The world or underworld of crimes is at its best grey and at its worst dark. How the pandemic-triggered economic downturn will ultimately impact crimes is a less discussed subject. One of the reasons is the absence of long-term studies on the subject and data. In to three or four months since March when coronavirus arrived in most countries, there emerged a rough outline from some brief studies conducted in the United States of America, Australia and the UK among others -one that is like a sketch of sweeping brush strokes.
The international community was elated to know that crimes marked a decline worldwide. But going through the study reports, it can be found that not all types of crimes recorded reduction; some in fact went up many times the earlier rate and others stayed static and a rare few of those varied from one country to another. However, one common feature is the phenomenal rise in online fraud offences or cybercrimes from 76 per cent in Australia to 400 per cent in the UK as against a dramatic decline in robberies, non-domestic assault and sexual offences.
How does Bangladesh fare so far as crimes are concerned. Apparently, this country also initially saw a decline in mugging, snatching and even homicides. But in the absence of data and institutional studies, it is impossible to draw a conclusion. In the UK the Leeds University has been awarded fund for conducting research on the impacts of coronavirus on crimes for as long as 18 months. Such an initiative should be taken here as well in order to decide on legal and socio-economic responses to crimes that are likely to transform radically.
The daring robbery attempt made by a young man who forced his entry with a bomb into the room of the manager of a bank in Gazipur may provide a clue to the morbid response to economic desperation of millions on account of the pandemic. Unlike Shahed Karim of Regent Hospital, the infamous fraudster, this young man possibly would not think of committing a crime of this order had he not lost his job. The greatest fallout of the pandemic is the utter helplessness and utmost desperation facing people without employment. Many of them can react in the most unpredictable way.
Even during the early days of the pandemic when everything was closed without announcement of an official shutdown, a few isolated incidents of crime were reported. In one such incident a borrower of money, enjoying good relations with his creditor dined and spent the night at the latter's house only to hack the entire family before leaving in the morning. But the most tragic cases that caused little ripple to shake the nation's conscience are apparently a few suicides committed by couples -a few putting an end to their children before committing the act. Clearly, their desperation arising out of economic hardship forced them to take the ultimate decision.
With the relaxation of restrictions, crimes also started to go up. Homicides and sex crimes and both together including rapes in buses like a few such cases occurring before the pandemic are on the rise now. One thing is clear that coronavirus could not exert a sobering influence on the criminally bent minds. For people struggling to survive hunger and starvation, sexual predatoriness is something alien to their present condition. It is the better-off in society and their spoiled brats who take undue advantage mostly on women and girls from less privileged families. On the food aid distribution front too misappropriation of funds and food are reported from time to time. A most timely and highly useful programme is thus brought to disrepute and the needy are deprived of their due.
It is not easy to fight the widespread endemic corruption, financial malfeasance and crimes, all of which are committed in order to get rich as quickly as possible ---particularly when a good number of perpetrators are from the party rank. Yet the busting of the casinos housed in the capital's sport clubs and arrest of a number of lords of the rings in several areas ranging from tender monopoly, drug cartel and illegal land grabbing come as a refreshing administrative move. No doubt, such a move has the risk of redirecting the prism to catch one's own image. It surely is a positive development but unless or until the offenders and criminals are awarded the punishment they deserve, there is no chance these will have a deterrent effect on corruption and crimes.
Crimes and corruption have seen their unchecked proliferation for long. Some of those came to light well before the pandemic and others are following now in regular succession. The raw rot of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) is getting exposed right at this moment. It is not for the first time that a driver or a meter reader has become a millionaire or even a billionaire. On the other side, crimes as horrendous as murder committed by members of law enforcement agencies -as done allegedly by Pradip Kumar Das -for financial gains add a most negative dimension to criminal motive and practices.
If Covid-19 fails to give enough cause for soul-searching and rein in the appetite for accumulation of enormous sums of money by means --legal or illegal, there is little hope of a healthy psychological growth of this nation. The only recourse left to the government is to step up the drive against corruption and criminality and complete the trial of those already nabbed.
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