Mafia or gang culture and organised crimes are not seen that much these days in Bangladesh as before, still a number of crimes committed in recent times have raised eyebrows. The storyline behind the crimes and overall consequences were horrific. The more terrible part perhaps is that the crimes were committed by juvenile groups, widely branded as teen gangs. Crimes by these teenagers are taking place at an alarming rate across the country, while severity of the crimes is increasing rapidly. Teenagers are getting involved in such criminal acts due to the absence of family values, social degradation, influence of foreign culture, etc. Experts fear that this rising concern, if not addressed now, could turn into a major threat. They also emphasised on practicing social values among teens to check it, writes, SM TANJIL UL HAQUE
Crimes and criminals seem to be ever-present in today’s trouble-torn social order. And so is the so called ‘teenage gangs’ or ‘teen gang culture’ that has become a new concern for the law enforcers. As a popular term in the crime world of Bangladesh nowadays, the teen gangs have been hogging headlines in recent times. As they continue terrorising communities in different parts of the country, the recent rise of ‘teen gangs’ is being discussed everywhere–from public transport to newspapers, and from television talk-shows to social media. In fact, teen gangs have been making their voices heard for all the wrong reasons including petty crimes to murder, stalking to rape, and mugging to drug abuse.
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A section of the country’s teenagers, mostly in the capital, have been seen forming teenage gangs recently and getting involved in various crimes under the disguise of influential quarters. Among them, there are teenagers from poor families, university students, and juveniles from rich families. These gangs are indulging in violence even over the trivial issues. Extents and types of their criminal activities vary with time. In many cases, the crimes are being committed in broad daylight, and that too in an organised way. Juvenile delinquency is nothing new, but it is now more organised than any time in the past. And, the most worrying fact is that their crimes seem to have turned more violent, brutal and gruesome with the passing of every year. This growing concern needs to be addressed immediately to save the country’s next generations. The worrying issue has also given rise to some questions like: Will teen gang culture turn out to be a permanent headache? And, is there a way out from this growing menace?
TRAITS THAT FEATURE TEEN GANG
Teen gangs are different from other criminal gangs as the members of such gangs are teenagers and their crimes start with paltry events that later take dangerous turn. As we know, adolescents or teens generally refer to those between the ages of 13 and 17. According to a survey, the age range of teen gang members is generally between 15 and 22 years. Usually, each gang has a specific name and logo that casts attention. The gang members tend to tattoo those names and logos on their bodies or write them on street walls.
Teen gangs have distinctive names and logos that draw attention. The gang members often tattoo these on their bodies or graffiti them on street walls. They operate in certain areas, aiming to maintain dominance and often wear similar clothing and ornaments.
They operate in a particular area and always try to maintain dominance in the area. The gangs sometimes have similar clothing styles and some or all wear ornaments. Apart from this, they keep a collection of sharp weapons like knives, machetes, hockey sticks, guns, etc. in order to stamp their authority and influence.
In this age of information technology, teen gangs have strong networks on social media too. Before conducting any criminal activity, they interact and plan on various social media platforms.
Many of the gang members upload videos or pictures of these criminal activities on their respective social media outlets. They feel proud by posting these on the social media, which other members of their group.
TERRORISING THE CITY DWELLERS
According to police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) data, there are about 10,000 teen gang members active across the country, of which more than 2,000 are in the capital. More than 80 teen gangs are active in Dhaka city itself. More alarming thing is that more than two hundred gang members in the capital have been red-listed by the police. According to intelligence sources, the dominance of teen gangs is highest in Mohammadpur, Uttara, and Mirpur areas in Dhaka. Furthermore, at least one and a half hundred groups are active anonymously in these three areas.
An updated list of the teen gang members has already been prepared by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), which contains detailed information about the teen gangs operating in different areas of the capital. This is the first time that along with the name, address and mobile number, the photo of the gang leader has also been attached to the list. The updated list consists the names of the sponsors or political godfathers. The list also contains details of who patronised which group including their political position, surname, address, and mobile number.
Some known ferocious teen gangs that operate in the Uttara area are; Nine Star, Hitter Boys, 9mm Boys, Kackra, Black Rose, Power Boys, Disco Boys, Tala-Chabi Gang, Sunny Group, Castle Boys, Viper Gang, Toofaan, Youngstar Group, Big Boss Group, King Mahal, Zeedan Group, Shaheen Group, Ripon Gang, Heart Gang. There are more than 300 active members in these gangs.
Among the youth gangs active in Mohammadpur area are; Lara De, Level High, Group Twenty Five, Atonko Group, Dekhe Law-Chine Law, Kopaiya De, Vaibba Lo Kings, Jheerjheer Group, Meem Group, Patali Gang etc. There are above two hundred gang members in this region.
There are more than 30 active teen gangs operate in Mirpur. These are; Opu Group, Abbas Group, Nada Ismail Gang, Happy, Boga Hridoy, Bhaskar, LK Devil, Potato Rubel, Atul Group, Ashiq Group, Jolla-Milon Group, Rocky Gang, Pintu-Kallu Group, Bhai Bhai Group, Romantic Group, Sohel Group, Manik Group, Johnny Bahini, Pagla Nuru Bahini etc. Kafrul includes Robin Group. Emon group controls teenagers in Rupnagar residential area. These gangs have more than hundred members.
According to intelligence sources, Lal Group, Takkar Law, Law Thela, Diamond Group, Patwari, Paantara Kings, De Dakka, Mar Bhandar, Kausar Group, Company Bari, Casta Feroze, Bhaigya Ja, Gangchil Group, Kana Jasim are active in Tejgaon Division. Group, Chetailei Vejal, King of Gairala, Bhaira De etc. At least seven hundred members are active in these groups.
In addition, there are more than half a hundred teen gangs actively operating in Gulshan, Mugda, Dhanmondi, Jatrabari, Shanir Akhra, Khilgaon, Rampura, Badda, Bhatara, Puran Dhaka, Motijheel and other areas of the capital.
AS CRIMES BY TEENAGERS TURN VICIOUS
The ruthlessness of youth gang violence was exposed to the public mainly through the killing of Adnan in Uttara in 2017. Adnan Kabir, an active member of the teen gang Nine Star Group, was brutally hacked to death by another organised gang in Uttara on 6th January 2017. At that time, there was a feud going on between the three gangs of Uttara – Disco Boys, Big Boss, and Nine Star. Following this, Adnan was killed by with a sharp weapon and a hockey stick. After that, there was a storm of discussion about the rise of teen gang culture across the country. On February 7 of that year, RAB conducted an operation in Sector 14 of Uttara and arrested the leader of the Disco Boys gang. Later, RAB also arrested the main accused Tala-Chabi Raju. Then, on 26th June 2019, a college student named Rifat Sharif was brutally murdered by Noyon Bond from 007 gang in Barguna city. After that, the teen gang culture made headlines again.
A young man named Rabbi was stabbed to death for protesting the molestation of girls in a moving bus in Asad Gate area of the capital. Engineer Robin was stabbed when he protested against teenagers who were making a Tiktok video by blocking the road. Even a member of a teen gang killed his teacher by hitting him on the head with a stump for preventing him from eve-teasing. Recently, the incident of a young man being publicly stabbed by a group in Narayanganj went viral on social media. At the end of last month, the administration was shaken by two incidents of, extortion in Pallabi and robbery in Adabar.
In the Adabar incident, RAB has brought the members of a notorious teen gang under the law
In the Adabar incident, RAB has brought the members of a notorious teen gang under the law. And this is how the crime of teen gangs not only increasing, but also turning vicious day by day. In the last 6 years, more than 200 horrific crimes including 90 murders had been committed by teens in Dhaka. Out of this, 34 people have been killed in the last 2 years. More than 450 teenagers have been accused in these incidents. But, because of the loopholes in the law and being powered by politically influential people, more teenagers are joining crime world.
In this regard, former DMP Commissioner Shafiqul Islam said about the teens in the capital, “Boys of rising age are getting involved in various criminal activities. From petty robbery to drug abuse, teasing of girls to even killing. Recently, it has become more serious as it has spread all over the country. So not only the police but those who think about the society should work together to tackle teen gangs. Especially the parents should not hide any problems and take help of the police in time.”
WHY ARE TEENAGERS GOING ASTRAY?
Nobody is born a criminal, it’s the surroundings and the traumatic experiences or the lack of experience that makes a person commit crimes. Now the question is, at the age when our children are supposed to be focused on studies, what could be the reason for their involvement in such crimes? According to experts, the tendency of juveniles to join crime is increasing due to various reasons such as weak family ties, bad parenting, social degradation, access to advanced technology tools including smartphones at a young age, peer pressure, bad influence of powerful people, etc.
The most dangerous among these is the access and misuse of the internet and smartphones by teenagers. As a result of this, they fall under the trap of some Western spoiled culture, such as; Grand Theft Auto, famously known as GTA, is an open world game where you have to play as a mobster.
It features American neighbourhood culture, where gangs wear similar clothing and bandanas, and often engage in battles with their rival gangs. In Bangladesh too, many teen gang members have been seen adopting several aspects of this game.
Moreover, the loopholes in the country’s law help them to be more ferocious as they become more fearless. Concerns say that the police cannot take proper action against them due to the fact that they are teens. Anyone below the age of 18 cannot be prosecuted under the Penal Code for committing an offence. They should be arrested and sent to rehabilitation facilities. However, according to the judicial proceedings of the Dhaka Children’s Court, in the last 15 years, there have been about 200 murders in the capital by teen gangs.
EXPERT OPINIONS AND POSSIBLE WAY-OUTS
Experts have called for an immediate approach to halt the rise of the teen gang culture and suggested various ways to get rid of it, including reforming laws, increasing social awareness, and giving teenagers the opportunity to engage in other creative activities. DMP Additional Commissioner (Crime and Operations) AKM Hafiz Akhter said that the spread of teen gang culture has become a poison to the society. He explained, “A large part of these groups belong to lower class households. Starting from earning little money, they are running towards all the worst. We are working on creating a detailed database of teen gangs. Every police station has been instructed to collect information.” He further said, “If the juveniles commit crimes, we have to send them to rehabilitation facilities.
This needs to be reformed so there can be a fear of law among them.” Dhaka University’s former chairman of the Department of Criminology, Professor Dr Zia Rahman said that it is important to determine the cause of teenagers joining gangs. Adolescents go off course for various reasons. For this, reduction of criminality in the society, stopping the availability of drugs, poverty alleviation and proper humane behaviour are essential. There must be a concerted effort by the community, not just by the police. Poverty and economic inequality also lead many to gang culture.
So, if overall efforts are not taken, it will not be easy to get rid of this terrible situation.” Sheikh Touhidul Islam, Professor of Dhaka University’s Social Welfare department, said, “Teens are getting involved in crime due to lack of parental control. Kids can become bold and go astray if given too much leeway in anything. Also, the availability of mobile phones and the opportunity to use the Internet are enlarging the problem. They are using social media as a weapon. Sharing information and pictures, ordering mayhem through online messages. It needs to be addressed.”
To sign off, many criminologists say that this newly trend of teen gang culture has similarities with the gang culture that started many years ago in the Western world. These teenagers are building a new society for themselves within the society. The culture, language, beliefs, values of their society is completely different and dark. Keeping the locality under control by showing muscle power, moving in groups, being ferocious is the motto of their society. According to psychologists, at this age, the mind and spirit remains scattered.
Thus, during this period, proper guidance is needed so that teenagers can differentiate between good and bad. It is obvious that this teenage gang culture could turn into a major crisis if not curbed now, appropriate social and legal initiatives as well as everyone’s participation are needed. At the end of the 18th century, the Groves family founded a club called the Salford Lads Club in England’s Manchester to control teenage gangs, engage the neighbourhood teens into sports. The club is now known worldwide as Manchester City football club! Robert BadenPowell, who is known worldwide as the founder of the Scout movement, led the club forward. In this way, if children and teenagers are provided with creative work environments and can be engaged in developmental works, it is expected that the dominance of the nightmare of teenage gangs will be reduced.