On the evening of 18th of June, police surrounded the premises of a house in South Goran, in the middle of Dhaka. The sheer levels of activity among the police forces indicated that they had come to arrest and apprehend anti-social elements of magnanimous nature, probably armed drug traders or holed up terrorists with big guns trained at the front entrance.
However, the police seemed relaxed, too relaxed. Perhaps this was not about confronting terrorists with bazookas. Perhaps it was a big haul of gold or even better, a cache of anti tank missiles with a huge shipment of methamphetamine right in the middle of the room, something the law enforcers would gladly pocket when they got the chance.
The tension in the area surrounding the building the police were getting ready to break into had reached boiling point. It was close to 6 pm in the evening, and darkness was about to creep in, when Khilgaon thana police started their operation, duly entering the building premises, tagging their female counterparts along with them. The onlookers held their breaths, expecting the occurrence of something big any moment. About an hour later, when the law enforcers came out, everybody exhaled, more from puzzlement and surprise than wonder at another excellent successful security operation of the police, the arrest of 24 hijab clad women, some holding their children in their arms, from what police proudly claimed was a ‘clandestine’ program of the Bangladesh Islami Chhatri Sangstha, a social organization that works to promote dawah among female students in Bangladesh.
Khilgaon thana Officer in charge (O.C.) Sirajul Islam Sheikh stated that police had carried out a raid at a house beside Shantipur Masjid in South Goran in the capital and arrested 24 activists of Chhatri Sangstha. Few could apprehend the reasons behind the arrest of about 24 female students given that:
1. Bangladesh Islami Chhatri Sangstha is NOT a banned organization that carries out clandestine activities, nor is it a political organization that holds public meetings and rallies such that it poses a threat to the government of Sheikh Hasina Wazed, which since illegally coming to power in sham elections on the 5th of January has unconditionally cracked down on socio-political activities of people and activists of all spectra of the society, despite repeated concerns of national and international rights and socio-political groups.
2. The female students were holding a Quraan taa’leem (Quraan learning) program in preparation for the month of Ramadan, something that their guardians also confirmed. Police, instead of immediately releasing them and apologizing for the extremely dim-witted, illogical and irresponsible act of raiding such a program, saw fit to seize Quran and Islamic books from the hands of the female students and claim them to be “jihadist” books, something that has turned to a narrative of a secular government that has turned extremely intolerant to Islamic parties and organizations in Bangladesh.
3. Despite the absence of any law that legalizes the arbitrary arrest of female students holding a Quran taa’leem program inside residential facilities, the police deliberately flouted with the law to make the arrests, abusing section 54(1), again and again and again. Most of the arrests under section 54 are caused on fanciful suspicion and in most cases to fill in the quota allotted to an individual police officer to make an arrest each day. This incredible practice has been going on with impunity for many years. An arrest under section 54 is often a prelude to issuance of detention order under the Special Powers Act, 1974 (SPA). The SPA allows the authorities to detain any person on eight grounds, vague enough to detain any person according to the whim and caprice of the executives and the party in power. Such detention can extend to six months, and may extend beyond this period, if so sanctioned by the Advisory Board. The use and abuse of the SPA in the name of securing law and order have resulted in steady pattern of human rights violations in Bangladesh.
The names of the arrested are: Dhaka University students Farzana Akhtar, Tanzina, Muntahana, Shamsunnahar, Ayesha Akhtar, Atia Jahan, Subaita, Bangladesh Agriculture University students Shamima Akhtar, Habiba, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology students Siddika, Farjana, Eden University College student Zakia Khan, Rajshahi University student Farhana, Fatima, Islamic University student Sumaiyya Siddika, Home Economics College student Nur Jahan, Farjana, Jagannath University students Sumaiyya, Rownak, Savar Model College students Mahbuba, Ema, Chittagong University students Sumaiyya Afroze, Fatema Jannat and BUET student Salma.
In what has become a routine way to harass and intimidate, the CMM court on the 19th of July sent the 24 students to jail after magistrate Ataul Haq concluded their hearing and sent them to jail after cancelling both pleas for bail and remand.
Earlier the students were brought up to court by Khilgaon thana S.I. Sheikh Mohammad Kamruzzaman, who put forward the absolutely ridiculous but time tested logic that the 24 students were holding a 'clandestine' meeting in order to hamper and hinder the 'trial of war criminals' and were using resources such as Islamic books and computers to that end.
The officer in uniform, despite the knowledge that they had been holding a Quran taa'leem program and that many of the women arrested had children with them, prayed for 5 days remand for all of them, in order to question and interrogate to find out the secret plot they were hatching in order to bring down the government and thwart the 'trial of war criminals'.
The heartless court, in keeping with the true tradition of being the arm of an authoritative regime, sent them to jail and allowed the police the option to question them at jail gate premises over the next four working days.
The steamroller of injustice and blatant abuse of human rights continues to occur daily in Bangladesh. Despite repeated concerns raised by numerous rights groups both nationally and internationally, the rampant abuse of basic rights of citizenry, especially that of women by the state apparatus continues; unabated, unchecked and gloried in the name of the war of independence of 1971. Even more worrying is when self professing custodians of human rights and justice of all citizens in Bangladesh, the media, feel safer to be silent on an issue as horrendous as this. Secular media such as the Daily Star, Dhaka Tribune and bdnews24 have not just remained silent but played active roles in creating and fanning the myth of the female students congregating clandestinely in order to 'thwart the glorious trial of war criminals of 1971', trying to cover up an injustice with another instance of sheer injustice.
History will neither forgive us nor forgive us if we remain silent over the blatant injustice that has occurred today against 24 sisters whose fault was they had come together to simply listen to the words of the Quran in a nation that is officially 90 per cent Muslim.