A Whimsical Act?
Tales of horror and despair glide around in Dhaka City quite so often, floating out not only from inside the dark and secret underground dungeons, but from the next-door-neighbour who has been mistakenly diagnosed with throat cancer, when all he needed was to get his tonsils removed; from the frustrated young men and women who go through months of development-blocks, termed as session jams in universities; and from the poor and the naive who make the mistake of believing in the democratic policies spelled out by the government of the day.
In the case of Masum, everything happened so fast that it is still taking him, his friends, family members and colleagues a while to grasp the reality of what he had to go through at the hands of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officials in mid-October. On October 22, 2009, the RAB officials picked up Masum from his Jatrabari rented flat. According to various reports, the RAB officials claim that Masum was taken into custody because he was not cooperating with them. Other reports also mention that the officials had found phensydyl bottles in his bedroom. After torturing Masum for more than 10 hours inside the RAB 10 office in Jatrabari, he was let go finally, with vague murmurs of 'sorrys' and 'apologies' from the RAB authorities. In fact, the authorities officially apologised the next day, published and highlighted by the media, about the misunderstanding that they had with Masum the day before.
Home Minister Sahara Khatun visits injured journalist FM Masum at a hospital in Moghbazar. On her right is State Minister for Home Affairs Shamsul Haque Tuku.
FM Masum, a staff reporter of the daily New Age, is quite a familiar name amongst many in the city. According to an assumption, amongst many others, some say that Masum was probably picked up and tortured because of the reports he had done on the sensitive topic of crossfires. However, Masum's description of the incident makes one wonder if this was actually a whimsical act on the part of the RAB officials, rather than a calculated one. On the morning of the incident, Masum was beaten inhumanely by the RAB officials; once when Masum opened the collapsible gate of the building to let the RAB officials in, once more when he was dragged upstairs, blindfolded and tied up, with objects like rods; and once more when he was finally dragged to his own flat. “I was terrified, especially when I was blindfolded,” he recalls. “I could not understand why I was being beaten up this way. What was all the more surprising was the fact that the officials displayed at least eight phensydyl bottles, which they say that they had pulled out from my pillow covers in my bedroom. They must have planted the bottles there when they were beating me downstairs. Even in all my pain and bruises, I could not help laughing out at them. Firstly, I do not even smoke, leave alone having phensydyl, secondly, why would I hide them inside pillow covers?”
The quirky behaviour of Flight Lt Anisur Rahman still baffles Masum. The leader of the particular squad and the raid that had hit Masum's landlord's house for illegal substances, seemed to pour all his anger and frustrations on Masum. “When I was tied up and blindfolded, Anis was asking me questions,
prodding me to answer and hitting me after every answer,” says Masum. “He asked me which university I was from, asked me about my department, names of my teachers and asked me the names of BCL cadres on campus. With every answer, he would hit me all over my body. I could do nothing but answer his questions and get beaten up. I think I was tortured for more than 30-40 minutes or more at that time.”
Once he was taken to the RAB headquarters, he was tortured in the torture cell the same way for an hour or two longer. “I had not eaten anything since morning,” says Masum. “But I was dying for some water. When I asked for water, one of the officials said that he would instead give me an injection, which would take care of my thirsts and needs forever. After a while, I was put inside a cell in the basement.”
Masum recollects a moment in the cell, where he met two more prisoners. “One of them had been there for more than 25 days, while the other for more than 15 days,” he says. “One of them told me that he was caught after the RAB officials found weapons inside his home. He claimed to be innocent, even after 25 days of torture. When he told me that he would probably die in a crossfire, I was shocked.” It was difficult for Masum to actually live the words and events that he used to write in his report. A crossfire death seemed all the more believable to Masum than anything else at the moment. “I was given food and water,” he says. “But I did not eat anything. I just had some water.”
Finally at around 10:30 pm, Masum was released with profuse apologies from the RAB authorities. His colleagues, who had come to collect him, were shocked and enraged when they were asked to sign an official document, which said that Masum was being released healthy and unhurt from the RAB 10 office. “They just took one look at me and flew into a temper,” says Masum. “Instead they just signed a statement which said that I was being taken to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.”
It is still difficult for Masum's father to believe the ordeal that his son had to go through with the law enforcers of the country. It is still very hard for him to imagine the pain that was inflicted on his child's body by the officials, whose duty it is to protect, rather than to act on their own nonsensical whims.
So how does the government plan to solve this problem? A probe committee has been set up by the RAB officials while Home Minister Sahara Khatun, while visiting Masum in the hospital, assured him that she will personally see to it that his case is accepted and dealt with fairly by the law. To date, however, the probe committee has not produced much and the Jatrabari police station is yet to accept the case against the perpetrators. Flight Lt Anisur Rahman has silently switched off his cell phone and disappeared from the scene. The opposition party has now found yet another point to disagree on, with the ruling government, and blame them for their inability to run the country. It won't be long before Masum's beating incident by the RAB officials becomes a mere piece of bulletin adding up to the piles in the news archives.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009