleasant remarks made by certain religious speakers may lead many unenlightened men to develop contempt and hatred for women. When all of these above-mentioned problems persist in the society, how can we expect that many people would act rationally and demonstrate decent manners?
In this situation, people's critical consciousness and consequent resistance to cultural degradation and moral degeneration may act as the cleansing rain that will rid our society of depravities and decadence. The system needs to be castigated for not trying enough to stamp political corruption out.
At the same time, people also need to ponder whether the families, academic institutions, and the mass media educate and inspire individuals to become sensible, principled, and refined. Immoral behavior and injustices will only cease to perpetuate in society when the majority of people will learn to do the right thing and reject the wrong.
Naadir Junaid is a professor of the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka.