The government’s Eid gifts for Limon

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by rahnuma ahmed

Limon Hossain, a towering icon of youthful courage and fortitude. © Daily Star

Everyone was happy this Eid, said the prime minister. Her administration had worked hard to ensure that there were no price hikes, no power cuts. That the roads were in good shape, that the law and order situation was under control.

Sheikh Hasina congratulated herself thus as she exchanged Eid greetings with  “distinguished guests” and “people from all walks of life” at her official residence. Same press releases year after year, regardless of who’s in power. I remember them from my childhood, no change in wording.

I can claim this much on this Eid that everyone is enthusiastically marking the occasion.

Everyone’s happy and enthusiastic about her government, yeah, sure.

I don’t want to pick apart her Eid claims here, maybe I should be grateful instead for her having mentioned the major issues which fuel public anger, cushioned as she must have been by many a distinguished sycophant on Eid day.

But if one were to carry the sycophant thought further, there wasn’t anything special about her Eid then, was there? A day just like any other day, a bunch of sycophants  easily replaceable by other bunches, scraping and bowing, in their earnest desire to please.

Working overtime to chip in their bit in maintaining the carefully constructed scaffolding of half-truths and lies, essential to maintain and perpetuate a system of rule which denies the vast majority any meaningful share in the exercise of political power.

Unreal claims, untruthful ones which do not stand up to the slightest  scrutiny since public memory refuses to toe the government propaganda line, to submit to official lies as did the bunch of distinguished sycophants on Eid day. As they clamour to do on all other days.

I don’t blame the other lot equally — those officially categorised as “people from all walks of life” — for although they must have been diligently hand-picked by party officials and vetted by our amla mamas, the consequences of not abiding by the pre-determined script, is usually heavier for those who are non-distinguished.

Press reports do not indicate that any of the distinguished guests spoke up for Limon. Not even one. A simple question would have sufficed, “The police report says RAB is not to blame. Who is?”

No indications either of a cautious whisper in her ear by a  senior citizen (tipped off to the press later to ‘up’ the pressure), The police report does discredit to the government, instead of burying the mistakes committed, the grave is being dug up afresh, maybe you could look into it… In the interests of the government, in our interests.

No evidence of the Rapid Action Battalion’s (RAB) involvement, says the police report which investigated the case filed by Henoara Begum, Limon’s mother, on April 10, 2011. She had accused six RAB officials and personnel with Razapur Police Station of attempted murder.

Submitted to the Senior Judicial Magistrate’s Court of Jhalokathi on August 14th — Eid was celebrated the week after, on August 20th — it was, as such, the government’s first Eid gift to Limon.

A slap in his face and on ours, the many hundreds of human rights activists, civic bodies, left groups, artists, academics, writers, journalists, women’s and labour rights activists who had rallied in support of Limon, against the sheer and blatant injustice done to him. We were outraged then, we are outraged now. What arrogance, what criminality!

It was a slap in the face of people from all walks of life as well, for everyone, just about everyone in today’s electronic media-saturated Bangladesh knows of him. ‘Limon? Oh, you mean the boy from Jhalokathi? Yes, sure, RAB shot him in the leg. He lost it,’ we were told unfailingly by passersby when we approached them for signatures in Dhaka streets last year, demanding that the manufactured cases against him be dropped, that he and his family be provided with security, that those who were guilty be punished.

Hundreds of signatures, gladly given. Some had even taken the trouble to delay wherever they had been heading, to join us instead in our weekly hourlong vigil and protest.

What happened to Limon is etched in public memory, indelibly so, it does not require drumming up by party leaders or government functionaries. Unlike those events and dates which — undoubtedly marking injustices in the nation’s history — need to be officially drumbeated by those in power.

Sympathy which springs up spontaneously, is markedly different from sorrow that is officially engineered. One is political capital, privately owned, to be invested, to be exploited, for the benefit of its owners. The other, is public. Commonly owned and shared, the tales are narrated by ordinary people, no pause in between as others jump in to pick up the thread, a collective enrichment that requires no official prompting.

And thus, if you were to stand on a street corner and ask people about Limon, the lineaments of his story, etched in public memory, is bound to emerge, haltingly at first: he comes from a poor family. Umm, he worked in a brick kiln didn’t he? To pay for his education. He was a college student, an HSC examinee when he got shot. His father was a share-cropper or maybe a day-labourer. He’d come to Dhaka in search of work, I think he found some in a fruit market in Savar.

And then, a rush of words, dates, facts, figures.  It was on March 23, 2011. Yes, yes, only a few days before Independence day, I remember! (from someone else). He was returning home from grazing cattle. A RAB-8 team stopped him near Shohid Jomaddar’s house. They shouted, you are a terrorist. The poor guy begged and pleaded, no, no, please, you have mistaken me for someone else. I’m a college student. But they didn’t listen, one of those RAB guys pointed his gun at his left leg and fired. Umm, yes, that’s how they operate. 

He was taken to Barisal Medical at first, but the doctors said it was too late. They told his family to bring him to Dhaka, to Pongu Hospital. The doctors here amputated his leg. It’s just a stub now, he walks on crutches. No, no, you are wrong, they got an artificial leg for him later. Ah yes, but they had to mortgage their piece of land to foot the ambulance trip to Dhaka and the hospital bills, no? Yes, villagers chipped in too, I read in the papers.

What happened then? Oh, it was hideous how they made him suffer. Atrocious. Umm, yes, that’s a better word. Atrocious, downright disgusting.You see, RAB is never wrong, and the local police, those guys work hand in hand with RAB, so, first they lodged a case on March 23rd night, Limon was accused of possessing illegal arms, of obstructing the law-enforcement agencies. Didn’t they say he was older, by ten years or so? Yess, his age was recorded as 25, not 16. And then they filed another case the next day, listing him as a criminal. But you forget, chimes in someone else, the police had at first refused to register his mother’s case. It was only after the court order.

Anything else? Ohh, there was such tamasha…Hey, wasn’t there a ‘secret’ charge sheet, or some such thing? Yes! That’s why he got dragged off to Jhalokathi, can you imagine what it must have been like, with that amputated leg, he couldn’t even walk, and he had to be jailed for the night because RAB can never be wrong. The police too are so, so heartless… But do you remember how people came out of their houses and cheered and waved when the police van passed by? Thank heavens, he was given bail by the Supreme Court, those manobodhikar groups were very active.

Hey, I’m most impressed. You people remember a lot!  Now, here’s a test question, do you remember what RAB’s director general had said? Yeah, sure, Limon was accidentally shot, he was the victim of a shootout between RAB and a criminal gang. Umm, Mokhlesur Rahman’s the name, right? At a press conference in Dhaka, Comilla bari, na?

The government’s first Eid gift, i.e., the police report, what did Limon think of  it? They have concealed the truth, they want to make RAB look innocent.

Henoara Begum — a courageous woman who deserves the Shadhinota Padak more than anyone else I can think of — said she would file a no-confidence in the investigation report. RAB took my son and shot him. The police have been very cruel towards us.

The second Eid gift was delivered on Eid day itself.

Limon and his mother and brother were returning from his village home in Saturia to Kaukhali where he now lives, it’s closer to college, travelling is more convenient (needless to add, conveniences for those physically disabled are rare in Dhaka itself, the capital city). Ibrahim, a RAB source and a local criminal, turned up with his gang. According to a media report, ‘leader’ Ibrahim asked him, Hey, why are you standing here? Before Limon could reply, Ibrahim punched him in the face, in the head. Henoara Begum rushed to her son’s rescue. She was badly beaten and lies in hospital.

If the police report had been a truthful investigation, would a RAB source have dared to beat Limon and his mother? Wouldn’t Ibrahim, a petty criminal, have crawled away somewhere, at least for a good length of time, since his masters were to be legally tried?

In our culture, Eid gifts should be returned most cordially and in double measure. This would mean shooting, amputating, dragging around from hospital to court to jail, cover-up police reports, punching, beating, lying through one’s teeth…

But I know, neither the Prophet nor his true believers, would condone it. All perpetrators should be tried instead. For the injustices done to Limon, and to us, members of the public, who seek justice against wrongs committed.
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Published in New Age, Thursday, August 23, 2012

Earlier reports and petition

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