By rahnuma ahmed
The problem with Limon — from RAB’s point of view — is that he has lived to tell the tale. Usually, RAB’s victims don’t.
Take Rasal Ahmed Bhutto, for instance. A 34-year old shopkeeper, he was picked up by men in plainclothes outside a friend’s shop in Dhaka on March 3, 2011. A week later, men in vehicles, including ones marked RAB, brought Bhutto back to his neighbourhood. A volley of gunshots. Family members rushed out, they found him slumped against a wall. Dead.
RAB insists, there had been a shootout.
Or take Mohiuddin Arif, a 32-year old surgery technician at Apollo Hospital, Dhaka. He was picked up from his home on January 24, 2010 by 3 plainclothes men who claimed to be officers from RAB-4. Arif died 10 days later, after having been transferred to police, after having been sent off to Dhaka Central Jail. When jail authorities informed his father that his son was dead, he rushed to the DMCH morgue. Arif’s legs were `smashed,’ `flattened.’ They had turned green. From repeated beatings? His skin had been scraped off from parts of his body. His feet were swollen, they looked as if they were falling apart.
According to police, Arif had been sacked from work on charges of corruption. Not true, say hospital authorities. According to police, Arif had taken part in a robbery. Not true. Arif’s time punch card shows he was on hospital duty when the alleged robbery took place.
Thirty-two thousand taka poorer — 16,000 allegedly to Pallabi police station in exchange for assurances that he wouldn’t be tortured, another 16,000 reportedly to a court clerk, CMM court, Dhaka in hopes of getting early bail — his family has decided not to file a case. What’s the use? I won’t get my son back, says his father (Human Rights Watch report, Crossfire, May 10, 2011).
Dead men don’t tell tales.
But there are other problems with Limon. I mean, `problems’ from RAB’s perspective.
His innocence shines through, there’s no denying that. Thick black hair, a steady, unwavering look. Sad, but with a tinge of indictment. Look at what you’ve done to me. How could you?
He comes from a humble background. His father, Tofazzel Hossain, a share-cropper cum day-labourer, left Saturia village (Rajapur upazilla, Jhalokathi district) this February in search of better work, better pay. He managed to find work in a wholesale fruit market in Savar EPZ, Dhaka.
A college student, Limon’s HSC finals were days away when the incident occurred. Bent on getting good grades, he’d been studying harder. He wanted to fulfill his mother’s dreams. To be educated, to make her proud of him. He worked in a neighbouring brick kiln, lowly work, menial work, which upper class kids in cities, heady with lifestyle concerns, the `d-juice’ generation, cannot imagine. Neither can their parents. Limon also tutored children, meagre earnings to supplement an unsteady household income.
On March 23, 2011, Limon, returning home with grazing cattle, was stopped by a team of RAB-8 led by deputy assistant director Mohd Lutfar Rahman, nearby Shohid Jomaddar’s home. They grabbed hold of my collar, they said, you are a terrorist. They dragged me to the front of Jomaddar’s house. One of them said, we’ll crossfire you. I gave him my mobile, I said, please, please call my college principal. I begged. He pocketed my mobile. Another RAB pointed his gun at my left leg and fired. His nameplate said Lutfar. I fell down, rolled on the ground till I struck a banana tree. One of them pinned down my hand with his boot. They wanted to know who I was. I told them my name, my college name, I even told them my HSC exams were beginning on 5th April.
I was wearing a red shirt, one of them took it off, tied my wound. They took off my lungi, wiped away the blood. They stamped at blood stains on the ground, they threw away the blood-soaked lungi in the nearby river. Another got a lungi from Jomaddar’s house. Limon had been lying naked until then. They called a village elder, he was heard to scream, `But he’s a good boy, and you shot him!’ (Asian Human Rights Commission, April 9, 2011).
His family learnt the next day that Limon was in Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital in Barisal, he’d been admitted four hours after being shot. It was a perforating wound, the bullet had passed through, bleeding had been profuse. There was little they could do, said the doctors. He was referred to Dhaka, brought here and finally admitted to Pongu hospital (National Institute of Traumatology, Orthopedic and Rehabilitation) on March 27. Police constables insisted the family pay the ambulance fare, a hefty 5,500 taka.
Doctors at Pongu amputated his left leg the same day. It couldn’t be saved, they said, too much dead tissue. They must foot the bill, said hospital authorities, operating costs, all other medical expenses. Villagers had chipped in, the family had mortgaged a piece of precious land, but cash was dwindling fast.
From information which surfaced later, it seems to be a case of mistaken identity. Our Limon was mistaken for Limon Hossain Jomaddar, a Dhaka resident, related to Shahid Jomaddar, who RAB was searching for. To nab. Or to kill, who knows? RAB’s informers had said, Limon Jomaddar, wearing a red shirt, would be there.
There’ve been other cases of mistaken identity. Remember Bappi who worked as a model, who was planning to get a degree in management? He was Kaiser Mahmud Bappi, he was mistaken for Kamrul Islam, also nicknamed `Bappi,’ a wanted criminal. Acting on information that the latter Bappi was planning a major crime at Aftab Towers, Dhaka, a RAB-1 team went there on September 9, 2009. Our Bappi happened to be near the gate; when officers wanted to know his name, he simply replied, `Bappi.’
RAB says, they shot in self-defense, but eye-witnesses say there was no shoot-out, that Bappi was killed without any provocation. That Bappi had pleaded `Please don’t kill me. You are mistaking me for someone else. I am from a good family.’
What immense power. Shoot, kill, no questions asked, that’s RAB’s modus operandi. A death squad. Period. Albeit, a highly vengeful one. As, also, are their apologists.
Power that is nurtured by impunity. Yielding to pressure by human rights groups, the home ministry had ordered an investigation into Bappi’s killing, the team included a member from human rights group Odhikar. According to its report, RAB was not able to prove that “armed criminals were present at the crime spot.” It recommended prosecution, but the government took no action.
Is it a wonder then that two criminal cases were filed against Limon and seven others on March 23rd night? They were accused of illegally possessing arms and ammunitions. Of obstructing law-enforcement agencies in their discharge of duties. Of attempting to murder. Limon’s age was recorded as being 25, not 16. According to RAB, his bullet injury was the result of a shooutout; they’d recovered firearms from him; he was an associate of Morshed, a local criminal.
Public sympathy for Limon is not to be tolerated. Growing public anger at RAB’s crossfire killings are not to be tolerated, one that has catalysed due to Limon’s fate, his amputated leg. That silent indictment, Look at what you’ve done? How could you do this to me? rankles. Feelings of guilt must be crushed. Impunity, to serve the government’s interests, must prevail. The state machinery has gone into action.
There have been one or two slip-ups, honest statements such as the one by RAB’s director general. `Limon is a young boy, not a notorious criminal. He just became a victim of the incident.’
But that was much earlier, before the government machinery had swung into action.
His mother’s attempts to file a case against the perpetrators were snubbed by the local police station. Henoara Begum went ahead and filed a case with the Jhalokathi court, she wanted justice, she said; a fair and speedy investigation, those who were guilty of shooting her son without verifying his identity must be punished. The magistrate (God bless her) ordered the police to record the case. They dilly-dallied, seeking permission to investigate all cases against, and by, the battalion. The petition was rejected. The police must record the case, and do it fast. Within 48 hours.
But since RAB’s impunity must prevail, a sub-inspector of Rajapur police station `secretly’ submitted a charge sheet against Limon before the Court. A horrendous saga began: Limon, with his amputated leg, was dragged off to Jhalokathi to appear before the court. After getting bail in one case, he was dragged off to jail. Then back again in court, mercifully, he was given bail in the other case. In the meanwhile, in response to a public interest litigation filed by ASK, the High Court has granted Limon 6 months interim bail, it has directed the government to ensure his treatment at one of the best hospitals at the cost of the state, it has asked the government why a probe committee should not be formed.
Five bodies are investigating the incident, says state minister for home affairs, Shamsul Haque Tuku. But according to Limon’s family members, the single-member home ministry inquiry committee has spoken only to witnesses planted by RAB. They spoke of a gunfight between RAB on one side, and Limon and a local terrorist group on the other. When Limon’s grandfather protested, these so-called witnesses disappeared. However Shawkat Akbar, additional division commissioner, and team-leader denies these allegations, “I talked with those people who spontaneously stepped forward….”
Limon was not deliberately shot at by RAB, says Maj Gen (retd) Tarique Ahmed Siddique, the prime minister’s defence adviser. He’s 100 percent sure, he says. A shot hit Limon in the leg as he attempted to run away when RAB tried to capture Jamaddar. Both Limon and his father are members of a criminal gang. A conspiracy is being hatched to get RAB disbanded.
Sahara Khatun, home minister has chimed in, what the defence adviser has said is the government’s position. And no, his comments won’t influence the investigation process, or the judicial process.
In Saturia, Limon’s relatives, neighbours, other villagers, professionals who have expressed sympathy, have been subjected to continuous threats and intimidation. A high presence of men in plainclothes is noticeable, surveilling common villagers constantly.
Shawkat Akbar has earned additional credit, in the interests of conducting an independent inquiry, he has grilled Limon and Tofazzel to the extent that both father and son burst out into tears.
Which well-known people have visited in you hospital? Has the editor of any newspaper come here to see you? Are you trotting out words that you have been told to? By any journalist? By any organisation? Why did you open a bank account seeking assistance for Limon’s treatment? Who advised you? At a point, Tofazzel reportedly cried out and said, RAB shot Limon, his leg had to be amputated. Now they are trying to frame him as a terrorist. They are trying to frame the whole family as terrorists. I don’t want to live any longer. Give me poison. I will take it with the rest of the family, let us all die (Limon’s testimony to home ministry investigation committee, Prothom Alo, May 25, 2011).
His helplessness in the face of such implacable ruthlessness has made a newspaper reader comment on the daily’s website, maybe they should all be lined up in front of a firing squad. Maybe that will appease the death squad, and its apologists. As I read, I try to recollect, where had I read the line, “Meanwhile, extra-judicial killings became a norm, and the rule of law disappeared.” Oh yes, the Awami League’s electoral manifesto, 2008.
For some reason, the faces of present cabinet ministers, Sahara Khatun, Shamsul Haque Tuku, blur with those of former ones. Although it was Barrister Moudud Ahmed (law, justice and parliamentary affairs minister during the BNP-Jamaat rule) who had said, “Although technically you may call it extrajudicial—I will not say killing—but extrajudicial deaths. But these are not killings” when I see Sahara Khatun on TV news, she seems to be mouthing those same words. Former home minister for state, spiky-haired Lutfuzzaman Babor’s features, for reasons unknown to me, settle on that of Tuku’s. Their faces, their voices, become indistinguishable.
Lonkay gele shobai Rabon hoy. The seat of power, makes everyone a demon.
Published in New Age, Monday May 30, 2011Show