Published: Friday, March 22, 2013

A MIGRATION STORY

End of a Dream

reThe police handcuffed Moja Majhi and hustled him into a waiting police van.  A crowd of over a hundred people looked on in disbelief. “He is an innocent man, Moja Majhi has not done it,” shouted someone from the crowd. It was the day of haat at the small bazaar on the bank of the river Meghna. More and more people joined the crowd. They all knew Moja for as long as they could remember. Moja has been a boatman on the same river since his early childhood when he started helping his father with an oar. At 55, Moja Majhi continued to hang on to the only trade he had ever learnt.
For Moja the day had started well. At the bazaar ghat early morning he picked up Alam, son of his childhood friend who had just arrived from Abu Dhabi. Alam was generous to Moja for ferrying him, for he knew Moja since his childhood and respected him like his own father. Later Moja picked up a bridal party and sailed to another village. He was rewarded heftily again.
As the wind picked up on his way back to the bazaar ghat, Moja set the sail and lit a bidi steering the boat with the heavy wooden oar. He dreamt of good days ahead. His son was preparing for the SSC exams and he had married off his only daughter to a well-to-do farmer in the neighbouring village. His wife Marzina was a member of the village handicrafts cooperative where she weaved floor mats. With both their earnings, Marzina and Moja recently were able to pay back the mortgage on their small piece of land on which they lived.
Thinking about good days, Moja was unmindful to the river around him. Suddenly he woke up from his thoughts. He saw something floating towards his boat. As he steered sharply to see what it was, he was horrified. Clad in a red sari, it was the body of a light-skinned young woman. She was gagged and her hands were tied. She must have suffered this terrible death a day or two ago for her body was slightly bloated. Moja looked around for help. There was no one nearby. Then without thinking, Moja tied the body to his boat and kept steering towards the bazaar ghat.
At the ghat a large number of villagers gathered to watch Moja moor his boat with a floating female body tied to its keel. The news spread fast. The more Moja tried to explain, the more people got frightened at the prospect of unknown consequences. Many left the ghat after a glance at the body. Moja asked for help to get the body out of the water. Nobody among the large crowd budged.
“Where did you find this body?” asked an elderly man in a stern voice.
“She was floating down the river and I thought I could bury her,” replied Moja innocently.
The elderly man was joined by the Chairman of the area. “This is a gruesome murder,” said the Chairman after examining the body. “We need to call the police. Why would you get into such a trouble, Moja?” asked the Chairman.
At this point Moja realised he was in trouble. The police took half an hour to arrive at the ghat. Moja was nervous. He had never had trouble with police. The police wrapped the body in a large mat and put it on the back of the van.
“What’s the matter? Why did you do this?” asked the Sub-inspector looking at Moja.
“Sir, it was floating down the river I just thought I could do a good thing by burying the body, believe me sir I do not know her or do not know how she died. You ask anyone here during our liberation war we did the same every day when bodies with bullet wounds floated by, I was a little boy but I remember helping my father and others bury many, many bodies.”
The SI pushed Moja on to the back of the van where the wrapped body was laid.
The police had Moja in their custody. The following day Moja was brought on a two-day remand and questioned. He cried like a child. The autopsy report of the ill fated woman showed death by strangulation. Police searched for her identity in the upstream of the Meghna as far as they could go within their jurisdiction. There was no clue. The body was buried as an unidentified woman of about 25 years of age.
Policemen were convinced about Moja’s innocence but they were extremely annoyed at him. Such a murder within their jurisdiction brought discredit for every member of the police station. For them it was a blind case and offered no clue for an immediate resolve. Infuriated, policemen vowed to teach Moja a lesson. At the end of the remand they charged him with deliberately destroying murder evidence.
The gruelling path of justice had just started for the poor boatman. Moja’s wife, son and daughter came to visit him at the police station and joined some policemen to scold him.
“Why would you not let it float downstream, what made you put it on our shoulder?” asked one. But Moja remained mum with tears rolling down his cheeks.
For the next six months Marzina and other family members kept shuttling between the court houses and her home. Every evening she would travel to the lawyer’s chamber 10 kilometres away and beg him for Moja’s bail prayer. Every time she would talk to the lawyer, he would insist on payment, no matter how little it was. She kept pleading poverty and Moja’s innocence, but no heart could be moved. For Marzina it was a grinding process through one of the most rudimentary and sluggish judiciary systems in the world.
A poor rural woman like Marzina sometimes thought she would never get her husband out of the prison. During her visits to the district jail, she would buy Moja bidis for the entire week. Her explanation to Moja about the development of the case would be restricted to what the lawyer had said the previous day.
It was during the next hearing on the case that a dark looking man approached Marzina. The case could not be heard immediately as the judge was yet to arrive. Moja and others stood on the dock handcuffed and shackled inside the packed room.
“I work here,” introduced the dark man. “Is Moja your husband?”
“I have a proposal, I know he is innocent.” “Can you afford 20,000 taka?”
Marzina would do anything to get her husband out. She sold two goats she owned, Moza’s boat and a pair of gold earrings she had safeguarded for her daughter and rushed back to see the dark man with 16,000 taka.
“I could not procure the rest, please help me with whatever I have got,” she begged.
Seven months after his arrest, Moja was granted bail a month after Marzina sold her belongings. Three years later, the case was rejected by the court and Moja Majhi was finally relieved of all charges. The police never bothered to appeal against his acquittal.
But the delay in deliberation of justice took its toll on the boatman’s life. By now, Moja had sold the family’s only piece of land on which they lived and moved to the district town. Their son dropped out from the SSC exams and moved with them to their new abode, a thatched room in a slum. Marzina, with her long acquaintances in the court premises, managed to set up a small tea stall, where everyday she sold paan, cigarettes and cups of tea to people coming to seek justice.
Six months later the family moved to Dhaka and rented a room in a slum in Kamrangirchar, where Moja’s son makes a living by pulling rickshaws. Marjina has set up a tea stall near the local police station. Moja and Marjina never think of returning home by the Meghna.