Miscarried justice and wrongful convictions | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 22, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:45 AM, November 22, 2019

Miscarried justice and wrongful convictions

Here comes the story of the Hurricane

                                                    – Bob Dylan

Why didn’t Hamlet kill Claudius soon after learning about his uncle’s involvement in the murder of his father? In Greek or Roman tragedy that would have been the accepted norm. Even the vengeful God of the Old Testament would have endorsed a similar action. The Renaissance man Hamlet had a lot to ponder. He knew he could not rush in his rendering of justice. The Danish Prince meditated, contemplated, conspired, consulted, plotted even feigned madness before going for his revenge.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet was located at a transitional phase between revenge and justice where an impersonal judiciary system was assuming the agency to execute justice, moving beyond the creed of personal revenge of the medieval world. During Renaissance, the modern system was being institutionalised where the state was taking a non-partisan responsibility of establishing law and order by bringing an end to the vicious yo-yo of revenge and justice. The blindfolded lady justice epitomises this impersonal nature of the system. That, however, does not excuse the system to be literally blind. In recent years, there has been a number of news reports that proves the contrary.

We have read the news of a 55-year-old Bablu Sheikh who was released after 17 years simply because his nickname matched with one Sri Babu (The Daily Star, Oct 19). The mistaken identity following a village feud got him arrested and made him stay imprisoned in place of the real accused from a different religious community. While releasing the innocent victim, the High Court rightly instructed the IGP to take action against the officers who framed the charge sheet and also advised the victim to demand compensation from the state. The court also compared the case with the sensational “Joj Mia,” and “Jaha Alam” scandals. All three cases expose the underbelly of our criminal procedures that can be manipulated.

A classic example of miscarried justice of dystopian proportion involves a serial-killer. While tracking some looted jewellery, the police nabbed one Babu Sheikh from Natore last month. Upon quizzing, they realised that Babu Sheikh alias Kalu was more than a robber who would move in a gang that pretended to be fishermen. In the last six years, he has admittedly killed 10 individuals including nine women and one child. Five of the female victims were raped before the murder. If you think this is bad, wait till you listen to this.

Following most of the crimes that he had committed, police captured, jailed or punished someone else. The heinous acts of Babu Sheikh have left a trail of shattered lives of the people unjustly caught within the web of blind justice.

I read the story of Babu Sheikh with utter horror. I felt that the victims were lucky to be dead compared to the heart-wrenching stories of innocent victims who were wrongly convicted; the errors in the nation’s justice system changed their lives forever. The first murder victim of this serial killer was a 45-year-old woman from Noldanga, Natore. Babu Sheikh broke into the house, raped and murdered the housewife and ran away with only Tk 150. The brother of the victim lodged a case, and the husband was arrested and tried for murdering his wife for dowry. The husband was later given a rigorous life-sentence and he had been in jail ever since.

The next victim was a 13-year-old girl, who was raped and choked to death by Babu Sheikh and his partner in crime—his own brother-in-law. Two young men are still in jail following the death of this class seven student, while Babu and his partner were at large. His next victims were a young mother and her disabled son who was thrown into the pond to die. A man was arrested and jailed after his statement under Section 164, which is now being contradicted by Babu Sheikh’s confession. Then a 58-year-old woman was tortured to death leading to two wrongful convictions of a trader and a merchant.

Babu came to visit a relative in Tangail where he killed two more. Instead of capturing the real culprit, once again police had two more innocent victims in their custody. According to him, he was once wrongfully framed by a local leader which made him run away from home. He became a gang member of “net” party where he got into the habit of looting, murdering and raping. There is even one instance where he killed for the second time in one night just for the thrill of it.

While criminal psychologists may have sympathies for the psychopath who had unleashed horror in the last six years in Natore and Tangail, it took me quite a while to recover from the shock of reading about the plights of so many innocent people who were erroneously jailed by our legal and judicial system. Evidently, no proper investigation was done, and people were nabbed indiscriminately either to close the cases or to pursue vested interest. In the process, scores of innocent men are stripped of their lives and dignity and thrown into prison.

Instances like these give rise to lawlessness. In February, there was a spate of vigilante-style murders of rape suspects in Bangladesh. Some alleged “Hercules” killed at least three rape suspects and hung confessional notes around their necks. Surely, we do not want to go back to the primordial system where the failure of the government would trigger off an extra-judicial state.

Sometimes in our civilising and sanitising efforts, we tend to repress stories that trouble us. The news that I based my piece on rested in the national page as most of the victims belong to the downtrodden class. Their stories can be easily brushed off with a calculated sigh. But these lives matter. Those who died deserve justice; those who were wronged deserve exemplary compensation. No way we should think or posit them as powerless. They have become an unwilling part of the capillary nature of power where they are subject of and subjected to many social practices. Their stories must yield many stories. They need to produce discourses after discourses, which one day will give the powerless ones the voices they deserve.

Remember the case of the African American Boxer, Rubin Carter Hurricane. He was supposed to become the first black “middleweight” boxing champion. Yet he was framed for a murder that he never committed. A bunch of Canadian litigators relentlessly pursued for his release. The conviction was overturned 20-years after the arrest. It is these stories that made Hurricane the Champion of all innocent victims.

We need many to sing the story of the Hurricane! We need to create a discourse where the victims of Babu Sheikh find their deserved justice. And the power of discourse will make sure that the law stays in its course.


Shamsad Mortuza is Professor of English, University of Dhaka. Currently on leave, he is Pro-Vice-Chancellor of ULAB. Email: shamsad71@hotmail.com

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