Around 1:30pm yesterday, three leaders of the quota reform movement were in a rickshaw heading towards the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
All of a sudden, a group of gun-toting men appeared there, identified themselves as detectives and allegedly dragged the trio into a white microbus. The three were made to wear helmets and at one point “blindfolded” after the vehicle left the place.
The leaders -- Nurulhaq Nur, Muhammad Rashed Khan and Faruk Hasan -- are joint conveners of Bangladesh Shadharan Chhatra Odhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad, a platform of students who had been demonstrating for reforms in the country's quota system in civil service.
Nurul is a master's student of Dhaka University English department while Rashed and Faruk are former students of the university's Banking and Insurance department and Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies.
All the fellow protesters were in the dark about their whereabouts until detectives admitted detaining and taking the three to the DB office on Minto Road for “questioning”. They were released around 2:30pm.
The way the three were picked up caused a furore among other protesters with many of them comparing the incident with enforced disappearance. Rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra expressed deep concern over such an “attitude" of the law enforcing agencies.
Although police said they took the three students for verification of some information and “showing them some video clips”, the trio claimed that they were neither quizzed nor shown any videos.
When the three were being picked up in Dhaka, police in Jhenidah interrogated Rashed's father Nabai Biswas, a mason, to know whether the family had any political affiliation, claimed Nabai. He said he was not linked with any political party or its affiliated bodies.
Talking to reports in front of DU Central Library, the trio narrated how they were picked up.
"As soon as we reached near the emergency gate of the DMCH, some people wielding revolvers and identifying themselves as detectives dragged us inside the microbus," Nurul said.
They were made to wear helmets, he said, adding that the plainclothes men brought towels and “blindfolded” them after the vehicle reached Gulistan.
"I thought I was about to die. I asked for forgiveness from the Almighty,” Nurul said.
"We were able to return possibly as many people saw us [being picked up] in front of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. If that had not happened we doubt whether we could ever come back,” he added.
Asked, Nurul said none of them was assaulted.
Last week, the country witnessed a widespread movement of students of public and private universities across the country, demanding reforms to the quota system.
The protesters blocked key points in the capital and also roads and highways elsewhere for four days to press home their five-point demand, including reducing the quota privilege to 10 percent from 56, crippling the traffic system.
The movement turned violent on April 8 night after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, used water cannons and charged truncheons to disperse demonstrators who blocked the Shahbagh intersection for over five hours. Clashes continued throughout the night, leaving around 163 people injured.
A group of unidentified youths vandalised the vice chancellor's residence on the campus.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in parliament announced that there would be no quota in government jobs and asked the students to end the demonstration. The students complied with that.
On April 11, the DU authorities and police filed five cases with Shahbagh Police Station against a huge number of unidentified people. Four of the cases were filed over vandalism, arson and obstructing lawmen from performing their duties and the attack on the VC's residence.
The other case was filed under the Information and Communication Technology Act for spreading rumours online during the movement.
Several leaders from the student platform's central committee were going to restaurants in Chankharpool for lunch. But before that, they wanted to visit their fellow demonstrators who were injured and being treated at the DMCH.
"As soon as we reached near the emergency gate of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, three to four motorbikes intercepted the rickshaw carrying the three students,” said Bin Yamin, a student who was in another rickshaw nearby.
"Two white microbuses with tinted glasses came and the three were dragged into one of the microbuses,” he said, adding that he along with others present at the scene spread the news.
At the briefing, Nurul said, "We saw hundreds of people in front of Dhaka Medical College Hospital. We screamed for help but none came to our rescue.”
Nurul claimed that as the blindfold was removed and he opened his eyes, he found himself and the other two in a room. Later, they found that they were at the DB office.
"We were told that we would be quizzed. Some video clips would be shown. They also said there were possibilities of attacks on us. But we were neither shown any video clip nor interrogated," he said.
The officials of the Detective Branch (DB) of Police released them around 2:30pm.
"When the honourable prime minister announced that our demands would be met, we brought out a joyous procession, welcoming the decision. Yet, we are repeatedly being threatened that we will be disappeared and killed,” he said.
Contacted, Debdas Bhattacharya, additional commissioner of DB, said the three students were taken to the DB office to know whether they could give us any information or identify those who attacked the VC's residence.
"They left the DB office after we got the information,” he told The Daily Star.
Replying to a query, Debdas said they did not get any significant information from them.
Asked about the student's allegation that they were dragged into the vehicle and were not asked anything, Devdas said he was not aware of any such incident.
This newspaper called DB (South) Deputy Commissioner Jamil Hasan several times over phone but he did not receive the calls.
RASHED'S FATHER QUIZZED
Rashed's father Nabai lives in a tin-shed house in Jhenidah Sadar's Muraridah village.
The father of three told The Daily Star that he was asked to go to Jhenidah Police Station around 1:30pm.
Asked, he claimed that he did not have any political link. His neighbour Mahmudul Hasan also said he did not see anyone from Nabai's family taking part in any political activities, reports our Jhenidah correspondent.
Emdadul Haque Sheikh, officer-in-charge of the police station, said Nabai was taken there for questioning "following a newspaper report".
In Dhaka, Rashed told the reporters, "They are trying to force my father into confessing that he belongs to Jamaat-Shibir and his son is a Shibir man."
"My father is a day labour. He toiled a lot to send me to this university. He has not committed any crime,” he said.
"What is the fault of my father? Why police hurled abuses at him?” he said in tears.
"And what is our fault?" he said, adding: "I want justice."
Earlier in the morning, the Bangladesh Shadharan Chhatra Odhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad held a press conference, protesting a report by Daily Ittefaq. The report mentioned Rashed as an active Shibir activist.
The parishad leaders claimed that they had no political affiliation and termed the report “baseless and politically motivated”.
Later the newspaper withdrew the report from its online version and apologised for publishing it.
At the briefing, the student leaders also demanded that the authorities concerned withdraw the cases within the next two days. Otherwise, they threatened that they would wage a tougher movement.
They demanded the arrest of the miscreants involved in the attack on the VC's residence and urged not to harass any student in the university dormitories.