‘Is expressing opinion a worse crime than destroying homes?’
One-year-old Ishan Das Shoumya was all smiles as he played on the bed, but his mother Sweety Rani Das could not fight back the tears as she spoke about the nightmare that was the last six months.
"In the six months that my husband was imprisoned, we were able to meet him only once. What was his crime that he has been in jail for so long without a trial and without being granted bail?" she asked.
Her husband, 25-year-old Jhumon Das of Noagaon village in Sunamganj's Shalla upazila, has been in jail since March 17 after he was arrested on March 16 and later indicted in a police case filed on March 22 under the Digital Security Act (DSA) over criticising Hefajat leader Mamunul Haque.
Since his arrest, Sunamganj Court denied his bail plea for four times while the High Court denied his bail once.
"He was the only earning member of the family and now we are living off of people's loans and donations. We are broke and not sure we can ever repay the debt," said Sweety.
"Even if he gets bail, we have no resource to continue legal proceedings in the court for long," she added.
On March 15, Hefajat-e-Islam organised a public rally at Shalla's adjacent Derai Upazila where its then joint-secretary Mamunul Haque spoke.
On March 16, Jhumon posted a status in his Facebook wall criticising Mamunul, which agitated locals of Derai and Shalla upazilas.
In the evening, several hundred Hefajat supporters gathered in Noagaon's nearby Dharain bazar, demanded Jhumon's arrest and threatened to attack the village, whose residents belong to the Hindu community.
Recalling the event of that fateful evening, Sweety said, "My husband was not at home when we heard that several hundred people had gathered near the village and were demanding my husband's arrest. They threatened to attack the village too."
"Hearing their demand, the upazila chairman, union chairman and others decided to detain my husband and hand him over to police. At midnight, I came to know that my husband had been detained," she added.
The police showed Jhumon arrested under section 54 of Criminal Procedure Code and produced him before a
Sunamganj court on March 17. The court later sent him to jail.
Even though Jhumon's detention was to pacify the situation, the agitated Hefajat supporters attacked the village on March 17 morning and vandalised around 90 houses belonging to Hindu people.
"We were assured by the authorities that Jhumon's arrest would bring peace. But thousands of people started gathering in Dharain bazar near our village the next morning. They were carrying local weapons," remembered Sweety.
"Though the police, upazila chairman, UNO and others responsible for controlling the mob were present in the bazar, they still attacked our village," she stated.
As per reports, they also desecrated four temples including one in Dharain Bazar and assaulted several villagers. Jhumon's wife Sweety was beaten and her left hand was cracked during the attack.
"I tried to hide inside the house while my sister-in-law hid with my newborn son. A group vandalised and looted our house like all other houses in the village. As they were leaving, someone told them that this is Jhumon's house. The attackers entered the house again and started massive destruction," she said.
"Eventually they found me hiding. I thought it was the last day of my life. They were cursing me... One attacker tried to hit me on the head with a stick and I instinctively put up my hand to protect it. The bones on my hand cracked. They then took all the valuables and left," she said.
The next day, two cases were filed with Shalla Police Station -- one by Habibpur union chairman and a victim of the attacks, Bibekananda Majumdar Bakul, and another by sub-inspector Abdul Karim of the station.
In both the cases, Shahidul Islam Swadhin, a member of Sarmangal union parishad in Derai upazila and a resident of Nachni village adjacent to Noagaon, was indicted as the prime accused while several other named and around 1,500 unnamed accused.
Swadhin was arrested on March 20 from Moulvibazar along with 48 others.
On April 1, Jhumon's mother Niva Rani Das also filed a case with Sunamganj court accusing 72 people including Swadhin and 2,000 unnamed.
JHUMON DENIED BAIL, ATTACKERS ROAM FREE
After Jhumon was detained on March 16, a DSA case was filed against him on March 22 and he was shown arrested in the case on March 24.
The case was first investigated by SI Amir Khasru of the station and later handed over to the Detective Branch of Sunamganj Police.
A Sunamganj court, on April 20, placed Jhumon on two-day remand. On April 29, Jhumon confessed before a Sunamganj court under section-164 of CrPC.
From May 2 to July 21, Jhumon has been denied bail five times.
On July 27, the DB filed the charge-sheet with a Sunamganj court mentioning Jhumon as the lone accused, said Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, officer-in-charge of DB in Sunamganj.
"All charges against him under the DSA were proved during the investigation. He also confessed to the court… and the digital forensic report of Criminal Investigation Department also confirmed his guilt," he added.
While Jhumon rots in jail, unable to see his child, their attackers have been granted bail, lamented Sweety.
"Is expressing your opinion a worse crime than destroying homes and temples?"
On June 21, the prime accused were granted bail; 18 other arrestees are also granted bail at different times.
Jhumon's lawyer Debangshu Sekhar Das said all sections under the DSA are non-bailable, which is what the court shows for denying bail. "However, we're arguing that it's not just a DSA case, a communal attack was involved as well."
Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua said, "Bail is at the court's discretion and it can grant bail considering any admissible ground. Jhumon is a father of a toddler, and the only income generating person of the family who are now struggling -- these can be considered for his bail."
"Some attackers of the village, including the prime accused, were granted bail. Is causing mayhem in a village less grievous crime than writing and raising voice? The court should consider these facts to grant his bail," he opined.