Shahed, Sabrina and Social Media
Bangladesh is alive and kicking on social media even as corona remains active in the country. The latest to engage the media is the Covid-related corruption case involving Regent Hospital and an outfit called JKG. Both outfits were involved in collecting samples, faking tests and giving cooked-up results.
In the case of JKG, a comely lady doctor was also involved. She was working in the National Cardiac Hospital. Her pictures went viral and comments were often sexist and puerile.
In the case of Shahed of Regent Hospital, the comments were incredibly rude because he was a major figure on media platforms as a representative of the ruling Awami League (AL) party though now rejected as a fraud. He was defending ruling party policies in TV debates between the AL and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). His fall from grace was sudden. Naturally, there has been great interest in why it happened.
Conventional media lags
The conventional media is slow and not interactive, which makes public participation impossible. In the absence of any institution and system, the social media has become the great wide-open space where Bangladeshis can speak and express themselves freely. It has become an alternative national space where just about everyone can take a pot shot at anyone.
Lady doctor Dr. Sabrina got a lot of attention because she was considered glamorous. Memes were created using her private pictures. How these pictures were excavated is not known but they have gone viral.
Meanwhile, Sabrina quickly divorced her husband, Arif, the main accused in the JKG case. But it was too late. Obviously, the government wanted to make a case of her and Arif. The couple had been busy spilling the beans on each other while in State custody. And social media remains as busy as ever speculating on the topic, focusing mostly on her. As a lady commented, "She is good looking so men are interested. But he looks like a rustic idiot so women are not!".
The Regent Dhamaka
Meanwhile, the bigger case involving Shahed and his Regent hospital took on a new dimension. As the authorities exposed Shahed’s crime one after another, including mowing down people with his car and then taking them to Regent hospital and slapping on them large bills, he had become a near mythical evil figure.
However, the social media asked one question all had on mind. “Didn't the government know that he was a criminal all this time?” Shahed was representing the ruling party everywhere including the media. So how could he have gotten away? Something was amiss and maybe he trashed or upset someone really big and had been pulled down, social media speculated.
And then came the deluge of pictures. Shahed had his picture taken with almost everyone including the Prime Minister, the President, media CEOs and the rest. Social media had a field day trashing everyone in those pics.
Shahed was the Editor of an online outfit and was always on TV talk shows as an Awami League member. For pro-AL media, he was very kosher. So, social media which has a love-hate relationship with the professional media went to war accusing them of every crime possible. How could a man who had been in jail on fraud charges, had 32 plus cases pending, could be allowed to do what he did. Was there was no security check?
Arrest and Memes
Meanwhile, as all this went public, Shahed went into hiding. But more questions arose as it took an entire week for the legendary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) to catch him. Apparently, he had gone into hiding, was trying to escape but was picked up just before he crossed the border.
But the arrest looked staged to many. Even in handcuffs, he had his pistol hanging on his hips which raised more questions. Memes by the dozen flooded social media and laughter emojis were not in short supply. The RAB Director General told the media that he didn't know how a pistol was still on a person after his arrest. The kind of mileage that was expected from his arrest didn't come.
However, the smart RAB officer who arrested Shahed got a lot of attention from the ladies. And given all the pictures, news memes, fakes etc., a logical observation came from a social media person who said that he was expecting the government to marry off Shahed with Sabrina!
The absurdity of the entire episode and the trend of corruption were reflected best in these social media comments and memes than in any report in the conventional media.