Enforced disappearances. Missing, dead

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by rahnuma ahmed

A fruit trader.

A businessman cum political activist.

Two brothers.

A timber trader.

The timber trader’s elder brother.

The elder brother’s business partner.

Mohammad Salim Mian. Sujon. Jalal ud din. Lal Babu. Akbor Ali Shordar. Ayub Ali Shordar. Abdur Rahman (Increased incidence of enforced disappearance, Asian Legal Resource Centre, August 24, 2010).

Members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)-4 picked up Salim from his relative’s house in Kapasia, Gazipur, on February 19, 2010. They handcuffed him. Blindfolded him. Disappeared to date.

In Sujon’s case, no, it wasn’t RAB-4, but allegedly, RAB-2. Its members kidnapped  him from a Dhaka city street on March 24, 2010. At first, the police refused to record the complaint of family members. Nothing doing, RAB enjoys impunity. It was accepted only after RAB’s name had been supplanted by `unidentified persons.’ Missing to date.

Jalal ud din and Lal Babu were arrested on March 18, 2010 from the Bihari colony in Mirpur, Dhaka where stranded Pakistanis – state-less citizens, belonging neither to Pakistan, nor to Bangladesh – live. RAB-4 again. Heavily armed, they cordoned the  entire neighbourhood. No explanation. No arrest warrants either. That’s the norm.

The brothers worked in a hairdressing salon, meagre earnings which provided for their mother and three sisters as well. As a matter of fact, Jalal had remained single, because of familial obligations. Men in black uniform entered, says their nephew who’d been sleeping in the same room. Others wore plain-clothes, one a black panjabi. They told us not to be afraid. Similar false assurances given to their sisters as well. RAB told us, they’d come to no harm. They said, we were safe too.

Pallabi thana reportedly did not record the allegations of the family members properly. The General Diary says, `On March 16, Jalal and Lal Babu went out of the house and since then they are missing’ (Abu Sufian, Darkness prevails, August 1, 2011).

Went out of the house for sure, but voluntarily? Disappeared to date.

Akbor Ali Shordar was picked up by members of RAB-5, alongwith his timber-trade partner, Bipin Chandra Sarkar, from a sawmill in Thakurgaon on March 19, 2010. When Akbor’s wife Parvin went to the police station to file a complaint, they detained her instead. They said Bipin had abducted Akbor. Then, to top it all, they pressured Bipin’s younger bother to file a complaint against Akbor for having abducted Bipin. Rigmaroles which would have been laughable if what really occurred was not so tragic.

Bipin returned home the next morning to tell the tale. Thirteen plain-clothed men had arrested the two of them. They’d been blindfolded, taken away in a microbus with hands tied behind their backs. Conversation en route indicated that the abductors belonged to RAB-5. They demanded 30 lakh taka.

Akbor’s elder brother, Ayub Ali, lodged a petition case with the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, Thakurgaon. He wrote letters of complaint to high-ranking government officials. To the Inspector General of Police. No replies. No action. Not until he held two press conferences accusing RAB of having abducted his brother.

Ayub Ali, and his business partner Abdur Rahman were arrested from Banosree  on May 19, 2010. The abductors wore black uniforms, similar to those worn by RAB. And now, all three — Akbor Ali Shordar, Ayub Ali and Abdur Rahman — are missing. Its been nearly a year and a half.

RAB-2. RAB-4. RAB-5.

The Rapid Action Battalion, which, as its website proudly proclaims is the `only elite force’ in the country.

How long do family members wait for the return of those `disappeared’? Razia Sultana, teacher, geography department, Jahangirnagar university, whose father was picked up by Pakistani army officials in 1971, whose body has never been found, told me, although we presume he’s dead, that he was killed, how can one be absolutely certain. What if…?

It’s been forty years now. Razia apa’s mother waited for her husband all her life. As does Shahidul’s cousin, Tuni bu, whose husband, an engineer, was picked up by the army in 1971. Whose body was never found.

No hope of his return. None except an ember that burns. That refuses to be gutted out despite long years. What if….

But no `what if’s’ for the family members of Mizan Hossain, Jewel Shordar and Rajib Shordar. They were picked up allegedly by plain-clothed members of the detective branch on July 31 this year, from old Dhaka. The human rights organisation Odhikar, in its investigation noted inconsistencies in the statements given by witnesses and members of the law enforcement agencies. These were voiced by Jewel’s father who suspects Gandaria police were involved in the abduction and murder of his son and Rajib. They claimed to belong to the law-enforcement agencies. Gandaria police refused to register a GD (surely, a telltale sign?); but after doing so, no one turned up from the police station to inquire. No effort on behalf of the thana to find out what happened, when, how and why.

No `what if’s’ for their family members. Mizan and Jewel’s bodies were discovered on a Pubail road slope, in Gazipur. Rajib’s on the Dhaka-Mawa highway near Nimtoli. Trussed up with gamchas, mouths too stuffed with gamchas. Young, oh so young bodies. Mizan was only 23, Jewel and Rajib only 18.

No `what if’s’ for the family members of Mizan of Karwan bazar either, and his trading partner Ali Akbar. They went missing on June 29. Dumped bodies found 3 days later in the Tejgaon truck stand. Family members allege, business rivals got them killed. They allege, members of the law-enforcement agencies must have helped.

But there are many others who are missing. Whose family members teeter between hope, and loss of all hope. Saiful Islam, a garment businessman, from Gulshan, on October 2. Three young men, picked up from Khilgaon, Chowdhurypara, on October 4, by men in plain-clothes claiming to belong to the detective branch, whisked away in a microbus. Dhaka university student Sakhawat Hussain Tuhin, missing since September 20. Kazi Ataur Rahman Litu, ward 87 BNP unit president, picked up by plain-clothes persons on September 22, from Dayaganj. Litu’s home had been raided ten days earlier, live bombs recovered according to police. Dhaka City Corporation ward councillor Chowdhury Alam, BNP leader, missing since June 25, 2010.

Many more. Many dead, bodies found. Others, missing.

Like KM Shamim Akhter, former Bangladesh Chatra Union leader, who was picked up from his home in Purana Paltan by men in plain-clothes on September 29. His wife was kept waiting for three hours when she went to file a complaint at Paltan thana, and was refused. A GD was registered later, `without naming anyone as a suspect’ (Amnesty International, October 7, 2011).

A few, like Bipin, have returned to tell the tale. Human rights activist William Gomes, who worked for the Asian Human Rights Commission alleges being abducted while returning to his house near Sayedabad bus terminal on May 21, 2011. Of being pushed into a car, blindfolded, hooded and driven to the `headquarter.’ On reaching there, he was taken up in the lift to the ninth floor. His clothes were removed, he was made to stand naked and blindfolded, presumably among men who were fully clothed, possibly, in uniform? Filthy words, `son-of-a-bitch,’ `son-of-a-whore,’ `bastard’ interlaced with `sir,’ `yes sir,’ `no sir,’ directed at superiors, by subservients, carrying out orders. Threats of shoving hot eggs up his anus. Of feeding him to magur macch (scavenging catfish). Of being asked how much Khaleda Zia, the opposition leader, had paid him. Of how much the AHRC had given him as `source money’, this, by a native speaker of English.

Thirsty, Gomes had asked for a glass of water. It was mildly hot, he says, it did not taste normal. He was dropped off later, but since then, his health has gotten worse. He suspects something must have been added to the water he drank while in `their’ custody. His legs hurt. At times, he feels paralysed. His hands feel weak, his body trembles. `I feel that I will collapse at any time. I cannot sleep properly.’ According to his account, the torture that he was meted out was carried out in the name of the prime minister. An interview that he had given to Radio Television Hong Kong was played for his ears, accompanied by a volley of questions from his abductors, among them, `You and your AHRC is only good and (prime minister) Hasina is bad?’ (Countercurrents, June 17, 2011).

From crossfire, to encounter, to cold-blooded murder. By members of the law-enforcement agencies. Accountable to none. Apparently carrying out government instructions to quell political opposition. Apparently hiring out their services, like mercenaries, to interested quarters who want their rivals finished off. Licence to abduct, to `disappear’  people, who are citizens of the state, are tax-payers.

Our leaders, both in position and opposition, express a profound inability to recognise the pain and suffering of others as they continue to capitalise on slain family members for political gain. A dead father. A dead husband.

One can only hope and pray that both previous and incumbent rulers — those who  created and run this frankenstein force, those who maintain and perpetuate it — all state functionaries who abduct and kill, and all teachers, writers, artists and intellectuals who are complicit by remaining silent (and I mean each and every one of them) will spend sleepless nights haunted by visions of Mizan Hossain, Jewel Shordar, Rajib Shordar….. Trussed. Mouths stuffed.

Published in New Age, Monday, October 17, 2011.

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This entry was posted in Bangladesh, Global Issues, Governance, Human rights, Media issues, Rahnuma Ahmed, South Asia, Terrorism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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