The euphemistic form of extortion  

Shihab Sakar   | Published: August 05, 2019 22:13:01

Few residents in Dhaka have noticed how a menace is taking deeper root in the city as days wear on. Most of the people overlook it despite being affected, and consider it a part of life in the capital. The menace is extortion, one with newer styles and employing innovative techniques and an invincibility not seen before. In the past thugs used to be seen brusquely demanding money from a petty trader. Their style would give the impression that asking for the sum was their right. The traders concerned had no options except complying with the demand. Extortions like this take place round the year. But it assumes miserable proportions during the two Eids and the days prior to the festivals.

Apart from the 'classical' extortions, newer types of swindling now beset the lives of the city residents. Many longtime Dhaka residents these days encounter a revolting spectacle while commuting by bus. As the bus pulls in at a stoppage, a group of transgender youths barge into the bus. Flirting and singing old Hindi songs, they swing into action without wasting time. Their job comprises thrusting their open palms out in front the passengers. The message is clear. Spare Tk 10 without killing time. If any newcomer to the city wants to know the reason, the reply comes forthwith, 'Bakshish.' The time may be nowhere near the two Eid festivals. But the transgender youths, popularly called 'hijras', have lately chosen the whole year as the occasion for demanding 'bakshish'. Many of the bus passengers get out of trouble by giving them Tk 10 or Tk 5 without fuss. Those who won't budge are showered with obscene slangs. It is mainly college and university students who do not give in to the blatant extortion. Youngish passengers as well as senior citizens hold the bus conductors and the drivers responsible for inviting this trouble into a bus.

People comfortably seated in their private cars are not free of this nuisance either. The transgender people are frequently seen targeting these cars stuck in a traffic jam. In most cases, they fail in their mission. They continue to bang at the car windows, but few bother to open those. Passersby walking along a footpath are also not spared of extortion. In a high noon, unwitting pedestrians are frequently seen walking into trouble they have never thought of. All of a sudden two or three youths appear as if from nowhere, and block the passage of a pedestrian. Seeing them the baffled person looks up, "yes?" "Uncle, give us some 'bakshish". "What 'bakshish'? Eid is still quite far. Moreover, I do not know you guys. Why should I give you 'bakshish'." Then they show their original face. "So, you are not giving us the money. Alright. Give us your purse. Quick! We know how to get 'bakshish' money."

There are scores of such 'bakshish' incidents taking place across the city. Earlier, the occurrences were few and far between. Most of the Dhaka-dwellers had no idea about the menace plaguing any area beyond the city centre. Given the unabated frequency of these extortions in almost every part of the city, the bygone days appear to be halcyon times. What's worrying, the crime is emerging with newer and more ingenious forms. Apart from the new comers in the capital, the long-time residents are also found falling victim to the 'bakshish' gangs.

It requires no lengthy elaboration to conclude that the term 'bakshish' used by strangers is purely a euphemism for extortion. During festivals, people give 'bakshish' to those who serve them at offices or at residences. Most of the persons enjoy distributing the sum to those who deserve it. The task is also tinged with a sense of piety. But when it is made binding to someone, the spirit of the festival-time 'bakshish' turns sour and also oppressive. Moreover, if the trend of demanding 'bakshish' continues freestyle throughout the year, it finally emerges as part of extortion ploys. This is what happens in the metropolitan Dhaka during times other than the two Eid festivals.

Historical records say the 'bakshish' culture has been brought to the sub-continent by the British colonial rulers. They used to practise it with two objectives on mind. First, they wanted their native factotums and domestic servants to show complete loyalty. At the same time, they were eager to demonstrate their money-power and superiority. 'Bakshish' for almost all jobs, in addition to the monthly salaries, would work magic. The 'bakshish' culture could hardly make much inroad into the mainstream British society. Perhaps it finds itself an anathema to the individualism promoted by the strong democratic values of that country. However, Americans attach significant importance to 'bakshish' or tips. In accordance with their tradition, they have little hesitation in asking the waiters at a restaurant to keep the changes they were supposed to give back to the customer. While checking out from a hotel, the boarders are supposed to leave a specific amount of money on the bedside table. Besides, a bellboy will happily accept a little amount of tips for carrying a person's luggage to his hotel room.

The 'bakshish' scenario in this country was once filled with pure goodwill gestures. During festivals, thanks to its widespread practice, it would assume a unique character, adding to the festivity of the occasions. During the festival time, the fixed-income people these days remain prepared for parting with some amount of money --- to be distributed among the socially disadvantaged people. As an experience, making a deserving person happy with a petty amount of 'bakshish' is great. Those who are out to vitiate this harmonious ambience, and make 'bakshish' a ploy for extortion are playing their part of sowing the seeds of discord in society.




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