Sitting in the cafeteria of The Daily Star, Nipa Begum aka Sohagi was taking her first meal of the day nearly at three in the afternoon. The dark circles beneath her eyes bore testament to her sleepless nights and exhaustion. When she was served a fish curry, she cried out loudly, saying “I cannot have this Pabda fish. My son would love this. I cannot eat anything that my son would love to eat.”
The news of the murder of Sohagi’s six-year-old son Alif, after being hit by a bus of Paristhan Paribahan in the playground of Mirpur Paikpara A-type government staff quarter, on May 8 was not covered widely in mainstream media. Today, Sohagi fears that she might not get justice, because she is poor and powerless.
Sohagi, a former garment worker, started living at a rented room of the staff quarter with her only son and daughter for Tk 5,000 just two months ago. On May 8 (the second day of Ramadan) during the Taraweeh prayer, her 13-year-old daughter Chandni asked for money to buy ice cream from a nearby shop inside the quarter and left along with her brother Alif. After buying the ice-cream, Chandni went back to the house, but Alif stopped at the field where the children always play. Mohiuddin Turjo, a resident of the quarter who is a peon of the Public Works Department (PWD), was allegedly learning driving from the driver of his bus at the playground at the time. Suddenly, the bus hit Alif, leaving him wounded in the left side of his forehead. After that, Turjo allegedly took him outside the quarter near a microbus parked by the road. He left him there and fled the scene.
The other children informed Sohagi about her son’s accident. She ran out to the spot and took an injured Alif to a few nearby private hospitals, with the help of locals. But doctors referred him to Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital, where the duty doctor declared him dead.
“It’s a murder. The other children kept asking Turjo not to take my son anywhere while he was dragging him out after hitting him with the bus. One even took a photo when he left him in front of the microbus. If my son had been taken to the hospital immediately, he might have survived,” Sohagi cried out loudly.
What was a bus doing in a residential quarter to begin with?
According to the locals, Turjo owns several buses that run under Paristhan Paribahan, and he used to park them at the quarter at night. The president and secretary of the Paikpara A-type staff quarter welfare association were informed about the illegal parking, but nobody took action against him, as he holds a power of position at the quarter.
When asked why Turjoy was permitted to park buses in the quarter field, Mizanur Rahman, the secretary of Paikpara A-type staff quarter welfare association, says, “Turjo has parked his buses in this quarter for the past eight years because he is an allotted employee. But no previous accident had occurred during these eight years.”
But when asked about the legality of parking public transport at the residential quarter, or training to drive in the open field of the quarter, he argues, “His mother was once the women’s affairs secretary of this association. I’ve asked him several times to move his buses somewhere else, as have two other committees before me, but it hasn’t worked.”
However, Mizan says he is not sure whether Turjo was driving the bus, since he was not personally present at the scene. Insisting that he is shocked at the untimely death of the child, he proceeds to add that the boy’s mother was equally responsible for his death. “What was the boy was doing there? Why did his mother let him leave at night? She must be more alert,” he says.
Star Weekend also contacted Md Shahadat Hossain, chief engineer of the Public Works Department (PWD), who claims to have been unaware of the illegal parking of buses at the government residential quarters and driving training. “No allotted inhabitant of a government residential quarter has the jurisdiction to park or drive public transport within the area of the quarter. We will look into the matter for sure, and the accused must be punished for his unlawful acts,” assures Hossain.
Pursuing legal battle is a nightmare for the poor and powerless
Sohagi and her brothers went to Mirpur Model Thana to file a case the day after Alif’s death. “The duty officer wrote a case statement. But a few moments later, the officer–in–charge of the police station came and tore up the paper. He refused to take the case and then made us wait for hours. Later, my brother requested some locally influential people to convince the OC to take the case. Only then did he allow us to file the case. But he still didn’t write down the entire train of events,” claims Sohagi.
Although the accused fled the scene after leaving Alif on the main road, the police didn’t write this down in the statement, according to Sohagi. The case was filed as an ordinary accident case under section 304(A), which says that the accused caused Alif’s death through the rash and negligent driving of a bus. According to section 304 (A) of penal code 1860, for such offences, the accused is punished with maximum five years of imprisonment or with a fine, or both.
But Sohagi still asks: if a person without a driving licence, with no right to park or drive buses at the playground of a quarter, leaves a injured child on the road without informing his family, isn’t that murder?
This case isn’t the first time that law enforcers have filed road accident-related cases under section 304 of the penal code. When a driver hit and ran (thereby killing) Kushtia’s child Afifa on August 28 last year, the case was filed under section 304. The same thing happened on July 28 last year, when two students were killed by the reckless driving of the driver of Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan at the Dhaka Cantonment area of the city. Cases related to road accidents previously used to be filed under section 302 (as murder), but from 2015, law enforcers were told to file such cases under section 304. The decision came after a meeting of the sub-committee members of the Home Ministry.
According to Barrister Md Abdul Halim, chairman of the Children Charity Bangladesh Foundation, the decision by the parliamentarians was taken upon the demand of road transport workers.
According to the latest update from sub-inspector Shahidul Islam Shahid, the investigation officer (IO) of Alif’s case, the accused first took bail from the High Court. But later on June 19, the lower court cancelled his bail and sent him to jail. “We wanted remand today [June 23]. If the court allows remand, we will ask who was actually driving the bus and get information about the helper. We haven’t gotten his address yet. I hope everything will be clear after interrogating him,” the sub-inspector says.
When asked if they are aware of illegal parking in the quarter, Shahid replies in the affirmative. “Nobody is following any rules and such practices have been happening for a long time. In fact, Alif’s family cannot live here as per the law, because there are no rules to rent a room of a government quarter to outsiders,” he states. But the IO couldn’t answer when asked why everyone has been silent about such unlawful activities, or why the police never took any action for such openly committed crimes.
The secretary of the quarter welfare association has meanwhile met with Sohagi to try to settle the matter with a lump sum amount of money (around Tk 5,00,000). But Sohagi has not agreed to any settlement. Many are threatening her to withdraw the case, reminding her that they can never win the battle, as the opposition is in a position of power and wealth. Sohagi and her daughter have even received phone calls from unknown numbers. If she doesn’t stop, Sohagi might lose her only daughter, she was threatened.
“We have filed a general diary with the police about this. But still, we are not out of danger. I cannot leave my daughter at even a nearby shop to buy things. She is just confined within the house. Every day is hell for us,” she cries.
Sohagi left her husband nearly four years ago, as he was addicted to drugs. She had hopes of living in peace with her son and daughter. “My son was my future. But they didn’t allow him to live. I have already spent Tk 11,000 for the lawyer. I don’t know how I can manage to be present in the court on the next hearing day, because I don’t even have that transport fare. I don’t know where I will live one or two months later, because I know I cannot manage my rent. I have already lost my appetite. I want only one thing— justice for the murder of my son. If I need to sacrifice even my life for this, I am ready to do that.”