A photo album is all Tasin has to see his father.
At times, the eight-year-old takes the album, wipes the imaginary dust off it and puts it back into a drawer with a gloomy face.
Wazed Islam Tasin was only 22 months old and had just started calling “b-a-b-aa” when his father Tariqul Islam Tara Mia, a local leader of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal, the student front of the BNP, was abducted. Some plainclothes men, introducing themselves as police, picked him up from his home in the capital's Mirpur on August 13, 2012, said his wife Baby Akter.
His whereabouts are still unknown.
Like Tariqul, over 300 victims of enforced disappearance remain traceless and many of their children like Tasin try to find them in photographs.
Carrying the photographs, the children participated in several programmes, demanding the safe return of their fathers. They don't even know whether they are alive or not.
Most of the victims' families alleged that their loved ones were picked up by law enforcers, who, however, shrugged off their responsibilities only by denying the allegation. In almost all the cases, responsibilities of the state apparently ended there as well.
But the anguish as well as the hope of the families never ends. They continue to pass sleepless nights.
“For me, every single day is painful. Allah knows better about the fate of my husband [Tariqul] and I hope he is alive and will return one day,” said Baby, 27.
Talking to The Daily Star on Tuesday, noted human rights activist Sultana Kamal said, “No matter who are the perpetrators, it's the duty of the law enforcement agencies to find out what has happened to those who disappeared.”
According to rights body Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), as many as 544 people have allegedly fallen victims to enforced disappearances between 2010 and July 2018 in Bangladesh and over 300 of them are still missing.
Many of the 544 victims returned to their families while bodies of some were found later. Others were shown arrested in several cases filed by the law enforcers. ASK reckons the number of such people is over 200 in the last eight and a half years.
Like Baby and Tasin, family members of the other missing victims teeter between hope and loss of all hope. The victims include homeopath Moklesur Rahaman Johnny of Satkhira, Bangladesh Chhatra Union leader Shamim Hossain, BNP leader Ilias Ali, and six youths, including BNP Dhaka city ward-38 General Secretary Sajedul Islam Suman.
On numerous occasions, family members held programmes and appealed to the authorities to bring back the victims. The calls, however, have fallen on deaf ears.
Amid such a situation, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances is being observed today. August 30 has globally been observed as the Day since 2011 to condemn what the United Nations considers "a strategy to spread terror in society".
To mark the day, a group of UN Human Rights Experts in a statement on Tuesday said countries around the world must act urgently to search for people who have been subject to enforced disappearances, and ensure that this heinous crime is properly investigated.
Although the agony of the victims' families lingers, the government denies that enforced disappearance exists in Bangladesh.
At a programme last month, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan claimed that the country was not witnessing any incident of enforced disappearance.
“We don't do any extra-judicial killings … we are bringing back those who according to you had disappeared … How can we rescue those who disappear following unsuccessful romantic relationships? … How can we rescue those who disappear after failing in business?” he asked.
ASK statistics, however, show, 47 people were made to disappear in 2010, 59 in 2011, 56 in 2012, 72 in 2013, 88 in 2014, 55 in 2015, 97 in 2016 and 60 in 2017 while 10 people were abducted allegedly by law enforcers in the first seven months of this year.
The recent victims of enforced disappearance include former Bangladesh ambassador to Vietnam M Maroof Zaman and Ishrak Ahmed Fahim, a student of a university in Canada. They have remained traceless for nine and 12 months respectively.
Maroof's daughter Samiha Zaman on Tuesday said, “It has been almost nine months since my father went missing. Yet in all these months, I have not received any help from anybody. I don't know why he has been forgotten by everybody!
“Why is that nobody has shown any concern or care? Please just give me my father back," she said while talking to The Daily Star.
Sultana Kamal said it was regrettable that the families of the forcibly disappeared people had to live through the culture of impunity.
“The experience of disappearance of a family member is much more painful than that of death. It keeps the family members in endless waiting,” Sultana Kamal opined.
She also condemned the failure of the state apparatus to bring an end to this cruelty to the families.
National Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque said incidents of enforced disappearance were in no way acceptable and were gross violation of human rights.
“It is the state's duty to find out the missing people no matter how they go traceless and identify the persons responsible and bring them to book in shortest possible time,” he said.
He demanded incorporation of the provision “enforced disappearance” in the relevant law. As no such term exists in the law, victims' families face trouble in getting justice, he added.
He also said the victims who return avoid talking to the commission officials.
Talking about the issue, Sheepa Hafiza, executive director of ASK, said although the situation has improved a little this year, it is still violation of human rights if even a single person disappears.
Meanwhile, in a statement issued yesterday on the occasion of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the ASK demanded the government form a judicial commission to prevent incidents of enforced disappearance and ensure justice.
It also urged the government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.