The blood-stained August 21 | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 21, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 21, 2015


The blood-stained August 21

The gory misdeeds of August 21, 2004 shall, without a doubt, continue to haunt us for a painfully long time. Dismal thoughts will surely occupy the minds of sane Bangladeshis when they think of the deadly destruction on August 21, 2004. It was on that day that the nation witnessed an unprecedented diabolic attempt to wipe out the major leaders of a political party. Our double jeopardy was that a most unfortunate and condemnable criminal incident was followed by a callous and slipshod investigation that only enraged the discerning public.

We are given to understand that the criminal case in question has been further investigated and important points need to be clarified. There is allegation of complicity of the establishment in the gory killing and maiming. Top enforcement officials who have been booked in the case have to prove that they did not have any criminal intention in their alleged failings. The important question, however, is whether the dastardly offence was politically designed and executed through foot soldiers. We will have to wait for the investigation and conclusion of the trial to find the answers to many unresolved queries.

To recollect, the multiple grenade assault of August 21, 2004 was clearly a manifest attempt to wipe out the entire leadership of the mainstream political party. The double digit deaths and crippling injuries of hundreds should make us wonder if the state organs investigating the incident and the then political authority realised the enormity of the attack. 

We may also remember that the investigation of the above incident was not undertaken with the earnestness and urgency it deserved; the first indication of that was the failure to protect and preserve the scene of occurrence. There was allegation that physical evidence was tampered with and destroyed. The field units did not act with desired speed and circumspection. The question is, did this happen because of a so-called instruction from above? The culpability of all concerned, high and low, needs to be established.

While extreme views advocating annihilation of the political opponent has been a sad socio-political reality of our society, there is a paramount need to stop it once and for all. Many political murders have not been investigated properly while some cases are still under investigation and some have been perfunctorily looked into. Such a state of affairs point to the supreme necessity of a comprehensive investigation of the incident of attempted assassination of Sheikh Hasina because that is expected to be an example-setter in the criminal justice system.

In the fitness of things, every criminal case should be disposed of on its own merit. That is the ideal. In our situation, it would be necessary to dwell upon certain facts and circumstances of our socio-political existence, and in particular the perilous political polarisation of our society that has a definite bearing upon the basic regulatory function of investigation by the state agency, the police.

In Bangladesh, we need to seriously acknowledge the significance of authoritative approval or condoning of violence because such action is construed as social approval. The so-called political circumstances have often obstructed accountability of the culpable individuals. There is good reason to doubt that considerable number of officials abnegated their responsibility to protect all citizens regardless of their identity.

Quite often, the disconcerting socio-political reality is that the source of deterioration in crime and order situations originated in the continuing patronage of criminals and bullies by the incumbent ruling party. Practically, what the people see is the end result of cumulative process of patronised crime, practiced over successive regimes.

The premonition is that if criminals continue to enjoy immunity from law enforcement over successive administrations, then we have a systemic crisis at hand, and a serious one at that. The manifestation of that crisis relates to the allegation of selective law enforcement scenario wherein state functionaries hesitate to enforce the law, suo moto.

The suspicion is that the systemic deficiency is located within the political parties and machinery of law enforcement. The desired corrective actions cannot be unilaterally taken by the ruling party and quite distinctly calls for a bipartisan approach with active involvement of the civil society. Demobilisation of criminal elements by the ruling party demands a reciprocal response from the political opponents. The remedy lies in cleaning our politics through its decriminalisation, backed by the de-politicisation of law enforcement as well as the administration.

The writer is a columnist of the The Daily Star

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