Tongi erupts in violence
At least two persons were killed and 100 others including 16 policemen injured in Tongi yesterday in clashes between the law enforcers and several hundred garment workers protesting sudden closure of their factory without payment of arrears.
One of those dead was named as Bablu Sheikh, 32, a rickshaw-van puller, while the other one could not yet be identified, Superintendent of Police in Gazipur SM Mahfuzul Haque Nuruzzaman told The Daily Star last night.
Tapan Saha, officer in-charge of Tongi Police Station, said they sent the bodies to Gazipur Sadar Hospital for autopsy at 10:30pm.
A number of workers and locals said police killed several workers inside the factory of Nippon Garments Industries Ltd at Ershad Nagar, but they could not name any of those they claimed were killed.
Locals showed reporters and police bits of brains they claimed to be of humans in pools of blood near the entrance to the factory.
The law enforcers fired rubber bullets, shotgun and teargas canisters during the four-hour-long clashes to disperse the agitating workers. The police claimed that the workers and locals hurled brickbats and homemade bombs at them.
The protesters also torched a staff bus of another garment factory and vandalised four vehicles.
Communication on Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway remained suspended for about five hours from 8:00am, causing severe traffic congestion. Vehicular movement normalised around 1:00pm.
Twelve persons with bullet injuries were rushed to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital while others were taken to local hospitals and clinics.
The home ministry will hold an emergency meeting with officials of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association at 11:00am at the ministry to find out the causes behind yesterday's clash.
Witnesses said the clash erupted at about 8:00am when several hundred workers of Nippon garment factory tried to enter the factory, defying police barricade at the entrance.
The factory authority had hung on the main gate a notice of closure of the factory from October 31 to November 29 because of "global recession and some unwanted incidents".
The notice also asked workers to collect their dues from the factory office on November 10.
When the agitating workers, mostly females, tussled with police personnel to enter the factory yesterday, the law enforcers resisted them and at one stage charged truncheons to disperse the protesters.
The angry workers along with locals blocked the highway and torched the bus and vandalised several vehicles.
As the number of protesters increased, so did that of police, Rab and Armed Police Battalion personnel.
Victim Bablu's wife Rokhsana, who works at the factory, told reporters earlier in the day that her husband received bullets when he came to take her out to safety.
She said his body lay at the factory entrance as chase and counter-chase continued.
Ali Asgar, driver of the torched bus, told The Daily Star that the agitating workers intercepted the bus in front of the factory and set it on fire.
The police charged truncheons on them again, which prompted the protesters to retaliate with brickbats.
A team of police then shot rubber bullets and teargas canisters. At one stage, they entered the Ershad Nagar area and clashes ensued.
Locals alleged that the police ransacked their houses and shops and tortured many innocent people who had no involvement in the incident.
A worker told The Daily Star that they wanted to enter the factory to know from the authority why they closed the factory without paying their arrears. "But the police barred us and charged truncheons on us which caused the clashes," he said.
Mohammad Akhter, a class III student, sustained bullets in the abdomen and arms during the clash when he went out of his house to look for his mother who is a worker of the factory.
"Hearing gunshots, I came out of the house to find my mother but all of a sudden I received the bullets," he told The Daily Star at DMCH.
A few family members of the workers tried to enter the factory in the afternoon in search of their missing relatives who, they said, had not returned home or made any contact since going to the factory.
Police kept around 15 locals and male workers tied to pillars of a nearby footbridge.
Many people claimed that the police killed several workers and locals. The law enforcers either took the dead bodies to another place secretly or hid those inside the factory, they said.
Rajab, a resident of Ershad Nagar slums, said, "The law enforcers killed those who got trapped inside the factory."
However, none could specify identities of the alleged dead ones.
Lawmaker of the area Awami League leader Zahid Hasan Russell visited the three-storey factory building along with 10 workers to look for dead bodies but found none.
Home Minister Sahara Khatun visited DMCH around 6:00pm and expressed grief over the incident.
Talking to reporters later, she said, "We will form a probe committee to ensure trial of the culprits behind the incident."
Inspector General of Police Nur Mohammad and Director General of Rapid Action Battalion Hassan Mahmood Khandaker visited the spot yesterday around 1:30pm.
Talking to the reporters in front of the factory, the IGP said they did not receive any confirmation of death.
He said three policemen were admitted to Rajarbagh Police Line Hospital in a critical condition.
Asked if there could be any instigation behind the incident, he said they had often observed instigations behind such incidents for the last couple of years.
Garment worker Kamruzzaman said the volume of work in the factory decreased in the last one month while payment of salaries had become irregular for several months.
He said the factory authority paid the salary for the month of September on October 22 and the overtime arrears for three months even later although it was supposed to be paid on October 24.
"The workers became aggrieved as the arrears were not disbursed in time," he said. Against this backdrop, the factory authorities held a meeting with about 100 workers on Friday evening, he added.
At the meeting, Manjur Morshed, one of the directors of the factory, told the workers that the factory has been receiving fewer work orders and that the situation would continue for some time.
Kamruzzaman told The Daily Star that Manjur had asked the workers not to cause any unrest in the factory and assured them of paying the dues.
A number of workers, who were present at the meeting, alleged that the authorities deceived them by not informing them about the closure. The authorities suddenly closed the factory to deprive them of their dues, they added.
The Daily Star could not reach the authorities after repeated attempts.
SP SM Mahfuzul Haque said the unwanted incident erupted because of the sudden closure of the factory.
He said the workers forcefully entered the factory and started hurling brickbats at the police. The law enforcers opened fired on the workers to save themselves.
The SP claimed that the incident left 16 of both the sides injured.
He said the factory authorities had sent a letter to Tongi Police Station about the closure but they could not make proper preparations.
Tongi police were preparing to file a case in connection with the clashes.