Rafique Ahmed sits relishing his 300 taka coffee. An employee at a top MNC, Rafique is one of thousands of citizens affected by the latest law that resulted in the federalisation of the VIP areas of the country. “It had to be done. We cannot be expected to be held to the same standards as the rest of the country. We do so much more,” he said.
A recent landmark ruling declared that VIP areas will now have the right to self-govern and distance themselves from the utter rubbish that makes up the rest of the country. “The rest of the country does not think progressively like us. Look around you; the first thing you notice is that there are no rickshaws anywhere. Why should rickshaws ply on VIP roads when you cannot even be a VIP without a car?” Rafique wondered.
The rickshaw ban is just one step in a move towards creating a brand-new distinguishable identity for the so-called “tri-state” area. Police check-posts have been set up every few metres to ensure thorough searching of CNGs and other middle-class modes of transport that dare to transgress the new boundaries. “We know that the shadiest elements use CNG so we put up all these check-posts to harass them and hopefully dissuade them from visiting the area in the future,” a constable at one such check-post stated.
To ensure that the sensitive residents of the area are not too heavily exposed to poverty, it has also been declared a 'beggar-free zone', with rule-breakers risking up to BDT 20,000 in fines. BDT that they don't have because, if they did, would they be begging? “Most beggars own huge swathes of land. They beg because for them it's just a profession, not a necessity,” Lima Chowdhury, another resident, opined. “Yesterday while in traffic, a woman came up to my car window, carrying a tiny baby in her arms. He was totally clothed. It broke my heart. I wrote a huge status on Facebook about it and am now seeing a therapist,” she added, explaining that exposure to such things can prove to be very traumatic.
“Poverty is a reality of the country, even if there is very little here. We are working on showcasing whatever little poverty exists here in a palatable manner,” the new mayor of the area stated. He mentioned plans to turn a huge slum in the area, an eye sore to be honest, into the famed ‘Poverty Museum’ for people to come and gawk at ‘poor’ people going about their daily business. “Do you know these people don't even know what brown bread is? It is really shocking,” Muktar Mia, a visitor to the slum area told this correspondent.
“With the museum up and running, it will be even easier for foreign aides and tourists to come and take all the photos they desire in one place. They will not need to travel to Lalbagh Kella or Korail to pick up their favourite slum children to pose next to with their arms deceptively hovering above the little shoulders. They will find them all here and as photo-ready as ever,” continued Muktar.
In more signs of progress, breast-feeding stations and footpaths for the blind were also set up in the area. Although no one uses the breast-feeding stations and the blind can't really tell where their footpaths are, it still looks good.
When queried about any laws governing the area, the Mayor said it was unnecessary. “We are going towards a noocracy. In the land of rich, we don't have laws because we are truly above them. Are white collar crimes even crimes? That's like saying having an off-shore account is a crime,” he said.
Osama Rahman is a Sub-editor, The Daily Star.