William Wordsworth, in his poem ‘London 1802’, has made a plaintive call to John Milton (1608-1674), a much-loved and revered English poet. Taking the state of the nation into account the speaker laments the fact that Milton isn't around anymore as the speaker strongly feels that England needs a guiding voice. The speaker goes on to compare the situation of the country with a stagnant swamp and asserts that the English people have forgotten all the things that were once considered so integral to their identity. The speaker is certain that Milton could inspire England to greatness once again by his inspiring words. The situation of our country is, more or less, the same as described in that poem. People of our country have almost forgotten all the things (such as the spirit of liberation war and language movement, and other national movements as well) that used to make us feel so glorious. Rather factors such as social inequality, deterioration of moral and cultural values and social injustice are dominating our country at the moment. Now, it seems that, like Wordsworth, people of Bangladesh are also in search of such a person who can change the society and bring back our glory as a nation. However in a state when people are looking for someone special so that the balance can be brought back in the society, someone with a pseudonym (Hercules) has recently made headlines. One ‘Hercules’, the secret murderer of rapists, who has taken his/her name after the mythological Greek hero to identify himself, has emerged in the scene and turned into the talk of the town. Who is this ‘Hercules’? What does he/she has in mind? Is he/she doing it right by taking law into his/her own hands? So many questions with absolutely no feasible answers are hovering over our heads. Let’s try to get some insights in this regard.
People started talking about the issue when police recovered consecutive three dead bodies of alleged rapists, with printed notes around their neck. In the first incident on January 17, police recovered the body of Ripon (39), the key suspect in the gang-rape of a female garment worker in Savar, with a note saying “I am the prime accused in a rape case”. In the second case, police recovered the bullet-hit body of a rape accused Sajal Jomadder (28) in Jhalakathi's Kathalia upazila on January 25, with a note saying, “I am involved in the rape of the madrasa girl (name of the victim) and this is the consequence”. Six days later, police on February 01 found the body of another rape accused named Rakib in the same case with the same kind of note in Jhalakathi's Rajapur upazila. In total, three rape accused have been killed by someone unknown.
The first thing that we should consider when it comes to this case is whether we really need someone in disguise of ‘Hercules’ and why such a situation when someone is taking law into his/her own hands has arisen. To be frank, mass people are very much sympathetic to ‘Hercules’ and there is considerable reason behind such compassion. A very common perception has developed among the people that rapists who have power, money and social influence will somehow escape punishment in the long run and roam around scot-free. And in some cases our past experience is responsible for such observation. In our society, for those who do seek justice against all odds, the journey is not smooth. On an average, a rape victim has to wait for at least four years before a trial court resolves a case and passes its verdict against the alleged perpetrators, while some victims have to wait for 12-14 years. In the meantime, many victims and their families lose hope and stop showing up at court because of the lengthy trial proceedings. Moreover, in many cases, the perpetrators turn out to be influential or politically well-connected men, who then threaten the victims or their families into silence. Thus justice is actually denied in the process. The lawyers dealing with such cases also say that the conviction rate is very low – 3% at best. For these reasons, sexual assault victims in Bangladesh are being discouraged from seeking justice. Considering such system of delivering justice in our country cross-sections of people may sympathize with the unnamed killer of the rapists, no matter whether the way is right or wrong.
The second point that needs to be taken into account is whether this sort of killing will bring any positive outcome for the society? The answer is certainly ‘no’. This kind of mindset of delivering justice is called ‘vigilante justice’, also known as frontier justice. In such social condition people deliver justice instantly instead of waiting for the judicial procedures and they resort to such violence owing to the non-existence of law and order or dissatisfaction with justice. However whatever the reason may be, such vigilante character or justice (vigilante) system will never bring any good for the society and the country in a broader sense. It may be easy to allow vigilantes to take justice into their own hands as a short term solution, especially in the face of incompetency and lawlessness, but it is likely that such system or process will result in something totally out of control. A glowing example is this regard can be the case of Venezuela where Colectivos, a coalition of armed vigilante groups, serve as the de facto security force, often violently clashing with the drug gangs, and other political opponents of the government. The result has been massive political turmoil, a complete distrust in Nicholas Maduro and lack of rule of law. Likewise if such vigilantes are inspired in our society, there is no doubt that our country will descend further into chaos.
However there is no denying that to take the law into one’s own hands is never appreciable and against the law. Everyone should be respectful of the existing laws. In the meantime it is also true that it is the law enforcers and other people responsible for ensuring justice who need to take a note and consider these instances seriously so that they can realize the reasons behind such sudden rise of vigilantes. And then they need to act accordingly. Finally, those responsible people should not forget that one of the major three promises of our liberation war was to ensure social justice for all. If concerned people deviate from that motto, such vigilante will keep rising in the society. So the only way to stop such epidemic is to deliver justice in due time!