Sunday, June 15, 2014

Arson attack at Mirpur Bihari Camp, 10 killed: The truth behind the scenes

Kalshi, situated in Pallabi, Dhaka is home to a variety of people, ranging from extremely poor people living in slums, to lower middle income families, middle income and even upper middle class communities, all on a single stretch of road in an area that is seeing extremely fast urban development. Among a defining feature of the area is that it is home to a number of Bihari communities, some of whom live in separate communities in camps and slums in the area. Biharis are generally identified as Urdu speaking people living in Bangladesh who also identify themselves as non-Bengalees or even ‘stranded’ Pakistanis, in reference to their official status after the war of 1971 that led to the breakup of erstwhile Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. Contrary to what many are led to believe, all Biharis do not want to go back to Pakistan, and neither do all Biharis live in camps or slums. It is also true that a lot of Biharis have intermarried with Bangla speaking communities and many speak Bangla with the fluency of the locals themselves, as their first language nonetheless. A lot of the business and area in and around Kalshi, Mirpur is owned by non-Bengalees, or “Biharis” themselves, most of whom are proudly citizens of Bangladesh.   

News: 10 killed in clashes at Mirpur

Ten people, including four men and two children, were killed in a series of clashes at a camp of ‘stranded’ Pakistanis at Kalshi in Pallabi in the city on Saturday. Nine of the deceased were identified as Baby, Lalu, his brother Bhulu, Shahanara and her 5 year old boy, Roksana, Afsana, Farzana and Ashique. Witnesses said that clashes erupted in the morning after Fajr prayers at Kurmitola Bihari camp, locally known as ‘Bihari camp’ after a dispute over the use of firecrackers on the occasion of Shab-e-Barat.  

Another person, who was hit by pellets allegedly fired by police during the clashes, succumbed to his injuries at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMCH), hospital sources said.

The news received wide coverage in media and sparked furious debate on social media. Not only was the incident coverage limited to local and national print media such as Prothom Alo, Naya Diganta and the Daily Star along with being shown live on all television channels, it was picked up by international media as well such as al Jazeera.

Media story behind the incident:

The story behind the event as given by the media were by and large the same, the main differences being on the focus of the stories at hand,

a) Most media tried to portray the incident as being the result of ethnic tensions spanning more than 40 years. This was the tool employed by Prothom Alo and the Daily Star among others. Shockingly, an international outlet such as Al Jazeera also portrayed the incident as being a result of ethnic tensions between ‘ethnic Bengalees’ and ‘stranded Biharis refugees’, when a lot of witnesses suggested otherwise on television media throughout the day.

b) The media were terribly confusing and unclear on the event, often publishing contrasting versions of the same explanation of events in the same article. For example, media reports suggested that the clashes were between Bengalee locals and Biharis,  while others said that the fight was between two groups of Biharis, while still others claimed that the police were a either a third front or that the clashes were between Biharis and the police.  

c) The major media failed to ask the required questions on the event or address the concerns of the affected people. They failed to verify the witnesses, the testimonials, and the question the actions of the police during the event. Most went with cut-copy-paste versions of each other’s stories on the incident.

Questions that need to be asked:

a) The affected complained to the TV cameramen that Iliyas Uddin Mollah, the present MP of Dhaka-16, of which Kalshi is a part, was to blame. During the interviews, some men even broke out in processions with slogans of “Hang Iliyaas Mollah” and “Try Iliyaas Mollah” before the police suddenly dispersed the protesters with force and tear gas. What did the people want to say? Witnesses said that the real reason for the clashes was from a dispute between Iliyaas Uddin Mollah MP and the camp dwellers for quite some time. Previously 3 days ago, the electricity connection to 400 families at the Kalapani camp had been severed and the MP had sternly declared that he would not allow its reinstallation. The high voltage questions which need to be asked here, keeping in mind the fact that most of the amenities lines in the slums are illegal, is that on what authority did Iliyaas Mollah carry out such an order? Was he involved in corruption regarding to the installation of electricity lines and hoarding of government money in the process?

b) The occurrence occurred exactly three days into the previous incident of the severing of electricity to the camp dwellers. Alongside the severing of electricity, cases had been filed with police by the order of the MP himself against Jalal Bhontu, a leader of the Bihari camp dwellers and twenty others. This was in direct link with a dispute of the MP with Jalal over sharing electricity lines of a slum in Mirpur 12 Kalapani with another slum of atleast 100 families operated and maintained by groups loyal to the MP himself. The incident seemed so well planned, complete with the fact that the attackers were men loyal to Iliyaas Mollah MP led by 5 no. ward Juboleague president Jewel Rana, that the fact that most news media trying to dub the incident as a ethnic clash is absurd.

c) Why did police help the ruling party affiliated attackers in attacking the camp dwellers by firing shots into the camp when they should have subdued tensions on both sides? Why did the police allow the camp residences to burn throughout the afternoon and prevent the action of fire fighters on the pretence that the camp dwellers were not allowing the police access, even when it was clear on the TV cameras that this was an outright lie?

d) Why did Awami League leader Iliyaas uddin Mollah MP not visit the affected area throughout the day? Why did he refuse to take calls from the media and answer their questions?        


The incident, on retrospection, is a clear case of a result of a power struggle clash for area control by Iliyaas uddin Mollah, the Awami League member of Parliament who, along with his family, the very powerful Mollah family, is well known for his tight control on the area, including the control of the drug trade (Mirpur is a haven for the drug trade in Dhaka), control of numerous slums in the area and the phenomenon of land grabbing along with all manner of illegal trade in the area. It is imperative that we demand an independent and proper enquiry into the matter, including an assurance that the perpetrators will actually be punished and that justice will be served to the poor people who have been attacked and livelihoods, home and lives lost and destroyed.

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