KENYA SUMAKU

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CONFRONTING THUGS IN UNIFORM – A LIVED EXPERIENCE

Posted by Popular Ombudsman on July 10, 2009

English as a language is a net borrower. Recall an avalanche of terminologies such as millennium, annum, bureau de change ……etc, etc…….ad infinitum. Perhaps this kind of indebtedness serves to underscore one fundamental fact – that etymologically, there is no pure language, not at least in absolute terms. Guided by this conviction, I sought to unmask the etymological background of one scary one – ‘thug’, and not entirely without reason.

You see, folklore has it that the word ‘thug’ was shoplifted from Hindi, whose original pronunciation was thag(têg) – meaning “cheat or swindler”. However, in keeping with the complex socio-religious system in India, we are told that the original Thugs were devotees of the goddess Kali, claiming that their victims were sacrifices to her.

Thus, for the first time this fraternity of criminals was able to supply justification – and a religious one for that matter, for their heinous activities. Therefore it does appear that, there is the etymology of the word thug and the evolutionary circumstances underpinning its emergence as an English word. Tragically though, the Kenyan Police seem to have borrowed and glorified both.

Let me narrate my experience in their hands – if only perhaps to underscore the summation offered above: I boarded one of the many killer-contraptions known as matatus from a junction known as Gechauri, a short distance from Keroka town in Kenya. With the exception of two other passengers and the driver, the rest of the matatu was empty (a 14-seater at full capacity).

I reclined back on my seat – ready to enjoy the trip with my sound judgment and pricking conscience having fully been reconciled with the decision made. However, on reaching Bobaracho shopping centre on our way to Kisii town, the matatu crew chose to carry more passengers – far beyond the stipulated capacity of the 14-seater mini-bus. I had absolutely no control over the crew – my spirited protests against the move went unheeded.

We drove for about 100 metres down the road and reached a police check point. They dutifully, like the metaphorical messengers of the goddess Kali, stopped us. On close inspection, they discovered the matatu was full – to the brim, clearly in violation of traffic rules.

Under circumstances that still remain mysterious to me, they let go the matatu crew – driver and conductor, the very people who were responsible for the sorry state of affairs that had culminated in our apprehension.

We were escorted at gunpoint to the cells and by the time we were arraigned in court, nine passengers had disappeared, eleven faced the magistrate – purportedly accused for having failed to buckle-up their seat belts.

As my charge-sheet was being read out, I looked at the magistrate – a lady for that matter and saw in her the very attributes of the mythical Hindu goddess Kali who frequently ‘commissioned’ his boys to go and kill victims as a sacrifice to her. Weren’t we, in all fairness mere sacrificial lambs, blindly led to the slaughter shed by thugs in uniform? Were the police fair and impartial when they let go the very criminals who actually committed the crime? And where were the other nine passengers? From the look of things, the goddess Kali in Kenya, personified by the likes of magistrates and politicians will have several victims sacrificed in her honour as long as the thugs in uniform do their thing unprofessionally.

Have a nice day – free of thuggery, both official and unofficial.

– Nyamongo Kegwora.

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