|Volume 7 | Issue 01 | January 2013 ||
Kajalie Shehreen Islam
The year 2012 ended in a month, sadly, not of victory, but of defeat.
Whereas December is usually a month of celebration, with Bijoy Dibash commemorations held across the country throughout the month every year, this last December was a month of hartals, violence and death.
Five days of countrywide hartal and one day's blockade called by opposition parties resulted in widespread violence, hundreds of injuries and a number of deaths. Violence on the part of both pro- and anti-hartal activists, as well as by the police. A new trend was perhaps set in the targeted assaults carried out against the police, notably by Jamaat-e-Islami activists. And, though predictable, still worth noting was the inaction of the police in the case of violence perpetrated by pro-government activists.
Of them all, the innocent face of a passer-by, for all purposes a victim of the crossfire between the parties locked in violence during the blockade on December 9, made for bloody news footage. The scene of the 24-year-old owner of a tailoring shop on his way to work being hacked with sharp weapons and then beaten on the wounds with iron rods, spurting blood, was haunting, to say the least. Add to that the picture of groups of police personnel loitering nearby watching the show which some 30 journalists were busy recording -- of whom apparently one or two tried and failed to prevent the assault -- and questions are raised about not only our sense of duty but humanity. Bishwajit Das died on the way to hospital.
Das was mistaken for a supporter of the blockade and attacked allegedly by pro-government activists. After his death, however, both major parties rushed to claim him as one of their own, though family and friends testified that he was not involved with any political party. The government was prompt to deny any affiliation with the perpetrators, even claiming that one was a Jamaat activist (whose father confirmed him as a Bangladesh Chhatra League activist), while others were supposedly former BCL activists who had already been expelled from the organisation. Newspapers, however, later ran photographs of a BCL event hours after the murder where the alleged perpetrators were not only present but actively participating. The police, who were at first reluctant to base their case on the clear video footage available, finally gave in. The case is under investigation, with those arrested so far admitting to the killing as well as to their affiliation with the ruling party's student wing.
Anyone could have been in Bishwajit's place that day; anyone could have met as brutal a death by just getting up in the morning and going to work. They just had to be citizens of a nation whose leaders fight out their differences not in political dialogue but through battle and bloodshed on the streets. Interestingly, while both the government and opposition “vow[ed] to show strength throughout December”, regular citizens interviewed on television demanded that “Bangladesh should be divided into two for the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party and people given two passports -- erokom desher dorkar nai amader” (we don't need a country like this).
Bishwajit's last night was one of celebration, rejoicing in the nation's triumph in a cricket match, less than a week before the 41st anniversary of the country's liberation. But images of his brutal death and pending justice paint a stark, sad picture of our defeat.
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