Two Kinds of Death and the Unattended ‘National Wounds’

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By Saydia Gulrukh

For the past few months, I have been preparing for an almost meaningless exam, one which graduate students in the US have to take, called ‘comps’ (short for comprehensive/PhD candidacy exam). During moments of sarcasm, we also call it the intellectual boot camp. While preparing for the exams, I have created a bubble around me, a self-imposed isolation, as if the Atlantic Ocean between me and Dhaka is not vast enough. Inside this carefully constructed bubble, I allow myself to read Bangladeshi newspapers or reply to emails only during periods of protracted procrastination. Friends’ requests to read their pieces pile up. The news of a launch capsizing on the eve of Eid-ul-Azha, news headlines of RMG workers’ awful plight remotely catches my eyes – shamefully so. I rapidly read emails, I quick-read news from home and elsewhere, whether good or bad, I don’t have moments to react and reflect. It is in this privileged insulated life of mine, that I get an email from Rahnuma that Jashim Uddin Manik, the ‘alleged’ rapist, has died of cardiac arrest in Italy.

In the next few days, I get many emails, all from old friends from the anti-rape movement. In 1998 the students of Jahangirnagar University took to the streets for two months protesting against campus rape, and demanding punishment of the rapists, many of whom were Bangladesh Chhatra League activists. These emails bore witness to those nights when we sat in front of the university’s administrative building shouting, ‘Amar boner apoman shojjho kora hobe na, dhorshonkari jei hok bichar take petei hobe’ (We will not tolerate our sister’s dishonor, the rapist must be punished, whoever he may be). I would not read the letter but only its subject heading, and flag it to read later. An email from Jashim Uddin Manik’s friend incidentally landed in my mail box, forwarded by a friend. It expressed shock and grief at the untimely death of a close friend. It contained routine details which follow such news. Jashim Uddin Manik died in Padova, Milano at around 10:30pm local time (which I guess, on the basis of email exchanges, would be January 5). His body lies in a morgue while his Italian friends are making arrangements to send his body back to Bangladesh. Manik’s wife took the news very badly, she’s still not herself. In the email, Manik’s friend writes how hard it is for him to stop his tears, he urges everyone (the recipients of his email) to pray for the departed soul. In a way, there’s nothing striking about this email. A grief-stricken friend is breaking to others the news of the death of a close friend. Yet, the ordinariness of the news sends a chill down my spine.

In 1998, during the anti-rape movement in Jahangirnagar University, Manik had been identified by the disciplinary committee (fact-finding committee) as having been one of the rapists. We knew of him as the Chhatra League cadre who was said to have distributed sweets to ‘celebrate’ his 100th rape. I re-read the last line of his friend’s email – please pray for the departed soul. I stumble at each word, did the man who committed many rapes, if not a hundred, one who had the heart to celebrate it, have a soul? But it’s for a few seconds only, and I close my email window.

I try to thicken the bubble around me. I must pass this exam.

My indifference towards Manik’s death makes me start thinking about death. Any news of death is supposedly saddening. But here I am, sitting in front of my laptop, recollecting the details of his sexual offences, and flinching. His crime had been proven in front of the university administration. He had been punished for what they had termed ‘misconduct’; his studentship had been cancelled. However, no legal case had been filed against him. I remembered those days when many of us, those for whom the anti-rape movement in Jahangirnagar University had been a political turning point, had shared hours of rage as we had read news of Manik fleeing/flying to Italy. In those shared moments of rage and despair, we had learned to recognise the gendered nature of the university, and of our legal system. Since the movement ended, in the decade that has gone, the rage which we had felt has presumably turned into indifference.

I mean no disrespect toward his grieving family and friends. I am sure it is an irreplaceable loss for them. His death matters to me only in the larger historical context of Bangladesh. What does this particular fate of the alleged serial rapist tells us about the legal system? How does it write the history of violence against woman? If I remember correctly, many national dailies printed headlines during the movement that the incidents of rape on Jahangirnagar University campus are for us a matter of ‘national shame’ (jatir kolonko). I cannot help but wonder what is the state of national shame when known rapists are never brought to justice? When the sexual harassment policy on Jahangirnagar University campus still remains not enacted, officially?

The clock ticks away… my exam is only a few months away. I try harder to thicken the bubble. I succeed but only for two and a half weeks.

On January 28, the convicted murderers of Bangabandhu, five former army men, were hanged at Dhaka Central Jail, after midnight. They were proven guilty of killing the country’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and all but two members of his family, on August 15, 1975. And yet again, emails overflowed my mailbox. A friend called a number of times, finally, leaving a Facebook message: ‘I see that they executed Sheikh Mujib’s killers. It must be a good thing? It was weird going to his house and seeing the blood stains and thinking they were still about.’

Her question leaves me perplexed. More than a week after the event, I visit the online archives of daily newspapers to retrieve the issue of January 28. I watch ATN news clips posted on the Daily Star website. Most of the reports try to walk us through the execution night, covering each moment of waiting at the jail gate between 11:00pm to 3:00am. As I read along, I feel uneasy at news of the celebratory chants, and the flashing of V-signs. Members of the public had gathered at the jail gate, they had chanted slogans as the serial executions had been completed. I think, what would have been an acceptable response to the execution of the death penalty of Sheikh Mujib’s killers? Amnesty International has condemned the executions for being ‘hasty’ while a European Union delegation to Bangladesh has found the trial ‘respectable’ (New Age, January 29), but it added a twist. The EU statement said, it was, in principle, opposed ‘to all death penalty in all cases and all circumstances’ (New Age, January 29). Their principled opposition to death penalty, interestingly enough, excludes cases like Saddam Hussein and Chemical Ali. In the final months and days of this trial, a debate on death penalty had surfaced, but I don’t want to engage with that debate today.

Colonel Jamil’s widowed wife’s narrative of August 15 reminded me that at issue was not only the healing of the surviving daughters of Bangabandhu, but that there are others too, who had faced similar losses, had equally waited for the execution (Daily Star, November 19, 2009). For a split second, I thought about the emotional wound and the healing of the family members of Siraj Sikdar. Is it time to talk of other extrajudicial killings? To talk about Cholesh Richil? But, maybe, I am moving too fast, in both directions, past and future. Let me dwell on the present – on the night of the execution, the chants and the flashing of V-signs.

I go to blogs which I have not dared to visit the last couple of weeks or more, may be months. Activist bloggers and Facebook friends express similar discomfort at the celebration, the flashing of V-signs. Involved debates trace the missing pieces to reconstruct the political context which had led to the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. A friend who had gone to the jail gate had posted a video clip on Facebook. I watch it a few times to see what people had chanted – ‘ajker ai dine mujib tomay mone pore’ (On this day, today, we are thinking of you Mujib). A comment on the video-post caught my eyes, ‘Shouldn’t Henry Kissinger have been somewhere in there?’ Implicit in this question is the alleged ‘foreign involvement’ in the coup. I remember reading in Willem Van Schendel’s History of Bangladesh (2009) that ‘by the spring of 1975 the Indians knew about the possible coup and warned Mujib about it’ (p 182). I believe, by ‘Indians’, he had meant the Indian intelligence, the government. The fact that a neighbouring state knew suggests that the coup of 1975 had involved far more political stakeholders than those who had been convicted, and hanged. The execution of Mujib’s killers may have healed the trauma of his family and followers but the ‘national wound’ is far from being healed. Imperial links with the assassination of Sheikh Mujib remains undisclosed. It remains outside the circle of our political concerns.

We have been witnesses to two kinds of death, one was natural, the other unnatural. The wounds to the nation in both cases remain open. Unattended.

Saydia Gulrukh is a PhD student at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), USA and a faculty member of Pathshala, The South Asian Media Academy

Published in New Age February 11, 2010

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5 Responses to Two Kinds of Death and the Unattended ‘National Wounds’

  1. Kona Apu, I am an ex-JU. Are you sure about Maniks death?

  2. fuagstar says:

    the flashing v signs reminded me of the saddam excecution videos said to to exist out there on the web.

    felt animalistic

  3. Abid Bahar says:

    Siraj Sikder: The Tragic Hero of Bangladesh

    Abid Bahar

    Siraj Sikder is one of the tragic heroes of Bangladesh, the others are Sheikh Mujib, Ziaur Rahman, Major General Manjoor, Col. Taher and many others. About Siraj Sikder unfortunately many politically oriented writings include some wrong information. In response to that Sayed Chowdhury says “… more than the focus on class struggle, annihilation of class enemies, and dictatorship of the proletariat – the single most emphasis and top most priority (resolving the principal contradiction) in his political thesis and his party’s objective was to liberate East Bengal, which he termed as a colony of Pakistan, through an armed struggle and establishing an independent peoples republic of East Bengal. This is where his views and objectives were markedly different from all other left political forces in the then East Pakistan. Neither his party (Sarbohara Party) nor the other outfit – Purbo Banglar Sramik Andolon- he created in late 1960s before launching his party in April/May 1971- was in alliance with Matin-Alauddin or Haque-Toaha groups.” Chowdhury says “So to mention them as his comrade in arms is far from truth. In 1971, with the only exception of India based CPB elements who had a limited participation in the muktijuddho, Siraj Sikdar’s party is probably the only organised marxist force that valiantly fought the Pakistan Army, although in some instances their fighting the pro-AL muktibahini at the same time, often in self-defence to repulse or pre-empt their attacks, may be seen as an untimely tactical mistake. However, they should not be solely blamed for this. During the last phase of the muktijuddho, they did try to forge a cooperative approach with the pro-Al mukti bahini but the latter savagely butchered them, whenever they could. One instance was near Savar, where both sides agreed to negotiate an alliance but when the Sarbaharas came to attend the meeting – they were outmanoeuvred and savagely killed. The victims reportedly included the non-Bengalee actual designer of today’s Bangladesh flag.” https://mail.google.com/mail/

    “The party’s subsequent history is riddled with ultra-left adventurism and deviations (e.g. killing dissenters within the party). Inspite of that, from impartial perspectives of any historian – its contribution in our liberation war deserves to be acknowledged. Ironically, the flag of Bangladesh, as it is today, was designed and hoisted in many places (documented in media reports at that time), including Munshigong, Manikgonj, Narayangonj, Rajshahi and Dhaka long before March 1971 by Purba Banglar Sramik Andolon.”https://mail.google.c om/mail/?hl=en&shva=1#inbo x/12f14809bf1e9969

    While he was fighting against Mujib’s one party BKSAL dictatorship to establish the dictatorship of the preliterate, he came face to face with dead. Chowdhury adds: “…the sad question still is: How could a patriot like Sheikh Mujib cold-bloodedly ordered the killing of another patriot? While being in state power, he was the custodian of a citizen taken captive by the state for an offence(s) and deserved a trial under the law, as also Taher deserved. Which law or court had issued the state with the licence to kill a patriot, who is one of the designers of the flag of that very state and fought for the freedom to hoist that flag permanently?” https://mail.google.com/mail/

  4. Fakhrul says:

    এই খবর মিথ্যা । আপনি লিখেছেন “Jashim Uddin Manik died in Padova, Milano at around 10.30pm local time (which I guess, on the basis of email exchanges, would be January 5, 2010). ”
    এই লাইনটাই এই খবরের ভিত দুর্বল করে দিয়েছে । কারণ Padova এবং Milano ইটালির দুইটি আলাদা শহর । এদের মধ্যকার দুরত্ব ২৩৭ কিলোমিটার বা ১৪৭ মাইল । কোন ব্যক্তি কি দুইটা শহরে একই সময় অবস্হান করতে পারে বা মৃত্যুবরন করতে পারে ? দেখুন :http://www.travelmath.com/drive-distance/from/Milan,+Italy/to/Padova,+Italy
    The driving distance from Milan, Italy to Padova, Italy is:
    147 miles / 237 km
    এবার আমি আরেকটি তথ্য দিচ্ছি । দেখুন :
    http://www.defence.pk/forums/bangladesh-defence/105578-over-200-minority-women-were-gang-raped-bnp-jamaat-e-islami-3.html
    Readers of this essay who followed the activities of BCL leaders during Sheikh Hasina’s last tenure as Prime Minister of Bangladesh (1996-2001) may remember a series of rapes and incidents of sexual harassment involving them. As Hana Shams Ahmed narrates:
    The first report in the media came out on August 17, 1998 in the Daily Manobjomin where it was reported that three female students of Jahangirnagar University had been raped by student cadres of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) of the university. A fact-finding committee later reported (The Daily Star, September 26, 1998) that a total of 20 JU students were raped in different locations on campus and 300 were sexually assaulted by members of this group. The perpetrators were all political cadres of Chhatra League. Jasimuddin Manik, a student of Drama and Dramatics department and the former general secretary of the JU unit of BCL, was on the top of the list of seven persons accused of having committed rape. The report also said that Manik on completion of his 100th rape ‘celebrated the occasion by offering sweets and throwing a cocktail party’. (Violating a Sacred Relationship, Star Weekend Magazine, 7(31), August 1, 2007)
    As in the case of the rapes of September 2009, the victims of the rape crimes at Jahangirnagar University also did not go to court for legal redress; and that obviously for the social stigma attached to it. An important Awami League leader Prof Alauddin Ahmed was the Vice-Chancellor of the University at that time. He justified his inaction with regard to the punishment of the rapists BCL leaders by saying: “under the law of the land, the victim has to lodge the complaint herself” (ibid.). None of the rape criminals of BCL of JU had to face any criminal punishment, and thus was given ‘a license to rape’. The rapist century-scorer Jasimuddin Manik was sent to Japan by the Awami League government to avoid further embarrassment. Manik must have preferred better life in prosperous Japan to imprisonment in poor Bangladesh . He was given a reward, not punishment, for his rape records. Manik is now believed to live in the United States .
    এই ব্লগে যদি জাহাঙ্গীরনগর বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের কেহ থাকেন অথবা ঘটনার প্রত্যক্ষদর্শী কেহ থাকেন এবং তারা যদি আমাকে সামান্য সাহায্য করেন, তাহলে আমি সঠিক ও বিস্তারিতভাবে তুলে ধরতে পারবো । আমার সাথে যোগাযোগ করুন : fakhrulblogs@gmail.com

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