At least 50 gangs active in Dhaka; social scientists and law enforcers say crackdown will not help unless parents keep track of school children.
The nation watched in horror as a young man named Rifat Sharif was hacked to death by members of the '007' gang at Barguna in broad daylight on June 26 this year.
Teenage gang violence is not a new phenomenon in the capital or in other cities and towns. But the video footage of the Barguna murder exposed how brutal such teenage or youth gangs can be.
In the last one month the Rapid Action Battalion and the Dhaka Metropolitan Police have detained more than 300 teenage gang members from different parts of the city. Some of them were sent to jail by mobile courts, while others were sent to juvenile correction centres.
Gang violence — from extortion to drug abuse, eve-teasing to murder — is being reported in Chattogram, Khulna and Sylhet cities as well. And towns like Cumilla are not falling behind in crimes committed by gangs with names like Eagle, LRN.
Their 'heroism' triggers horror in the public mind and is a cause of concern for law enforcing agencies.
Teenage gangs in Dhaka
The activities of teenage gangs in the country came to the limelight after the murder of a teenager named Adnan Kabir in early 2017. Adnan, who was a member of the 'Nine Star' gang and lived in the Uttara area of the capital, was hacked to death by members of a rival gang 'Disco Boys' in the area on January 6 that year.
Law enforcers start cracking down on gangs after incidents such as murder, but gang members go into hiding during such drives. They regroup soon after the police operations are over and start committing crimes again to establish supremacy within their group or over rival gangs.
Police and RAB sources say that at least 50-60 teenage gangs are active in various areas of Dhaka, including Uttara, Abdullahpur, Tongi, Uttarkhan, Dakshinkhan, Badda, Gulshan, Banani, Khilgaon, Rampura, Dhanmondi, Rayerbazar, Mirpur and Mohammadpur.
Some gang members work in grocery stores, tea shops, markets and offices after dropping out from studies. Some of them are students, but shockingly their parents have no clue that their children are involved in gangs.
They get together in the name of meeting each other socially. Each group has different tag marks. But most of them maintain the same haircut, same kind of clothing, shoes and tattoos in particular areas on their body.
Also, most of them carry special knives or blades.
In Mirpur, teenage gangs are involved in conflict in the name of seniority. Sometimes brawls within a gang turn into big issues for the neighbourhood. Police have also filed cases in connection with multiple clashes among the teenage gangs of Mirpur. 'Blade Runner' and 'Dandy Boys' are two active gangs in Mirpur.
During a visit to the Mirpur area, this correspondent found teenage gang members gathered in front of several educational institutions. These institutions include Monipur School, Adarsh School, Bonophool Adibasi High School, Mirpur Girls Ideal Laboratory Institute, National Bangla High School, and Greenfield School and College.
The teenage gangs in the Bhasantek area are different when compared to gangs in other areas because most of their members come from slums. Some groups use young people and teenagers from slums to sell drugs in the area. Many of them carry weapons.
In Uttara, there are eight active teenage gangs. 'Disco Boys' and 'Fast Hitter Boss' are becoming the fiercest among them.
In Dhanmondi and Mohammadpur, 'Lara Dee' and 'Star Bond Group' are divided into four groups.
In Khilgaon and in Motijheel, there are three active teenage gangs named 'Bhandari', 'Jamaj Bhai' and 'Volume-2'.
In Jatrabari and Old Dhaka, the active gangs are named 'Fahim Mehdi' and 'Jummon'.
Three gangs are active in Jahangirnagar University (JU), at the outskirts of the capital. These gangs operate in the Kalabagan, Aambagan, and Rangamati points of the university. Sources say the gangs are made up of students of JU School.
The 'Brotherhood' gang is active in Ambagan, 'GI Pipe' in the Kalabagan area, while a third gang operates anonymously in the Rangamati area of the university.
Teenage gangs outside Dhaka
Local sources say that around 25 teenage gangs are active in Chattogram, Sylhet and Khulna. There are at least six active gangs in Chattogram city, and most of them are involved in violent crime.
In Cumilla city, teenage gangs named 'Eagle', 'Rax', 'X CMHS', 'LRN', 'Modern School-1' and 'Modern School-2' operate in the Nazrul Avenue area.
Meantime, seven to eight gangs have established a reign of terror in Sylhet city's Upashahar, Tilagarh, Madina Market, Taltola, Tuker Bazar, South Surma, and Biani Bazar areas. They also reportedly carry firearms.
Crackdown alone is not the answer
Lt Col Mozammel Haque, additional deputy inspector general and commanding officer at RAB-4, said, "Many adolescents join gangs with the intention of showing heroism. As they help each other in crisis moments, they think that maintaining a gang is a must."
"But they all are teenagers; they don't have a proper understanding of right and wrong," Mozammel said, adding that conducting legal drives against teenage gangs, arresting their members, and sending them to jail or to correction centres alone cannot prevent teen violence.
"Parents also should come forward to stop this," he said.
"Most of them (parents) don't know where their children go and who they make friends with. But they must become aware of all this. They must make their children understand the bad effects of being in a gang," he added.
RAB Executive Magistrate Mohammad Sarwar Alam, who has been working to prevent teenage gangs for a long time, told The Business Standard that teens generally join gangs because of a lack of bonding with family members, dropping out of school or college, or mixing with bad companions.
These gangs are mainly involved in petty crimes such as extortion, pilferage and drug abuse, especially snorting Yaba. Taunting or harassing girls is another one of their activities.
When asked whether the teen gang members have political connections, Sarwar Alam said that all of them are not politically connected. "But in many cases there are traces of political connections. In many cases the 'big brothers' of their neighborhood give them shelter," he said.
"We are conducting regular drives against these gangs, and we hope their influence will be on the wane very soon. But the families of these people will have to play a vital role in bringing them back to the right path," he pointed out.
Prof Sadeka Halim, a professor of sociology at Dhaka University, said teenage gang culture is now an international issue.
A breakdown of age-old social norms and a rising tendency to go to the center of power is the main reason for the rise of gang culture, she observed.
Various political parties actually patronise them, Prof Sadeka said. She added that textbook education has become incomplete, and this has resulted in an increase in hatred for other religions in society and in the tendency to humiliate women. All this causes a serious breakdown in social order.
Now, because there is an inadequacy in natural entertainment, it makes teenagers form gangs where they practice antisocial activities. Building awareness among parents is the key to solving this problem, she further said.
She mentioned that law enforcement agencies must give counseling to gang members and their guardians to help them return to normal life.
Gang culture will be wiped out: DMP chief
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia has said that all kinds of teenage gangs will be wiped out of the capital soon.
"We have adopted a zero tolerance policy towards gang culture, and we are committed to eradicating all teen, adult and local gangs," the DMP chief said at a press conference held at the capital's Hussaini Dalan Imambara area in Old Dhaka on Saturday.
He added that necessary steps have been taken to prevent gang violence around the time of holy Ashura.