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A_Land_Stricken by Communal Persecution, Poverty & Deprivation.

Shahriar Kabir
It is difficult to ascertain whether Hemabala Bewa is a man or a woman, or her age, unless told. She could be sixty, seventy or eighty. Standing on her threshold, before her dilapitated hut, in the village Chilarong Telipara which is 15/16 km. away from Thakurgaon, a northern district of Bangladesh, she related her tales of communal persecution.
She was clad in a tattered lungi and brown sweater and wrapped in a cheap green shawl. She is dark, wrinkled, with trimmed gray hair. To us she narrated the story of how her daughter in-law was raped and her eyes gouged out by miscreants.
The incident took place on 11 September, 2003 when Radharani had gone to gether firewood in the sugarcane field. She was gang raped by a band of three men who were headed by Rafiqul known as the local hoodlums of the B.N.P. She was forced into the sugarcane plantation and raped by all three miscreants who pulled out her eyes and was left unconscious in the field.
She was later found in a critical state by her neighbours, they found her gouged out eyes lying beside her. This news was published in the Dhaka newspapers. The ‘Hindu, Buddhist, Christian Unity Council’ demanded exemplary punishment of the miscreants in their protest march to the District Commissioner’s office, where they handed over a petition. Advocate Indranath Roy disclosed that since the government led by the Four Party Alliance assumed power the atrocities committed on the Hindus have forced several thousand to flee to India. Since Thakurgaon is close to the border, it is easy to cross over to safety.
We asked Radharani, who is now blind, what she wished to do. She could barely speak. Her neighbour Tileshawari told us that the group had been repeatedly warning her not to disclose their identity and leave the village. Of the three alleged person two were arrested, but one attained a bail and after his release had been threatening Radharani of graver consequences. The threat is to compel Radharani and her neighbours to leave their homeland. Her neighbour Tileshwari told us that as precautionary measure the women of the village do not venture out alone. If they go to the fields to take the cows and goats to graze, they do so in a bunch and carry knives for protection. Tileshwari also implored Radharani to tell us in detail about those who torchured and impaired her eyes and demanded punishment.
Radharani merely mumbled that she wants justice, and lifted her sad face. Her hair was unattended and there was only the taint of the vermilion dot on her forehead. Then she suddenly cried out that she is being unable to work as she had become blind, how will she make her living?
Both Radharani and her husband worked as day labourers for their living. They earned 15 to 20 Taka a day, seven members of their family lived on that income. Over the last three months this income has been disrupted. They have been barely ling on the income of the sole earner¾ that is Radharani’s husband. There is partial starvation¾this was narrated by Radharani’s mother-in-law Hemabala.
Hemabala’s son Molin was not present during our visit. He had gone to the nearby market to sell rice having borrowed money from a local money lender. Rice is 300 taka per maund, selling which he will have 20 taka profit.
In North Bengal this was the time of harvest. On our way we saw the reap piled on stacks in the threshold of the peasant’s houses. At the time of year when peasants celebrate the harvest moon, this family of Hemabala is uncetain of what is to come. One of the two earning member has become invalid. The family is more concerned about the loss of the income rather than the lost eyes and honour. They are concerned about how and on what they will survive.
We went to Thakurgaon on 14 December 2003, to attend a rally organized by the ‘Nirmul Committee’ for commemoration of the Martyr Intellectual day. We were informed by a member of the ‘Hindu Buddhists Christian Unity Council’ about this family. We went to visit them later in afternoon.
The village Telipara Chilarong is primarily a Hindu village. They have been under tremendous stress as threats of extortion, abduction of the younger women had been hurled at them. A ransom of 50 thousand taka was demanded from one Ghanashyam and if he failed to give the money his daughters would be abducted.
Hemabala cried out¾ “we have no other option but to die”. Looking at her we felt anger along with the sadness. Ever since the religio fundamentalist, communal four party alliance assumed power they have unfurled a reign of terror on the minorities, especially the Hindus in Bangladesh. These parties (BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami and Islamic Oikyo Jote) want to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh, therefore, Khaleda-Nizami alliance are out to force the Hindus out of the country, but what about the other parties who but watch these atrocities? Is there no one to stand up against this barbaric act? Can’t the opposition parties take up measures to prevent it?
Hemabala’s hut is nerely a shack which will wither away at the touch of the wind anytime. Only 30 thousand taka can save this family from the impending doom. The condition of the others were also the same.
Just after our return from Telipara to Thakurgaon we found an old Santal waiting to see us.
Advocate Mario Tudu is the only Santal member in the lawyers association of Thakurgaon. He had visited Ranishankail. One Kamalong Murmu (69) came with him to tell us that his daughter-inlaw Beauty alias Talamai was raped and later killed with her throat slit open. This incident took place on 19 September 2003. Only one of the alleged three misereants was taken into custody by the police. Lately, word has been around that he too will be released soon as he has not confessed. Rather those who have lodged the complaint will be arrested for bringing about false allegation.
The old man speaks only in his mother tongue, his words was translated by Mario Tudu, the lawyer from his community. He said that he only wanted us to publish the story of harassment he faces till today in the newspapers, that the miscreants were cadres of the ruling party. These men wanted the old man to withdraw his complaint. Tomalong was converted to Christianity just three months before along with his other family members.
Tamalong told us that as he has no schooling the police incharge worded the complaint which he only signed. He heard later that the report was distorted, the rape was not mentioned, only the murder was reported half heartedly.
In case of Radharani’s report the same distortions had taken place. The medical report mentioned ‘forceful intercourse’ instead of ‘rape’. Extortion and bribery can change versions overnight. Unless one visits the remote areas of Bangladesh they will not be able to conceptualize the extent of the communal repression, deprivation of justice and anarchy that has become the rule of the day.
On the occasion of the Victory Day, I visited the remote areas of North Bengal (northern areas of Bangladesh) as on this day last year and the year before I was in jail. Even this year I was almost certain that I would be condemned to bear the same fate as the previous years as the papers belonging to the ruling party and fundamentalist groups had been strongly criticizing my activities in support of the minorities victimised by the gangstars of the ruling cleaque. As I was exempted this year (2003) I went off to visit the near famine stricken northern Bengal and also to observe the victory day with local freedom fighters and deprived families of the martyrs.
Earlier I read the sensitive reports of the renowned journalist Monajatuddin and others about poverty stricken North Bengal, but witnessing the throes of starvation is altogether a diffefent experience.
The widow of Dr. Alim Chowdhury (who was Killed by Al-Badar, the killing squad of Jamat-e-Islami in 1971), Shymoli Nasreen Chowdhury had contributed 10 thousand taka to Nirmul Committee’s find for the starving men and women in the north. It is quite a big sum for a middle class house wife but for the starving millions, it is merely a drop of water. But again adding some more to that amount could be of help to them.
The journalist of “Bhorer, Kagaj” Porimol Majumdar, who is also a member of ‘Nirmul Committee’ accompanied us to Ulipur in Kurigram. He has compiled a major finding how 700 people were killed and thrown in a ditch in 1971 by the Pakistani occupation army and their local collaborators. He gave us a list of 30 distitute families who are the victims of war and fought the war of ’71.
On 16th December we reached Ulipur at 10 a.m. A rally was organised in front of the library set up by ‘Nirmul Committee’. The freedom fighters, their families, family members of the martyrs were present. We had compiled a book earlier on how after so many years the lives of near and dear ones of the martyrs suffered as their dreams remain unfulfilled. Though the freedom war has ended but the struggle to be free of hunger and poverty is still on.
On one side of the stage they sat. Sad faces, aged these are the people for whom we got our freedom. We were there to hand over some money that several members of “Nirmul Committee” had sent from Dhaka.
These are the freedom fighters who had actually fought the war and today they are rickshaw pullers sweepers or beggars. These are the widows and mother of the martyrs who lost the only earning member of the family during the war.
We were supposed to lay floral wraths at the Shaheed Minar. The procession was led by the family members of martyrs’ and the freedom fighters instead of the leaders who usually lead in Dhaka or elsewhere. As we stood in silence after having laid the wreath, one of the widow in the crowd broke down crying. Hearing her sob the others could not restrain. It was hard to control the long restrained tear. The silence broke as the widows of the liberation war cried. Others also could not restrain their tear. The journalists, the spectators watched with tears as some of the widows beat their heads against the concrete of the Shaheed Minar (the martyrs monument) as if it was the wailing wall.
While narrating their story on the stage they kept on crying. They related the story of when the Pakistani armies were shooting indiscriminately how the young son of Batashi Bewa had snatched the rifle from their hand and later killed before the mother ruthlessly for the courage he showed.
Julaf Bewa’s husband and his brother were both bayonated before her eyes. No one wanted to know how she survived since then. Over thirty two years these women are living a miserable life on partial starvation. These women had no education to seek a job, nor could they beg door to door. Now their ailing health need care, their relentless suffering mind a little solace.
In the stage were the convenor of the Nirmul Committee of Kurigram Abdul Majied and General Secreatry of the central committee Kazi Mukul. The both couldn’t speak a word when they were to address the crowd.
While delivering my speech and relating of the atrocities in ’71 I could not help thinking how with no less ruthlessness Radharani of Thakurgaon was treated, how Hindus and the intellectuals and Awami League activists harassed, persecuted, killed, tortured for what they believe in. How the victim of ’71 face the same situation of terror they had come across 32 years earlier. How after 30 years the collaborators of ’71 the Jamaat-e-Islami become part of the ruling class and run the country. What Yahya Khan and his army junta had done in ’71 to keep the two wings of Pakistan together in the name of Islam and failed to do so, their collaborating friends of Jamaat-e-Islami unfurl such terror after 30 years in revenge.
We gave each family a sum of two thousand taka, a blanket and a wrapper. But for a family to sustain, this sum is meagre. So many times I have requested the Bengalies abroad to take up the responsibility of each of the destitute family of the martyrs to save them from the humiliation of having to beg from door to door. This sector during the war was under Col. Abu Taher. His brother Waresat Hossain Belal gave the blankets from his factory to distribute amongst the destitute families of the freedom fighters and martyrs.
It is not only to save these families from economic crises but also from the onslaught of the comumunal, religion-fundamentalists that we appeal for help.
If, as we did in ’71, stand together, unitedily we can overcome the crisis we are facing under Khaleda-Nizami regime. The call for the unity of the secular democratic forces is to come together to resist our old enemy of the present day Bangladesh.
We must resist fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh in order to make those lives worth living for whom we have a country named Bangladesh.

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