Murders under the guise of accidents

Maswood Alam Khan
A MUNSHIGANJ-bound motorised launch, hit on its behind by a loaded cargo vessel, sank in the river Buriganga on February 28 last and dozens of passengers died.

On hearing the incident photo journalists started cleansing their costly zoom lens, rushed to the spot and ran helter-skelter in their quest for dead bodies; one perhaps implored a salvager to hold the body of a baby on his arms for a little longer so that he could catch a lively photograph of the dead for his newspaper to publish on the front page the next day.

As usual personnel from police, fire brigade, armed forces and water transport authority had to come to the spot and do their job of pulling bodies trapped inside the launch and later the launch itself while thousands of spectators circling the spot of mishap witnessed a drama the way people sitting on galleries enjoy the sight of an elephant doing its tricks in a circus party.

A probe committee headed by an important government functionary to find out the cause and identify the culprits was also formed. Investigation Officer would be doing his routine job, so routine-like a job that he may ask a pen-pusher of his office to retrieve from the dust-gathering heaps of files an investigation report on a similar accident that took place a few months back and copy the same in toto — replacing only the name of the ill-fated launch, the number of victims and the location of the mishap.

But the incident was a simple one not to shout about, was not it? We are nonchalant when scores of people die in an accident. Howls of relations of the victims don’t reach our ears as loudly as they should. Some of us of course feel sorry for the accident victims the way we felt at the plight of Sidr victims. But we who are not direct relations of the victims don’t shed our tears the way we wail when our pet dog dies from a road crash. Perhaps that is the reason we have failed to take measures to stop repetition of such tragedies that are very much avoidable.

Was it at all necessary to form a probe body to find out the cause of the Buriganga mishap or engage an otherwise busy police officer to investigate the monotony of how the incident — which is always deemed an accident — did occur? Knowing full well that the investigation report may be a carbon copy of hundreds of such earlier reports and the probe committee’s dossier containing the root cause of the accident and recommendations on preventive measures will gather only layers of dust?

As reported by all the newspapers it was an “accident” and the launch was described as an “ill-fated” one. So, the episode to us is a fait accompli as we all are basically defeatists. We believe that all the victims of the Buriganga mishap were born with such fate of their death registered on their foreheads. We assume that the ‘ill-fated” launch could perhaps avoid this accident if only its owner or its driver could exorcise the vessel from evil influence of Satan.

Accident, as we find in a dictionary, is an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstances beyond human control such as the cyclone Sidr that had befallen people of Bagerhat, Barisal and Khulna last November. But when at broad daylight a bus or a river vessel is rammed from behind by a truck or a cargo vessel due to lack of maintenance or wrongful issuance of fitness certificate by the regulatory body or illness/disability of the driver (which must be screened during issuance and renewal of his driving license) of the hitting vehicle or defective signalling system or a conspiracy, the mishap must not be described as an ‘accident’ nor the rammed vehicle an ‘ill-fated’ one.

When there is an accident, police in our country takes the mishap mostly as negligence of a driver or mere a fatalistic phenomenon and the investigating officer or his higher authority does not take the occurrence as seriously as they would in case of a murder committed. A murder wakes up our police department to the seriousness of the crime and different wings of law enforcement bodies are alerted to investigate deep into the crime to unearth the criminals and their motives behind the homicide.

A criminal as a coldly calculating planner with malice aforethought draws an elaborate plan before committing a felony and mulls for days over his plan to find out lacunas in his blueprint, say, for a murder. He is well versed in all the penal codes, procedural strategies of police investigation and possible strong and weak points of contention his attorney — in case he is caught — would have to deal with while defending him in a court of law.

A murderer conventionally uses a knife or a gun or any other lethal instrument like grenade or poison to kill a victim and the motive behind such a slaughter is to gain wealth from the victim or take revenge for his defeat or for any other felony committed by the victim or for any reason that haunts human brains. The murderer tries his best to camouflage his actions in such a way that a faint suspicion does not cross the probing minds of his opponents or the police. Hundreds of such murderers have thus managed to keep themselves far above the law.

A criminal who managed to fish himself out of legal dragnet took utmost precautions to hide or erase his fingerprints from the weapon he used to kill the victim, but he didn’t know that a day was not far away when forensic science would enable the investigators to unearth telltale evidence of his crime from a single hair that fell from his head on the porch of the victim’s house, thanks to DNA testing. Many murderers who were set free and roamed at large for years after committing their felonies are of late being rounded up in both developing and developed countries (though not yet in Bangladesh) on new clues revealed by forensic instruments and fresh trials are condemning them to death or life imprisonments.

Committing a murder is no more a job as easy as falling off a log. Killing someone with a knife or a gun is a fool’s trade when forensic science can detect human identity from follicle of a hair or a dead cell sloughed off from skin — or when a suspect has no way out but to confess his crime under duress or when bodily tortured.

A shrewd criminal plans to remain miles away from the location and time of the murder. He would rather hire a hit man to commit a proxy murder at his behest. Sensing that his enemy is travelling by a launch on his way home he would instruct over his cell phone his hit man to direct the driver of a sand-laden trawler to ram his vessel into the back of the launch carrying his enemy.

Killing hundreds with a view to killing one single enemy may sound preposterous, no doubt; but, when greedy criminals in our society steal guarders from unguarded rail tracks to sell for a few takas, they don’t imagine that thousands of rail passengers may die from his act of petty theft. Moreover, there is no dearth of sadists or psychologically imbalanced people all over the world who enjoy seeing people dying at their raising of a finger!

I would be the last man to imagine that the driver of the sand-laden trawler MV Ibrahim Lodi was appointed by someone as a hit man to ram his vessel into the back of ML Sourav-1 on the River Buriganga on February 28 last. What we as citizens would love to imagine is that our law enforcement agencies while investigating such a traffic accident should first envisage that there could be something grievous behind an accident—some horrid machination to murder some people.

According to a statistic 5000 people died in accidents that took place in 8000 kilometre-long river routes of our country during the last ten years out of which 330 people died from accidents occurred in the River Buriganga alone since the year, 2000. We don’t know whether government authority could unearth the real culprits responsible for such cruel deaths of so many innocent people and perhaps we will never know whether among the culprits were any surrogate murderers.

There are many incidents we read in newspapers and many dramas we view in cinemas where innocent and honest people die ostensibly in accidents but in fact they are killed by a far-sighted conspiracy. Trucks and jeeps instead of knives and guns have been used to kill rivals, because the killers know accidents are accidents and punishment prescribed in penal codes for such killing in an accident is no punishment.

Revising terminology sometimes greatly helps reshaping our attitude. Whenever we read about a road crash described as an accident we, including the investigating officer from the police department, develop a conditioned attitude and treat the episode as something preordained. If a train is derailed, the incident has always been described as a train accident which in fact should not be viewed as an accident because the derailment is predictable and could well be avoided if proper measures were taken in proper time.

We should stop using the word ‘accident’ the way British Highway Code uses ‘collision’, ‘crash’, ‘mishap’ or ‘incident’ to describe events that once were known as accidents. The prestigious British Medical journal has also decided to ban the word ‘accident’ from its pages.

If the nomenclature “accident” is banned from using the word to describe a traffic mishap and if such mishaps are viewed by our law enforcement agencies as grim as a case of a proxy murder and if the persons responsible are interrogated the way a suspect of a murder is grilled not only criminals would find committing a felony by a surrogate murderer unrewarding, frequency of crashes on roads and rivers would also diminish greatly as river and road vehicle owners and operators, who are in no way criminals, would then be extra cautious about traffic safety measures while plying their cars, buses and trucks on a highway or their vessels on a river — to avoid hassles a murder suspect faces.


The writer is General Manager, Bangladesh Krishi Bank and can be reached at e-mail:

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