“... What did we do wrong? ... What did my husband and daughter do [to deserve this]? Could you all please tell me?”
A pin drop could be heard in the auditorium, but Mafruha Begum's questions remained unanswered.
“Why we, the ordinary people, will have to fall prey to politics when we are out, going about our lives? Why will the people be burned alive?” Mafruha, who lost her husband and a school-going daughter in an arson attack during the political unrest over the national election in 2015, kept on bombarding the audience yesterday with her heart-wrenching questions.
The 48-year-old widow was speaking during the inaugural ceremony of a photo exhibition showcasing photos of victims and incidents of arson attacks unleashed on roads during a countrywide blockade called by the BNP-led 20-party alliance over the 10th general election held on January 5 in 2014.
The two-day exhibition is being organised by Publicity and Publications Sub-committee of Awami League (AL)
It happened almost two years ago, on February 3 of 2015, but the vivid memories of that terrifying day still haunts Mafruha as that day she lost two of her beloved souls -- her husband Nuruzzaman Poblu and her daughter Mysha Nahiyan Tasnim who was in tenth grade.
The three of them were coming home after vacationing at Cox's Bazar.
“We boarded a bus of Icon Paribahan to return to Jessore... but the trip turned into a curse for us,” Mafruha said.
As the bus reached Chouddogram area of Comilla around 4:00am while most of its passengers were fast asleep, several alleged blockaders hurled a number of petrol bombs at the bus.
Fire engulfed the entire vehicle, burning seven of the passengers alive and injuring at least 20. Mafruha's husband Nuruzzaman and their daughter Mysha were among the dead.
Mafruha managed to jump out the window of the bus before losing consciousness. She was later given treatment at a Comilla hospital.
A case was filed with Chouddogram Police Station that night against 56 local BNP and Jamaat activists in connection with the arson attack.
“I can't forget the incident... watching [helplessly] my daughter and husband burning alive. My son and I still cry every night,” said Mafruha, who lives in the capital's Mirpur-2 area.
“...I don't know how much longer my son I and will live bearing so much pain,” she said breaking down in tears.
She thanked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for taking the responsibility of her and her son. “I am thankful to the prime minister as I'm alive because of her help.
Like Mafruha, many arson attack victims and their family members across the country shared their sufferings to media at the yesterday's programme.
Many of the seriously injured arson victims lost their livelihood as they have become handicapped.
One such victim is Patal Miah, a truck driver from Bogra. He became a victim of another arson attack in the district's Baropur area during the countrywide blockade while he was on way to Dhaka with his truck loaded with vegetables.
The sight of fire still sends shivers down his spine, Patal said. “My right side is paralysed due to the arson attack. I cannot work. The doctors told me that I need to undergo surgery to amputate my right leg.”
“I have three daughters and a son. We now live on aid we get from people. I don't know what's ahead of us.”
“I loathe the people for whom I'm in such condition. You all should hate them also. We [the victims of the arson attacks] want justice,” Patal said. At least 95 people were killed and more than 1,500 suffered injuries in violence since January 5, 2014. The lives of innocent citizens were lost when the country's transport sector came under attack of various types of crude bombs during the countrywide blockade called by the BNP-led 20-party alliance.
Another 45 people -- half of whom were allegedly involved in the arson attacks -- were killed in "shootouts" with law enforcement agencies. Although the arson victims received financial assistance from the government as well as some private organisations, many are still struggling to get back to normal life.
Speaking as the chief guest of the programme, AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader said, “I'm out of words after listening to and watching the gruesome photos of the attacks.” The victims and their family members will be given financial assistance from the prime minister's fund and the government will take care of the injured, Quader, also the road transport and bridges minister, added.
PM's Political Affairs Adviser HT Imam, also president of the Sub-Committee; and Hasan Mahmud, secretary of the Sub-committee; also spoke.