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    Volume 11 |Issue 50| December 21, 2012 |


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Special Feature

Photo: Star File


Tamanna Khan

Political programmes do not ensure our livelihoods. Thus we try to go to our workplace on a weekday despite the violence that erupts on the streets during hartals, blockades or political protests. Bishwajit was probably like one of us, someone who could not afford to trade in a day's salary or earning for his safety. So he ventured out towards his workplace on the morning of December 9, 2012, the day the opposition had called a countrywide blockade. Consequently, he ended up paying the price for daring to practise his democratic right, with his life.

Deaths during political programmes have become so common that we could easily forget about Bishwajit's death, the same way we have deleted the image of the charred legs of the bus passenger in Moulvibazar. He was burnt to death on December 18, 2011 by arsonists, who were carrying out pre-hartal demonstrations.

Bishwajit was killed by goons belonging to the ruling party's student organisation. Photo: Star File

Yet Bishwajit's death worries us, because he was killed not by supporters of the blockade programme, but by those who opposed it and apparently wanted things to be normal. The 24-year-old tailor, Bishwajit Das, was hacked, thrashed and beaten to death by activists of Bangladesh Chhtara League (BCL), student wing of Awami League, the ruling party. So, what were the BCL activists doing on the streets when the blockade programme was called by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party?

Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) President HM Bodiuzzaman Shohag explains that their organisation comes out during hartals and other opposition programmes to ensure classes can be held without disruption. “We come out during hartals not to help police but to be at the public's side,” he says justifying BCL's presence in the street during the opposition's political programmes.

Dr Serajul Islam Chowdhury, professor emeritus of University of Dhaka, says, “If one political party calls hartal why should the other opposing party be present in it? Let the public decide whether they want to respond to it or not. The consequence of a political programme and a counter programme is violence.” He says that since in our system the police are not neutral and always work for the state or ruling party, it is rather their duty to prevent any sort of violence or disruption caused by supporters of the political party that called a programme such as a hartal or blockade.

Ironically, Bishwajit Das was a member of the public BCL activists were supposed to help. Rony Burman, owner of Balaka Electric, a shop adjacent to New Amantran Tailors, the shop where Bishwajit worked, says, “As far as I know, he (Bishwajit) got a call from a customer to deliver goods (clothes),” recalling the events of that fateful winter morning. “In Shakhari Bazar, we keep the shops open on all days, be it hartal or blockade,” he adds, explaining why Bishwajit ventured out of his home even on a day when political violence was likely to occur. Rony goes on saying how Bishwajit would come every morning to the tailor shop from his elder brother's home at Hrishikeshdas Lane, Sutrapur, taking the same route, walking around Bahadur Shah Park past the back alley of the Lower Court buildings.

The morning of December 9 was no different. Bishwajit was taking his usual route to the shop after getting the customer's call when he heard the sound of cocktail explosions and ran to take shelter, says Mohammad Rubel, reception staff of Victoria Dental Clinic, adjacent to Intensive Dental Care, where Bishwajit had tried to take shelter. Rubel later heard the incident from the staff of Intensive Dental Care.

Prothom Alo's photojournalist Hasan Raja witnessed the attack on Bishwajit. He was on an assignment near the Lower Courts and the time was about 8:50 am. Pro-Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) lawyers had brought out a procession and in response, BCL brought out a counter procession, he says. “At one point the members of Chhatra League chased the lawyers inside the judge court and beat them. We were following them when we heard the sound of an explosion of a cocktail behind us, coming from near Victoria Park (Bahadur Shah Park). So we moved there and so did the Chhatra League activists, shouting 'catch them'. To my left I saw, Bishwajit being beaten upstairs (in front of Intensive Dental Care, where he went to take shelter),” Raja relates.

Raja along with other journalists of television channels went forward cautiously and tried to enter the building and they noticed that the BCL men were trying to throw Bishwajit off from the first floor. “When RTV crew and I tried to get to the first floor, they stopped us with machetes and rods at the stairs. One of them put the machete to my throat and warned me not to climb upstairs,” Raja says. Frightened, he had to come down and from below he watched how mercilessly they stabbed at Bishwajit with their machetes. Bishwajit somehow managed to run downstairs, with BCL men at his heels. They continued to beat his blood-soaked body with thick wooden sticks and rods and hacked at him with their machetes. “Some of us tried to save him, but they threatened to beat us too, so we backed off,” Raja continues, “But the thing is even though we tried to save him, the police officers who were there did not come forward to save him. So how much could we have done?”

Bystanders tried to save Bishwajit but they too were threatened by the attackers. Photo: Star File

Raja says there were two platoons of police deployed there. Other eye-witnesses, preferring anonymity, also confirmed this. An old man sitting at a tea stall at the entrance of the street leading to Shakhari Bazar says, “There were at least 50 policemen here who watched the entire incident and did not go forward to save him.” He laments, “I have seen the Liberation War, where two sides fought each other, but I haven't seen such brutality even then.” The people at the tea stall express their anger and anguish, saying that those who committed the murder belong to the ruling party. They do not dare to speak against them in front of the media, for the media cannot ensure their safety.

Sadly, even the media presence could not save Bishwajit. The murderers did not give a second thought to their heinous act being documented and this surprising indifference is explained by Dr Nehal Karim, professor of Social Science, University of Dhaka. “There is no implementation of law in our country. Those who do these are armed cadres of political parties,” he says. “They were very much sure that nothing will happen to them as they were given assurance by their higher authority.”

In fact, right after Bishwajit's death, our political parties delved into their old blame game. Though local people and students of Jagannath University (JnU) identified the attackers as BCL cadres, the Home Minister denied this claim and so did the Prime Minister's Office. Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad at a press briefing on December 13 presented the background of six of the identified killers, claiming them to be Shibir men (student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami). However, one of them, Md Mahfuzur Rahman Nahid, was seen at the front row of a BCL procession only two hours and 20 minutes after killing Bishwajit. When asked about the photograph published in The Daily Star, Azad says he has not seen it and he had already stated their comment (at the press briefing). “You can write whatever you like,” he concluded, before hanging up the phone.

Sirajul Islam, general secretary of BCL JnU unit, explains Nahid's presence in BCL procession by calling him an infiltrator. “You see, we have formed the Jagannath University BCL committee only two months ago. There are about 3000 students in that committee. We asked Sutrapur police station to help us investigate the background of all the members as we felt there may be Jamaat Shibir infiltrators among us. But before the investigation could be completed, this incident took place,” he says.

Md Mahfuzur Rahman Nahid was seen at the front row of a BCL procession only two hours and 20 minutes
after killing Bishwajit. Photo: Star File

Interestingly, according to Sirajul the procession that Jagannath University BCL brought out on the morning of December 9, was not to prevent blockade by the opposition, but to celebrate Bangladesh's test cricket victory the night before. However, the BCL procession that chased the pro-BNP lawyers in the morning was armed with sticks, confirms Hasan Raja. Yet HM Bodiuzzaman Shohag denies carrying any kind of weapon in BCL processions. “It was a planned sabotage. They are none of us,” he insists, denying the link of the attackers of Bishwajit to CL.

Though politicians readily disowned the killers, they did not hesitate to call Bishwajit their party man. Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir on December 10 claimed that Bishwajit Das was a BCL activist. On the other side, BNP leaders Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Sadek Hossain Khoka, both claimed Bishwajit as their party man, right after his death on December 9. However, Rony Burman, who has seen and known Bishwajit as a friend and a fellow trader, says, “He was not involved in any political parties. He was a simple businessman. When they were beating him he pleaded to them saying, 'I am a Hindu boy. I have a tailoring shop.'”

So what was Bishwajit's mistake? Was he wrong in exercising his democratic right of coming out on the street to make his living on a day when the opposition held a political programme? Mohidul Islam Hiru, president of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD) (student wing of BNP), Dhaka University Unit, believes that people have the right to choose whether or not they will support opposition's political programmes such as hartals and blockades. They have the right to move freely during such programmes. “We are forced to do picketing because government is not tolerant towards our peaceful programmes. Had they allowed us to carry out our programmes peacefully, such incidents would not have happened. When government resists normal programmes such as processions and meetings by the opposition, only then the political arena fires up.” Blaming the government for the political mayhem, he denies that picketers attack ordinary people.

But ordinary people do become victims of hartal and blockade picketing. One of the men at the tea stall near Shakhari Bazar, preferring anonymity, says, “Beforehand, we used to be worried about picketing by the opposition party men during hartals. After Bishwajit's death, we realise we are not even safe at the hands of ruling party men during opposition's political programme. Who should we ask for justice, when ruling party men commit such crimes? Who will ensure our safety?”

Violence has become a part of our system and we have stopped responding to it, Dr Chowdhury analyses. “We thought that the Liberation War was the final stage of violence. But the collective dream we had of a peaceful and tranquil society after the Liberation War did not materialise. Violence persisted because a ruling class has emerged here. All this political conflict, antagonism, rivalry, activity are components of the ruling class. Our politics is all about the competition amongst the ruling classes to grab power.”

Focusing on student politics, he says that political activities of students should have two aspects — they will put forward demands on nationally important issues and participate in student unions in higher educational institutes for extra-curricular activities such as sports and culture. “None of these two tasks — participating in national issue and engaging themselves in student unions, exist anymore. What will all these thousands of students do? They don't have any work and they don't see any future. And political parties use them,” he explains, “They (the students) are not committed to the political parties ideologically. It is a kind of affiliation that is just useful.”

Dr Chowdhury opines that we have grown apathetic towards violence because we are being subjected to it almost everyday. “The second aspect of the society is that everyone is busy trying to establish himself. It is an economic system of self-help,” he adds, “They are so concerned with their own self that beyond this, they cannot see. Beforehand, when an accident occurred people used to help. Now people remain indifferent, which has evolved from self-centredness. Sociologically, we can call this alienation.” He believes that if we had a collective dream and a collective movement to achieve that dream, as it was during the War of Liberation, this alienation could be dealt with. “Everyone is fighting his/her own war, and their dream is personal and contradictory to others', cancelling each other's dreams out. So along with apathy there is despair in the society.” As a solution to this crisis Dr Chowdhury suggests, “We need the right kind of people to bring a collective dream forward — people with democratic values as well as patriotism.”

Bishwajit Das, who rejoiced in the victory of Bangladesh's cricket team and expressed his democratic right by walking to work heedless of a political programme, could have been one of Dr Chowdhury's 'right kind of people'. But now we will never know. For on December 9, we watched silently from our individual cocoons as the unhealthy politics of our country hacked a potential dreamer to death.


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012