Vol. 5 Num 666 Thu. April 13, 2006  
Front Page

Kansat Violence
Cops raid villages at night, 6 more killed
Houses ransacked; journalists barred from visiting villages, threatened; situation turns eruptive

Six people including a 10-year-old boy were killed and about 300 others injured yesterday in Kansat as police went on rampage in a dozen villages in the dark of the night, vandalising and burning houses and beating up villagers to quell their movement for a smooth power supply.

Locals alleged police looted many houses and assaulted even women and girls of the villages they raided on in the trouble-torn Shibganj upazila in Chapainawabganj district.

The law enforcers fired several hundred bullets, rubber bullets and tear gas canisters to disperse demonstrators who took to the roads, defying the Section 144 enforced last Sunday, protesting attacks on them by the police and ruling BNP cadres and demanding fulfilment of their 14-point demand.

Police also arrested 29 people yesterday, the sixth day of the indefinite strike enforced by the villagers' forum, Palli Bidyut Unnayan Sangram Parishad (PBUSP).

The six people killed yesterday were identified as Anwar, a 10-year-old boy of Shibnagar Jaigirpara, Babu, 18, of Sonapara village, Shahin, 20, of Chokkitti village, Sahimuddin, 36, and Monsur, 40, of Bianibazar, and Abdur Rahman, 63, a teacher at Shibnagar High School. The furious villagers were holding processions with the bodies.

With yesterday's killings, the death toll of Kansat movement now stands at 20. Earlier, two people were killed on January 4, seven on January 23, four on April 6 and one injured that day died yesterday.

Ironically, while visiting the area yesterday, Rajshahi City Mayor Mizanur Rahman Minu, who is also the minister in charge of Chapainawabganj, admitted that the PBUSP demands were 'just' and the authorities would fulfil those. He also hinted at holding talks in a couple of days.

Yesterday's police frenzy began at about 12:30am when a group of demonstrating villagers captured Kansat crossroads, which police had been guarding for several days. About 1,000 villagers with sticks and machetes chased the police sentries away from the spot to Dhobpukur, about one kilometre off Kansat.

A contingent of police then started to advance towards the crossroads to capture it back, firing at the villagers to disperse them, witnesses said. In face of the police action, the demonstrators retreated towards Abbasbazar.

A band of furious police then entered Gopalnagar, Abbasbazar, Hothatpara, Shibnagar, and Banglabari villages, and wrecked and looted many houses, locals alleged.

When villagers started to protest against the police savagery in different villages and on some roads, police vandalised 20 more houses in Poshchim Pukuria village, the home of PBUSP Convenor Golam Rabbani, at 3:30am.

At 11:30am, when the locals gathered at different points in the five agitating unions with sticks and machetes, a number of police teams entered villages on both sides of Abbasbazar Road and beat up people indiscriminately. They ransacked a number of houses during the raids that continued until 12:45pm.

Infuriated at the police brutality, a procession of several hundred villagers started marching towards Kansat crossroads at 4:45pm. As police chased them, the demonstrators retaliated by hurling brickbats at them.

Police chased the protestors seven kilometres to Karimbazar, where about 4,000 police and Armed Police Battalion members from Dhaka, Rajshahi and Khulna ranges locked in a fierce battle with them.

Police this time entered Abbasbazar, Mohilabazar, Karimbazar, Kurtabazar, Shibnagar, Gopalpur, Baghdurgapur, Kolabari, Poshchim Pukuria, Bohlabari, Dhobpukur and Dhobrabazar villages and beat up whomever they found on their way.

Demonstrators took their injured fellows away while fresh groups of villagers with sticks and machetes stepped forward to fight the law enforcers.

Although the Section 144 was imposed on a 17-kilometre stretch of road, police went into action outside the area and fired at villagers with AK-47s, 303 rifles and shotguns. They also fired rubber bullets and lobbed tear gas canisters. The police action continued until 6:00pm.

Injured villagers said police even assaulted the women and looted money and valuables from their houses. Police this time held 20 people and beat them up severely.

A witness said he saw three bodies including one shot in the eye lying on Abbasbazar Road.

Police did not let journalists go near Karimbazar, the centre of the clashes. Journalists who were standing about 700 yards off Karimbazar said they heard several hundred gunshots and at least 10 big bangs.

As the newsmen insisted on knowing the names of the arrested, Additional Superintendent of Police Kamrul Ahsan asked them to keep mum. "If you try to create trouble, we'll shoot you, too," he retorted, pointing a gun at five reporters at Hothatpara.

After the 11:30am-12:45pm police action, the villagers of Hindu majority Baghdurgapur told The Daily Star that police shot Bholanath, 70, a mentally retarded person, on the right arm with a shotgun, though his relatives pleaded with them not to hurt him.

Sanskriti Das, Krishna Das and Konoklata Das said police beat them up at gunpoint and took away Tk 50,000 and five tolas of gold from their houses.

Moktara, wife of Kabirul of Baghdurgapur, said police pinned her down to the ground and assaulted her.

While visiting Hothatpara Bazar at 2:00pm yesterday, Rajshahi City Mayor Mizanur Rahman Minu, who passed the entire day in Chapainawabganj, met some elderly women and assured them that the situation will become normal soon.

"You will not have any problem, we'll release all the arrestees within two hours," he told the elderly locals whose relatives had left the area in the morning in fear of police action.

Asking the residents to bring back those who had fled the villages, he said, "All your demands will be fulfilled. We'll sit for talks."

A few minutes later, Minu told the reporters that the protest was not in demand for electricity but against corruption of the local Rural Electrification Board officials and employees.

The villagers' demands are just, he said, adding, "I've talked to Rabbani; we'll sit for talks in a couple of days."

"In case of those demands that I'll not be able to fulfil, the state minister for power will come here and hold talks," he said.

Responding to the demands made by Golam Rabbani, Minu urged his protesting followers to refrain from destructive and anarchic activities and to fix a time and venue for the meeting so that it could be held in a congenial atmosphere, reports BSS.

Assuring his all-out cooperation in releasing those who were arrested without any specific charges, he urged the protesting Kansat people to refrain from the path of violence and to create an atmosphere of discussion so the problems could be solved.

Asked whether the police action can be termed as barbaric, Inspector General of Police Abdul Quayyum said, "It can't be termed barbaric. What the police have done, they have done to uphold the law and order."

Earlier Tuesday evening, the police captured Prothom Alo's Shibganj correspondent Zahedul Anam at the Kansat intersection and detained him at the Palli Bidyut Samity office.

When reporters of other national dailies went to rescue him, the police assaulted daily Janakantha's Akhil Podder and ATN Bangla cameraman Kamal Hossain.

"All this violence is the result of media reporting," a police officer was heard shouting.

The police also arrested Rokeya Begum, wife of Golam Rabbani's brother Rezaul, Daibarani Shushila, Mabera Khatun and two others from Rabbani's house at 8:30pm on Tuesday.

Power-starved people of Kansat, left, with sticks in hand continue protests yesterday defying the section 144 imposed by local administration; farmers and housewives also take to the street to join the demonstration. Photo: focus Bangla