The news of law enforcers nabbing a group of muggers in a once-sleepy Bangladesh town last week is stunning. The feeling of being nonplussed stems from the fact that even the idyllic towns couldn't be kept free from the mugging menace! Lately, the said town and many others became ridden with various types of crimes and chaos. Ironically, the aforementioned small urban pocket amid lush green villages was once known as a centre of myriad types of cultural activities. The town has produced dozens of authors, academics, enlightened civil servants --- and, dominantly, a number of sub-continental musical legends. The villages not far from the town were the centres of unblemished tranquility. Over the last couple of decades, the peaceful pastimes have been replaced with typical rural feuds, attacks and counter-attacks, killings etc. They mostly relate to cropland plot ownership. And all these are filled with unspeakable brutalities.
The blissful environs that had prevailed in the Bangladesh villages for ages faced their first blow with the advent of the so-called modernity. To take recourse to history, the proverbial self-sufficiency of the land was no myth. Although it appears to be a spontaneous outpouring, Tagore's calling Bengal the Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal) doesn't at all seem a hyperbole. The roots of these compliments are nowadays traced by economists to the days of a long faded past of abundance. Despite being a perennially poverty-stricken area, the portrayal of a happy, fully content and prosperous Bengal is found in the works of medieval poets. It doesn't require in-depth research work to prove the authenticity of these facts. As a peaceful race, the Bengalees had never earned the notoriety of nurturing any ingrained penchant for unnecessary conflicts and confrontations.
Yet their reputation had undergone changes; on occasions those were wilful vilifications. Social historians today point their finger for these uncomfortable developments at a section of greedy elements and crooks. Veritably a class of faceless villains, they had kept sowing the seeds of discord and a hydra-headed monster spinning webs of corruption. Thus the process of social and community-based rot began tentatively.
Meanwhile, a watershed event took place in distant England, the ancestral land of the British colonial rulers in Bengal and other parts of India. The event came to be known in history as the Industrial Revolution. The catalysts of the event dreamt of breaking with their nation's feudal and monarchic past. In a short time, the pioneers of the revolution overwhelmed what they called the exploitative process of production. They entered the scene by pressing into operation the production-expediting machines. The process completed a cycle in the early 20th century, with the full-scale operation of the Industrial Revolution spreading to whole Europe from the rock bed of its origins in England.
The backwater region of Bengal was the most unlikely place to reap the benefits of the Industrial Revolution. Instead, it was veritably picked as a venue for experimenting the pros and cons of the newly invented agricultural implements. Bengal was also used as an Asian test-case to see the agro-industrial revolution's impact on the time's social and economic sectors. The mechanism was accompanied by a remarkable change in the style people had been accustomed to since the fag end of the Mughal era. Fortunately, the colonial British Empire, namely, its army remained busy fighting the enemy forces on the western front. By the time the Great War was about to reach the fringes of western Asia, the 4-year-old war was over. The year was 1918.
What happened during the Second World War (1939-1945) was different. The fallouts of the apocalyptic global war severely impacted on Bengal, especially its eastern part, bringing with them the seeds of myriad destabilisations and socio-economic tensions. Those who had been alive during the Sultanate and Mughal-time Bengal could feel their halcyon days were over. The last nail was driven on the coffin of social peace when the British Empire left its Indian colony in 1947. The peace mess-up didn't beset the urban centres only. Its domino effects were also felt in Bengal's vast rural swathes. Those came in the form of dozens of socio-communal restlessness, mindless hostilities and mistrust of one class for another.
Literally strange, the present condition of Bangladesh speaks of an alien rural culture. For the country's rural society nowadays is plagued with scores of maladies. The rural Bengal was once reputed for the hospitality it used to extend to strangers. Shelter-seeking guests were regarded as 'saints', who were always welcomed to an affluent feudal home. These days, few people are eager to allow unknown persons to pass a night at their homes. But arranging night-halts at one's house was a common spectacle in this country even fifty years ago. It was integral to Bangladesh's rural culture, which was filled with warmth and empathy. This practice petered out thanks to the creeping of suspicions on the part of house-owners. The hunch that the shelter-seekers at a large household might turn out to be ruthless robbers in disguise began to prove true. Although the incidents were few and far between, it created a panicky situation in the houses of moneyed people. As a universal rule, the otherwise magnanimous people began feeling discouraged from offering night-stay facilities to unknown people on way to far-away destinations.
In spite of the puritan nature of the rural Bangladeshi people in general, the villages would be seen, though grudgingly, allowing cannabis-takers to live among them. Actually, they belong to the margins of society as outcasts of sorts. Despite being looked down upon by the senior and respectful persons, and the targets of everybody's fun, these people would somehow manage to make themselves part of the mainstream society. There were reasons. Out of a sense of guilt these skulking young and middle-aged people would always keep a low profile. Being virtual outcasts, they had their own communities with a strong bond. Both sons or close relatives of moneyed people and a section of vagabonds, with no fixed income, used to comprise the 'cannabis clubs'. The cannabis takers were like the crackpots and petty thieves who lived in the early rural landscapes. They used to be found in almost every Bangladesh village. As time wore on, and with the availability of strong narcotics, a section of these outwardly timid and innocuous addicts became chronic addicts.
Due to the impact of the mind-altering synthetic drugs, a section of youths occasionally became violent while 'under influence'. Researchers working on the behavioural changes among a section of the country's rural youths link the sharp rise in ghastly crimes to drugs' availability. Unfettered use of smart-phone based taboo visuals continues to add to the decline in the long honoured social values in the Bangladesh villages. It is the young women who bear the brunt of the increasing drug abuse among the male youths.
With the many other village-based milder addictions turning into hard substance abuse and ending in violence and carnal savagery, the dope-taking habits are seen turning into widespread narcotics dependence, alcohol being the dominant agent. This depressing, but horrific, turn of events in rural Bangladesh can now be considered an infernal scourge. Few will dispute that this headlong plunge of the age-old Bengalee values warrants a strong social movement. It would be idealistic in nature, yet an orchestrated and all-pronged campaign can be directed at bringing many dying virtues back to life. The nauseating odour of alcohol or phensidyl can never go with the smells of water lilies, unknown shrubbery and, even, the new soil of a mid-river 'char'.