When Rafiqul Islam, a college lecturer of Kaliganj upazila in Jhenaidah district, received a call from his son Ahsan Rafiq at 2:00 am on February 6, 2016, he felt a pang of anxiety. Ahsan studied at the Department of Disaster Science and Management at the University of Dhaka and used to live in the veranda of Salimullah Muslim (SM) Hall, as he did not have an assigned room.
“He called me and said that he was facing some problems at his hall. One of his batch mates, assistant secretary of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL)'s Salimullah Hall unit Omar Faruk, borrowed his calculator a few months ago and was not returning it. Ahsan asked for it several times to no avail. On that day Omar misbehaved with him and threatened him with dire consequences. Since my son's exams were going on, he kept silent and went to the reading room to study. But he could guess that they [BCL activists under Omar] had planned to attack him,” says Rafiqul.
“He was very nervous and wanted my advice on what he should do. I too felt very anxious, since I live here in my village, far away from Dhaka. Unable to do anything, I suggested that he talk to the senior brothers of his hall about the matter,” he adds.
Unfortunately, within a few minutes, Ahsan's fears came true. The Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) men beat him up mercilessly, injuring his eye and head for a reason as trivial as a person asking that his calculator be returned. According to Rafiqul, Ahsan cannot currently see with his right eye as his cornea is severely damaged. Also, he has been facing difficulty eating as well as sleeping.
“We have consulted several eye specialists at BIRDEM and National Eye Hospital, but there was no significant improvement. We are preparing to take him to Shankar Netralaya in Chennai, India. We have already applied for passports and will hopefully get them within a few days. After that we have to apply for visas,” says Ahsan's father.
“My son is going through a very traumatic situation and is suffering psychologically. He cries all day long. We have consulted a psychiatrist who advised him to stay with his mother so that he can recover from the trauma,” he adds.
The attack took place immediately after Ahsan's conversation with his father. The first boy of his department, Ahsan was studying for an exam in the reading room of his dormitory. Suddenly, one of his seniors named Arif, who is also a vice-president of the BCL Salimullah Hall unit, called him to the TV room of their dormitory saying that Tahsan Ahmed Rasel, the BCL president of the hall, was asking for him.
“When I went there, the hall unit Vice President Tanim, Joint General Secretary Anim Irtija Shovon and Abu Taher kept pressurising me to admit that I'm a Shibir activist. As I was not involved in such activities, I refused to admit it. I told them to call my parents, teachers or villagers to learn more about me. They even seized my phone, checked my Facebook and personal texts and beat me up mercilessly. At one point, they told me that if I admit that I'm a Shibir activist, they will only throw me out of the hall without doing any harm. Then, even though they did not find any involvement with Shibir, they told me to leave the hall,” Ahsan explains.
According to Ahsan, when he was leaving the hall gates, BCL men including Omar Faruk, Ruhul Amin, Samiul Islam Sami, Ahsan Ullah and Mehedi Hasan Himel attacked him again, this time with iron rods and sticks, targeting his head and eye. The severe injury to his head at one point rendered him unconscious. The BCL men eventually took him to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) and told the duty doctors that he had met with a road accident.
Ahsan's father Rafiqul alleges that the doctors helped his son contact him after tactfully driving the BCL men out of the room. “Although the doctors suggested that he [Ahsan] be admitted as his condition was deteriorating, the BCL men took him back to the hall again at 4:00 am after he received some primary treatment. I sent my nephew, who also studies at Dhaka University and lives in Surya Sen Hall, but they didn't allow him to enter the dorm at night. Instead, they confined my injured son in the room of the BCL president of the hall, till the following day. They didn't even provide him any food and constantly pressurised him to not share the incidents with anyone. At last, at 2:00 pm, Ahsan managed to flee from the room with the help of my nephew and one of his dorm senior brothers,” says Ahsan's father.
However, Tahsan denies instructing the BCL activists to beat up Ahsan or confine him in his room. He claims that he told Ahsan to rest in his room. “As Ahsan would share different posts of 'Basher Kella' or 'Islami Chhatra Shibir', the juniors were very agitated after checking his mobile phone. This is why the seniors told him to leave the hall and they were standing inside the hall gates. But when Ahsan went there, the juniors attacked him. When I heard that I told them to take him to the hospital immediately. The doctors also said that it was not a very serious injury. His left eye was swollen because of several punches. A simple drop and a few days' rest is enough for him to recover from this,” says Tahsan.
Even if one were to go by Tahsan's words that Ahsan was allegedly a Shibir activist, it does not explain what right the BCL men had to charge him at 2:00 am by seizing his mobile phone or checking his Facebook accounts or personal texts and beating him up ruthlessly. Also, even without any proof of Ahsan's involvement with Shibir, is it acceptable to assume that he is a Shibir activist just because he has a beard or shares Islamic posts on Facebook? In addition, it would also be interesting to know how a severely damaged cornea is not a “very serious injury” or how “a simple drop and a few days' rest” can repair the damage.
The BCL president also informs us that when Ahsan returned to the hall, he called both Ahsan and Omar Faruk and heard everything from both sides. “I even asked Ahsan what punishment he wants, but he said that he had no issues or demands. Yet, on the following day, when Ahsan's father came, one of my anti- group activists named Farid, took Ahsan and his father to the journalist association and gave false statement to the journalists,” he claims.
Tahsan also claims that he got information from the officer-in-charge of Kaliganj police station at Jhenaidah that Ahsan was involved with militant groups and that he had been jailed for nearly three months prior to that. Ahsan refuses that allegation and says: “At first they tried to make me a 'Shibir Activist' but they failed to prove that. Now they are trying to make me a militant. These are totally fabricated and I want you to investigate that.”
Star Weekend also contacted the Kaliganj thana Officer in Charge to crosscheck the information, but the OC said clearly that he knew nothing of such allegations. “Also, I didn't talk to anyone about such allegations and no one has contacted me about it,” says the OC.
Star Weekend also talked to Ahsan's school teacher who taught him English for more than six years, and he said that Ahsan was well-known in his Upazila for his merit. “He would always stand first in the exams, received two talent-pool scholarships in both primary and secondary levels, and obtained GPA 5 in both public examinations. He was never involved with any political activity,” says Ajibor Rahman, teacher at Government Naldanga Bhushan Pilot Secondary School, Kaliganj Municipality, Jhenaidah.
Although Ahsan's parents are demanding justice for their son's victimisation and financial support for better treatment from the university authorities, there has not been any significant action taken in this regard till now. However, when contacted, Professor Shabbir Ahmed, who is the head of the probe body that was formed to investigate the incident, informed that they have successfully submitted the report to the Vice Chancellor, Professor Akhtaruzzaman on February 16.
According to the VC, he has received the report and it will be placed before the disciplinary board meeting. The university authorities will then, upon discussing the matter with the syndicate members, take action against the perpetrators. At the time this report was filed, no such decision was taken.
Ahsan's parents also say that the Dean of the Faculty of Earth and Environmental Science, Professor ASM Maksud Kamal, has assured them of financial support as he has forwarded their letter seeking financial assistance to the VC.
Ahsan's father Rafiqul is a worried man. “My father lost his sight because of wrong treatment and he can't see today,” he says. “I don't want my son to suffer the same fate. All I hope is that no one has to go through the ordeal that my son has gone through,” he adds.
One hopes that Rafiqul's worst nightmare does not come true; however, as of now the future does not seem too bright for his son.