by rahnuma ahmed
In today’s column, I basically deal with three issues, firstly, a brief review of the government’s administrative responses, these suggest that higher-ups have ‘settled’ on making the officer-in-charge of Ramu thana the “fall guy” for the devastating waves of attacks on Buddhist temples, monasteries and houses on September 29; secondly, my examination of the report of the probe committee formed by the home ministry to investigate the occurrences in Ramu inclines me to think that the committee has produced a report according to the home minister’s requirements and guidelines as outlined in his public speeches instead of investigating impartially as the committee is duty-bound to; third, in order to create appearances of communal harmony post-Ramu, government officials, ruling party members and ideologues, mostly Muslims (plus a few Buddhist quislings), have participated in government-funded Probarona celebrations this year, which has led to the (forceful) de-linking of religious rituals from a set of embodied practices which are a part of the Buddhist tradition; it bespeaks of government interference (hijacking), which again, is unconstitutional (freedom of worship).
The fall guy
THE GOVERNMENT probe committee report has not yet been made public, despite assurances given by the secretary of the home ministry (New Age, October 19).
I have secured a copy of the report through New Age, I assume copies became available to the media as a consequence of the writ petition moved on October 3 (sworn afidavit on October 1) by Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, who, since he belongs to Ramu, has initiated the move on the basis of being personally “aggrieved.” The petition has challenged the “inaction” of the police in protecting temples, monasteries and homes of Ramu’s Buddhist community.
What I find most significant is that the writ seeks a directive from the High Court to summon before it three key people in the local administration: deputy commissioner (DC), Cox’s Bazar district; superintendent of police (SP), Cox’s Bazar district; officer in charge (OC), Ramu police station. Many inhabitants of Ramu, including Barrister Jyotirmoy himself, says the writ, had directly contacted these officials before and during the attacks (which, as we know, raged for several hours), but they had failed to take action. In other words, they had failed to discharge their duties in accordance with the Constitution, they should therefore be held answerable for their conduct.
A few more words about the writ petition and the probe committee, to add more context: the petition, which, interestingly, had been turned down by an HC bench on the grounds that it would “interfere” with steps already taken by the government, was accepted by the HC bench of Justice Mirza Hussain Haider and Justice Kazi Md Ejarul Haque Akondo. The latter directed the home secretary and, the inspector general of police to submit a report to the court by October 17 after the government’s investigation into the Ramu attacks had been conducted; as background information I add that, on September 30, the newly-appointed home minister Dr Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir had announced the formation of a probe committee, headed by Nurul Islam, additional divisional commissioner, Chittagong. It was tasked with investigating the communal attacks in Ramu.
The probe committee was due to submit its report to the ministry of home affairs on October 11, however, from what I gather from press reports, it delayed the submission by a couple of days because Abdul Muktadir, who is believed to have instigated the violence (he had discovered the offensive picture on Uttam Barua’s facebook wall), had been arrested on the night of October 9, and the committee wanted to include his testimony in the report (Samakal, October 12, 2012). The probe committee report was finally submitted to the ministry of home affairs on October 18; the report was submitted by the ministry to the HC on November 8, a good twenty days later (bdnews24.com, November 8, 2012).
In the meanwhile, on October 17, the inspector general of police submitted his report (prepared by Senior Assistant Superintendent of Police (Law) Md Mizanur Rahman, on behalf of the IGP) to the HC which details steps taken by the local police after they received information from Ramu on the night of the attacks, and after. According to news reports, the IGP’s report finds no fault in the actions taken by the Cox’s Bazar SP: he had “immediately deployed additional forces” on the night of the 29th (however, no mention is made of the time when the police had been informed), the next day, when he accompanied the home minister to Ramu, he had instructed the DIG (deputy inspector general) of the area to take “immediate action” against the perpetrators in Ramu and other places; it was Ramu thana’s OC who had failed to “tackle the situation” for he had provided “incorrect incormation to his superiors”, hence, it recommended that disciplinary action be taken against him. (bdnews24.com, October 17, 2012).
The IGP’s report also mentions that on September 30th, the SP had instructed the police to “secure the lives and property” of all minority communities including their places of worship, as I read this I was left wondering whether the IGP report had mentioned that attacks similar to Ramu had occurred in Ukhia and Teknaf (Cox’s Bazar district), and Potiya (Chittagong district), on both Buddhist and Hindu temples, monasteries and homes, on September 30th. How could they have occurred despite his order? (More on this, below, suo moto rule).
The hearing of Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua’s writ petition on police inaction is to be held today, November 13. Let’s see what happens.
To add more context, another writ petition was filed by Supreme Court lawyer Yunus Ali Akond on October 3, in the HC bench of Justice Naima Haider and Justice Muhammad Khurshid Alam Sarkar. Local law enforcers, said the petition, had failed to take appropriate measures to protect Buddhist temples, monasteries and houses in Ramu. The bench issued a rule asking the government to explain within a week why its inaction to provide security should not be declared “illegal.” The same bench issued another rule in a suo moto move, this occurred because Supreme Court lawyer Advocate Shubroto Chowdhury placed before the court newspaper reports detailing vandalism in Ramu; the bench asked the government to explain why its “inaction” in protecting Buddhist temples and houses in Ramu, Ukhia and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar, and Patiya in Chittagong, should not be declared “illegal.” The respondents to these rules are: home secretary, inspector general of police, deputy commissioners and police superintendents of Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong, and the OCs of Ramu, Ukhia, Teknaf and Patiya police stations (Daily Star, October 3, 2012).
I must mention a series of administrative actions taken since the communal attacks in Ramu (in chronological order): (a) on October 2, Nazibul Alam, OC, Ramu thana was closed and attached to the office of deputy inspector general of police, Chittagong Range (b) on October 14, Jaynul Bari, DC, Cox’s Bazar, who had been transferred to Chittagong (hence, the farewell party), was withdrawn from his new posting and attached to the public administration ministry (c) on October 22, Jasim Uddin, the acting DC of Cox’s Bazar, who had taken charge on September 30 from the outgoing DC, was transferred (d) on November 4, Selim Mohammad Jahangir, police superintendent, Cox’s Bazar, was withdrawn and attached to police headquarters. It is pertinent to mention that several commentators have queried, particularly on TV talk shows, as to why, given the gravity of the incidence, and widespread allegations that the administration and police officials had been inactive during the attacks, they have merely faced “withdrawal”, “closure” and “attachment.” The situation is more complex in the case of SP Jahangir, who was possibly withdrawn because it was one of the 7-point demands made by the Buddhist community when Gowher Rizvi, advisor to the prime minister, and Dilip Barua, industries minister visited Ramu on October 3. In other words, even soft disciplinary measures have not been readily forthcoming on behalf of the government.
The IGP report to the HC bench had mentioned that a three-member team led by Md Nawsher Ali, deputy inspector general of police, Chittagong Range had been formed to investigate the incidents of September 29; its three-page report was finalised on October 18, it was submitted to the High Court bench of Justice Naima Haider and Justice Muhammad Khurshid Alam Sarkar on November 7, a good 19 days later; the bench will issue its order on November 20 regarding Yunus Ali’s petition.
I have not seen the police probe committee report but according to press reports, although it acknowledges that both the SP, Cox’s Bazar and the OC, Ramu police station are to be blamed for having failed to take appropriate action, it recommends disciplinary action be taken against only the OC (“negligent in discharging official duties”). The SP is blamed only for being “confused” and “out of touch with local sentiments.” Likewise, the DC, who is blamed only for being “busy” with his farewell party, and for failing “to judge the gravity of the situation.” The failure of the intelligence agencies was not mentioned at all (Daily Star, November 8, 2012).
Would it be wrong to assume that the OC of Ramu thana Nazibul Alam is possibly, being made the “fall guy”?
Made-to-order probe committee report
I write on the basis of the copy which I have received; it has 61 pages, the page numbers are entered in hand, pp 16-87. I refer to this as the “report,” it consists of two Annexures, Annexure-1 and Annexure-2.
My first impression (a lasting one) is that the report is sloppy, both in its language use and in typo errors and, in spelling mistakes which abound profusely (“shortgun” instead of shotgun, “nibrito” instead of nibritto, “brigate” for brigade, “payjama poRa” and not pora, the same name being variedly spelt, Tohid, Towhid, p. 54). Grrrrr!
But it is difficult to regard some things as merely sloppy, and it is here that I’m at a loss, are they mere carelessness or deliberate? I provide two instances. The report which I have received has a covering letter (p. 16), signed by the senior asstt secretary (Annexure-1, dated October 14, 2012), the subject of the letter, written in English says: “Alleged Attack at Buddhist Temples and homes at Ramu, Cox’s Bazar.” Why “alleged” attacks? What does it imply? That there are (only) “allegations” that the attacks had taken place; that, they may, or may not have occurred?
The second instance: Uttom Kumar Baruar shathe tar [Omar Faruk, computer shop-owner] bektigoto jogajog acche kina ta nishcheet howa jayni. This sentence would have made sense if it had read, we have not been able to ascertain whether Omar Faruk is personally known to Uttom Kumar Barua. But “bektigoto jogajog” means “being in personal contact”; there are two problems here: if the issue is one of whether the two knew each other, why didn’t the committee members go ahead and ask Omar Faruk, who was arrested on October 6. However, Omar Faruk’s testimony is not part of the 21 testimonies included in the report. Was Faruk questioned by the committee or not? According to p. 65, he was. To make matters worse (downright suspicious?), the testimonies are not numbered, but since none of the pages are missing, I am left wondering what happened to Faruk’s testimony? The other problem is, if the authors do not mean whether the two knew each other but whether they are (still) “in personal contact” that also stretches credulity because Uttam Kumar Barua has been in hiding since the night of September 29, there is some speculation that the government knows of his whereabouts, that possibly, he is in government custody; if one ignores the speculation, one is still left wondering how Faruk, who is under police arrest, could be in personal contact with Uttam, who, the authorities officially claim, is untraceable.
I will now briefly touch on three inter-connected points: (a) the absence of a timeline providing a chronology of the attacks (which monastery, temple, house was attacked when/estimated time); and, focus on two of the objectives that the probe committee was tasked with (b) “to identify the individuals responsible for the attacks” and (c) “the role of the law-enforcing agency[ies]” (Bangla does not distinguish between plural and singular).
— The absence of a timeline: There is no indication whatsoever that the members of the probe committee thought it necessary to reconstruct a chronology of the events systematically; therefore, one is left with individual testimonies which contradict each other on what happened when, who was where when etc.; this, indicates to me, that the ability to determine who should be held responsible for what manner of negligence is forestalled. I provide a few instances: in her testimony, upazilla vice-chairman of Ramu Musrat Jahan Munni states, Ethin Rakhain, the Cox’s Bazar’s woman MP, called Ramu thana’s OC and told him that the Cherengghata Boro Mondir [Shada Ching] and Lal Mondir were being attacked, it was “about 10/11pm” (p. 51). But according to the testimony of upazilla parishad chairman Sohel Sarowar Kajol, Lal Ching was set on fire at “about a quarter to midnight” (p. 44). This is contradicted yet again by the testimony of Mohd Abul Kalam, assistant commissioner (land), Ramu, who states that the SP arrived at 2am with 8-10 police personnel, he tried to calm down the crowd, but that the angry crowd set fire to Cherangghata’s Lal Ching and Shada Ching temples (p. 48).
Matters are made far worse when the authors themselves write in Section 10. Porjalochona o Bisleshon (Review and Analysis), that, at about 12:15pm riotous crowds began attacking, looting and setting fire to Cherangghata’s Lal Ching, adjoining Shada Ching Bouddho Bihar, Moitri Bouddho Bihar, and the Boro Kyang belonging to Rakhains.
How did the members of the probe committee determine the time? On the basis of which testimony or which other evidence, and why are they not presented in the report?
— The role of the law-enforcing agency[ies]: To investigate how a rampage of such proportions, over a considerable land mass, one which continued for many hours (if one counts the hours from the first gathering at Choumuhoni Chottor, about 8:30/9pm, to the flames dying out after the last attack, 4:30am, it means that the attacks lasted for roughly 7½-8 hours) could have continued largely undeterred until towards the end, then a timeline of when the police force arrived (alongwith names and ranks of personnel) would be absolutely necessary. But more importantly, if the team had been serious about investigating “police inaction” then, instead of a flattened out “Role of law-enforcing agencies”, the wording itself should have been different, something on the lines of “Precautionary or Preventive Measures taken by Police, the adequacy of these measures to control violence.” It is pertinent to point out that here too, the testimonies given by government and police officials give diverging accounts of when the army and BGB had reached the site of attacks: according to Debi Chondo, upazilla nirbahi officer (UNO, the chief executive officer at the sub-district level), it was “2:30am” (p. 47). According to the OC, Ramu thana, it was between “1:30-2:00am.”
— Individuals responsible for the attack: According to the authors of the probe committee report, one of the tasks of the committee was to investigate the “individuals who were responsible for the attack” (p. 23), but this category (“individuals”) mysteriously expands and gets re-worded as “Responsible groups, parties, organisations and institutions” at the end of the report, in the sub-section (11.1) following Section 11. Identifying responsible individulas (p. 70). This re-wording enables the committe members to find the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Rohingyas, the RSO (Rohingya Solidarity Organisation) responsible for having organised, incited and participated in the attacks. They may well have, that is not my point, my point is, if the initial objective had been to identify “groups, parties, organisations and institutions” responsible for the attack (instead of merely “individuals”), would that have neccesitated that the probe committee equally investigate the local Awami League, its leaders, its activists?
My own scrutiny of the report inclines me to think that the probe committee’s investigation in practice was guided by what the home minister had said in press briefings and publicly delivered speeches post-Ramu: “leaders and members who subscribe to a politics different from ours and extremist fundamentalists” are responsible for the attacks (Kaler Kantho, October 1, 2012), that “national and international organisations were involved” (Samakal, October 2, 2012). In other words, I would argue that it is a tailor-made report, and, that those who have provided its guidelines and those who have authored it, should be held legally accountable for their acts.
Lastly, in the introduction to Annexure-2 (How the Incident Began), I stumble over the authorial voice, who is the author: probe committe members, or Muktadir? Look at what the authors’ write while describing the sequence of events after the offensive picture had been discovered in Faruk’s computer shop in Ramu’s bazar, some men entered the shop saying they wanted to see it: “since people had [already] learned about the picture, fearing that Uttam Kumar Barua may delete it from his account Abdul Muktadir went to Faruk’s facebook wall from his own account and captured a [screen]shot with his [Uttam’s] profile.” Since Muktadir’s “fear” led to actions which had disastrous consequences, is it not necessary that his fear not be viewed unproblematically? What was he fearful of? That Uttam would not be found out? That he would not be punished? If so, shouldn’t Muktadir’s self-righteous “fear” be interrogated and examined for the harm that it did? Instead of being written about as “normal.” Is this an unconscious “Muslim” voice creeping into the report? Or, is there something more devious at work? But I’m in two minds here, for, what could be more devious than unconscious Muslim voices creeping into committee reports.
Government interference in Buddhist religious practices
Originally, Buddhists countrywide had decided to not celebrate Probarona Purnima this year, because of the attacks on September 29. But to create appearances of communal harmony, government officials, ruling party members and ideologues, mostly Muslims (plus a few Buddhist quislings), have participated in government-funded Probarona celebrations where fanooshes have been lit and set afloat. But as Pragyananda Bhikkhu of Ramu Shima Bihar writes, a fanush is not a balloon which one can, at any time and under any circumstances, joyously set afloat. There is no timing to the flying of balloons, or any notion of when it is circumspect, when it is not. No rituals or invocations are needed. But fanooshes are different, one must follow a distinct set of rules because the act of setting afloat a fanoosh is closely entwined with the essence of what Buddhism preaches (Dainik Cox’s Bazar, November 4, 2012).
To make my point clearer, if Bangladesh had been a Buddhist-majority country, and the reverse had occurred, if the government had then arranged for cattle slaughter for Korbani Eid, would that have been Korbani for the Muslims, as understood and practised, or something else? The government’s actions (or hijacking?) have meant that a set of embodied practices have been de-linked from the Buddhist religious order, and turned into a “spectacle” (tamasha). It is unconstitutional (freedom of worship). Shouldn’t it be Buddhists who practise Buddhism?
A revised version. Pls RT #Ramuburns