Unabated turf wars between rival teenage gangs or flexing muscles by a gang where there is no rival in order to demand esteem from others living in or passing the areas under its control have become a cause for serious concern. At the age they were supposed to be busy with studies, games and sports and cultural pursuits, they have been mastering the art of bullying their peers or even seniors. Like the Sicilian and American-Italian mafia gangs that came into being first in the 19th century, teenagers not only in the capital city but also in many other cities and small towns have been earning notoriety for their criminal acts including killing of members of rival groups. Villainous and cruel, they do not hesitate to kill someone drawing their wrath.
At such an age, children are more likely to be highly sensitive, craving for love and care from parents and others. Even if they feel neglected or maltreated, they can at best be no more errant than characters like Fatik in the famous short story Chhuti (leave) by Rabindranath Thakur. But alas, those days seem to have long gone! Nowadays, children of at least some sections of society are becoming precocious (!) when it comes to criminal and sexual traits. Committing murder and sexual crimes by youngsters as old as 14 or 12 has recently been reported.
In his famous novel Lord of the Flies, William Golding exposes the teenage psyche that in exceptional situations behaves in an authoritarian manner. In their isolation on an uninhabited island, the stronger boys bully the weak and take command. Whereas immediately after the plane crashed in the forest, the senior boys took care to distribute food first among the younger ones. Gradually they turn dictators one after another with disastrous consequences.
How will the teenage turf wars end in this country cannot be predicted conclusively. But about one thing there is a certainty that child psychology has gone through a radical transformation for the worse because of this increasing trend of violence. If promising lives are wasted thus, the loss is not only to a family but to entire society. Those who among them survive ---and survive to be hardened criminals in their adulthood --- pose a still greater threat to society's poise and peace. Teenagers who have no qualms about killing another are indeed oriented to a dangerous cult.
The first such killing was reported from Dhaka City's Dakkhin Khan area---a place not far from the Shahjalal International Airport in 2017. The latest killing has been reported from Sutrapur on Monday last and at least two more were admitted to hospital with stab wounds. In the meantime four years have passed and a number of such killings have occurred. Is it impossible to rein in the gangs if the local community and law enforcement agency jointly take up programmes aimed at reforming them?
This city saw the rise of underworld gangs who controlled between and among them the entire city mainly for extortion and other crimes. At some point, the administration had to go for an extreme measure like cross-fires in order to get rid of the anti-social goons. A few fell victim to cross-fires, one or two are in custody and others fled Bangladesh to live a fugitive life in different countries. Reports, though, have it that a handful of those dreaded gang leaders ---in prison or living abroad ---still continue extortion with help from their local gang members. Traders living in the zone of their influence in particular allegedly have to regularly pay the extortion money. The teenagers have been carrying on the legacy perhaps in the absence of those underworld gangs.
Whether these teenagers have been influenced by the senior gang leaders or not cannot be ascertained. But one thing is clear that families and urban society have miserably failed to bring them up the way children should be brought up. Parents and elders of society are no less to blame for this gargantuan lapse. Primarily it is the parents who were supposed to know what their sons do when they go out and which company they keep. It appears parents made available to them the money they demanded and thought they have done their duty. It would not be too much to conclude that the incomes of the families with derailed youngsters are also dubious. Without aberrations such degradation of values and human qualities cannot happen.
Urban society is mostly highly alienated. Even people living in flats of the same building hardly know each other. In the absence of book reading, cultural practices within a family or participation in sports and games, what options do children have before them to develop a healthy mind in a healthy body? The vacuum has been filled by digital devices that thrush alien and unsuitable culture and contents full of violence and sexual titillation. On this score the nation is at a crossroads. Reviving the tradition and values of this land will require generous investment in building sports facilities, cultural institutes and libraries in every locality. All this may provide enough impetus to salvaging the young souls.