The Kalshi carnage: 'Mere accident' or murder?
Media reports say that even three days after the high profile occurrence on June 14 the police are yet to identity the perpetrators of the mayhem that resulted in the brutal murder of ten members of the camp-dwelling Urdu speaking community. This has once again laid bare not only the ineptness and inefficiency of those at the helm of law enforcement in the country but also their intent of misdirecting the enquiry and ultimately perverting the course of justice.
The insensitive and somewhat dismissive statement of the minister of state for home affairs that it was “merely an accident” gave clear indication to his subordinates which route to follow in investigating the case. Soon, vested quarters presented the event as unfortunate accident of misfired firework; others tried to peddle it as the outcome of an internal feud of the camp dwellers. Instead of strictly adhering to what was found on the body of the 25 year Mohammad Azad, who succumbed to bullet wounds, the officer in charge of inquest made best of use of his creativity and noted with zeal that the victim died of “shots fired by assassin” in fights between Bengali-Biharis and Bihari-Biharis.
The media reports further say that six cases have so far been filed; two by the police and the rest by others. It is worth noting that one of the alleged complainants, Mobarak Hossain, president of the local mosque committee, denied filing any case. He maintained that on the day of the occurrence he went to the police station to secure release of one Sardar, the treasurer of the mosque committee who suffered bullet injury, when police asked him to file cases against other camp inmates. He refused to comply with the instruction. Later one member of the police made him sign two blank sheets of paper. Mobarak said he did not realise at that time that he would be made a complainant and had no idea who the accused Azad, Arif, Jewel, Shabbir, Nasim or Seema were. He asserted that camp residents were not engaged in the attack or vandalism. Community leaders further claimed that one local tea-stall operator has alleged that the police made him sign a blank sheet of paper as well.
Police sources say that so far the number of accused stands at 3,754; of whom six were arrested and taken on remand. Moulik Odhikar Shurokkha Committee (MOSC- Committee for the Protection of Fundamental Rights) visited the site of occurrence on June 16. They noted the grievances of the camp dwelling community members and expressed concern at the way the police is investigating the incident. The local people claimed that there were obvious signs of such a flare-up but little was done to mitigate it. They dismissed the suggestion that firecrackers were the cause of the violence but admitted it might have been the catalytic factor.
The team was informed that soon after the early morning prayers there was a verbal exchange between a group of locals and camps residents centering round nightlong explosion of crackers on occasion of Shab-e-Baraat. At that time, a contingent of patrol police intervened, arrested one Urdu speaking youth and took him to the nearby Baunia embankment intersection. The camp residents subsequently secured the release of the youth and exploded more firecrackers. This invited pelting of stones on the camps by local Bengalis and retaliation from the camp dwellers. Chase and counter-chase between the two groups began. It was at this stage that the police, taking the side of the local Bengalis, began to fire teargas shells and rubber bullets targeting the camps. In face of the police action the camp dwellers began vacating their houses and retreated by the roads at the back of the camps. Camp residents claimed that live fire, rubber bullets and teargas shells continued to be unleashed on them as they escaped.
A section of the local Bengalis began looting some dwellings as well as stores owned by the Urdu speaking community members in presence of the police, allegedly led by stalwarts of the local branch of the ruling party and its affiliate organisations. At one stage, they poured kerosene on the dwelling of Yasin, Harun, Ibrahim and Zafar located in I block. The weak structure quickly gave in and the roof collapsed as the fire engulfed the dwelling. None could escape. After an hour and a half, when fire fighters were able to put out the fire, nine charred bodies were recovered. The residents resisted the police from taking away the corpses, triggering another round of violence that took the life of Azad, an embroidery worker. At around 2:30 pm the bodies were taken to Dhaka Medical College for autopsy. The camp dwellers claimed that the Bengalis torched the camp in presence and instigation of the police.
The MOSC fact-finding mission found rationale in the claims of the camp dwellers that the perpetrators reportedly acted on behalf of a lawmaker. Only days ago the MP had publicly threatened the camp dwellers with “dire consequences within two to three days” as they refused his demand for an illegal power connection with another slum that was set up under his patronage. The fact-finding teams also found justification in the demand that the administration has to present evidence that the camp dwellers were engaged in violence that triggered the one-sided response from the law enforcers.
The Kalshi incident has further eroded people's confidence in the law enforcement agencies. Contradictory claims with regard to the cause of the occurrence, inability to take prompt action against the real perpetrators, resorting to disproportionate force, refusal to investigate charges labelled against individuals who have been alleged to be the masterminds, forcing people to sign blank documents that were subsequently used for filing false cases, and going overboard with the inquest report are all evidences against the ill motive of the law enforcing agencies. It is in this context that the onus is on the government to pay heed to the civil society demand for a credible and independent commission on the Kalshi carnage.
The writer teaches International Relations and is the Coordinator of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit at the University of Dhaka.