The drowning of two students in the Sitalakhya during a turf war between two groups of Narayanganj Ispahani Ghat area is not only tragic but also most alarming. In just 10 days spanning the last week of July and first week of this month the police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Chattogram city arrested as many as 45 members of teenage gangs who confessed to have been engaged in mugging on flyovers for long. Usually motor-cyclists were their targets.
Such incidents cannot be passed over as juvenile delinquency. Where light anti-social behaviours end, serious crimes begin. The teenage gangsters arrested in Chattogram used to mugging for financing substance addiction. It is not for the first time that the rise of teenage gangsterism has become a cause for serious concern. Organised teenage gangsterism first alarmed and shocked Bangladesh society in January 2017 when a ninth grader was beaten to death for defection from one group to another at Dakkhin Khan under Uttara about a kilometre from the Shahjalal International Airport. Another 17-year-old fell victim to gang rivalry in the same area on August 31, 2018.
The year 2019 also saw the spread of what is termed 'teen gang culture' to more areas of the country, Chattogram, Cumilla and Barguna marking a sharp rise. At that time the police arrested more than 300 teenagers for their suspected antisocial activities from different places. Narayanganj too was a hotspot of teenage rivalries. Although, the police now claim that they brought such conflicts and violence under control, the latest incident at Ispahani Ghat does not quite substantiate their claim. When asked about teenage gangs by a reporter of a TV channel, local people claimed they are terribly disturbed by such wild gangs which often fight each other for influence. However, they also observed that these gangs do not have political links. If this is so, it certainly is a positive side to this deadly culture.
In that case the saga of the deadly gang culture can be effectively dealt with before it goes completely out of control. The phase teenagers pass is of uncertainty and transition. Their restiveness needs to be appreciated by the elders. Rabindranath Thakur's short story Chhuti illustrates the psychological turmoil undergone by a teenager who assumes the role of leadership of a group but finds himself a total misfit when it comes to accepted family and social norms. Today's world of teenagers has changed beyond recognition from the time of Rabindranath's protagonist Fatik. Now teenagers are exposed to intrigues, violence, sex, murder and all kinds of crimes courtesy of electronic gadgets. Yawning social disparities, absence of chain of command in communities, deterioration of social values, lax or no parental guidance on the one hand and affluence gained by foul means in families may act and react on sensitive young minds in peculiar and unpredictable ways. This is why in Uttara, teenagers from rich families where parents have no time to take care of their children spoil themselves by forming gangs perhaps under the influence of Mario Gianluigi Puzo's Godfather-famed mafia culture.
Unguided or misguided teenage psychology can make them do things they are unaware of the consequences. In William Golding's Lord of the Flies, the emphasis is on the innate natural hankering in teenagers after supremacy over others around. What misguidance can do hardly needs any elaboration. The rise of teenage gangsterism in Dakkhin Khan is the result of misguidance. Parents' neglect and no dearth of money they wanted for daily expenses as compensation may have led a few to drop out from schools and develop bad habits like smoking and sniffing drugs. Gradually they acquired more vices and influenced others to form gangs.
The same formula may not have been at work in other localities where teenagers are not from similar affluent families. In Chattogram, the gang members are mostly from poor families which cannot afford good education for their children. In Narayanganj localities are deeply divided under the influence of violent political rivalry. There is nothing to be surprised if that influence is responsible for the rise of teenage gangsterism there.
What is of further concern now is society's failure to read teenage minds during this psychologically trying time of coronavirus. There is a real danger of more teenagers behaving in bizarre ways especially if they assemble after their long confinement. With no academic routine to follow and regular studies to pursue, many teenagers may go out of tract unless guided properly. A false sense of heroism or lording over others may prove highly appealing to them. If schools remain closed for a few more months, the psychological depression can erupt in violence whenever there is any chance.
Apart from online classes, there is need for regular counselling sessions or some events of game such as chess or culture such as musical or poetry recitation online in order to keep students and teenagers busy. Now the general feeling among them may be somewhat akin to that of the dropouts. They need positive activism and parents along with their teachers must see to it that they remain engaged in some sort of creative pursuits.