Bheti: A village under attacks of Sarbaharas and JMJB militants
By Dr. Kamrun Nahar *
In 1968, leftwing extremist Purba Banglar Communist Party (PBCP) came into view in East Pakistan (present Bangladesh). Its proclaimed political objective was to uproot feudalism, capitalism, imperialism, and to implant socialism in the country. Blind followers were goaded to liquidate landlords that terrified ordinary people in villages. In post-independence war period, government ban drove them to veer to underground strategy. Gradually, political ideology became lackluster to them; they stuck to perpetrate such heinous crimes as were dacoity, killing and rape. At present, PBCP (Lal Pataka), one of its several factions, is overtly and covertly active mostly in north and south-western parts of Bangladesh. In 1998, rightwing extremist Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) appeared in political podium of this country. Its political objective was to replace an Islamic state system, based on the Quran and the Hadith, with the democratic one. Lackeys were similarly motivated to perpetrate such atrocious crimes as were assault, bombing and killing. Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) was a wing of JMB.
Two upazilas (administrative units under district) of Naogaon District – Atrai and Raninagar – are places, where leftwing extremists, called Sarbaharas (the proletariat) in short, have been undauntedly strutting for many years. Bheti with verdure and vivacity is a remote village under Raninagar Upazila that was not a cynosure of neighbors' eyes. In 2004, PBCP (Lal Pataka) first occupied this village as its territory and shortly thereafter JMJB dislodged it. Some villagers backed these two antagonistic groups in order to use them against their local rivals or enemies. Normal livelihood was suddenly squeezed, shrunk, interrupted being under intimidation and trepidation. In this article, incidents of those choking days have been depicted sincerely. The writer delved into the topic to identify violent activities of both leftwing and rightwing extremists. She visited the village three times in 2007 and 2008 to collect data. Informal and formal interviews were employed for total 40 interviewees. Interviewees were Sarbaharas, JMJB militants, victims and ordinary people. The objectives of this study were to identify activities of Sarbahara and of JMJB.
If more persons were interviewed, more secret stories would be unveiled vividly. From the outset of fieldwork, researcher had no security to stay hours after hours in village. She was vulnerable to any unaccepted attack and so were villagers; therefore they were reluctant to talk during interviews. Some persons intentionally tried to mislead the researcher by giving her disinformation. These were some balks why researcher could arrive at assumptions instead of conclusions in some particular cases.
The full official name of the village is Bhot Bangal Para but called Bheti in short. It is a remote village under Kaligram Union of Raninagar Upazila in Naogaon District. Larger than other adherent villages, it is an area of approximately 1/2 square km. Narrow, serpentine, soiled walking ways crisscrossed each other through whole village. Houses of clay, mostly two-storied, are built close to one another haphazardly. The large yard, close to the façade, reveals that the chief livelihood of people is farming undoubtedly. During winter, golden paddy shimmers and basks in the sun lying in these yards. The limitation of land and increase of population are interrelated, concomitant crises in this village. The number of total voters is now more than 2000. Many have been thrust to change their livelihood to business, as nearby Abadpukur is a favorable market place. There they sell vegetables, cattle, clothes, cosmetics, etc.
Officially, the village consists of 11 paras (units under a village), but two paras are detached from the main body. Among all, Sardar para is comparatively rich. The landlord dynasty of Sardar has been leading arbitration in the village for many years. Two rich heirs of Sardar dynasty are Rafiqul Islam and his uncle Shariatullah Naju.
Activities of Sarbahara
Purba Banglar Communist Party (Lal Pataka) started recruitment in this village in 2001/2002. In gangs, they went to every house, blustered to males and said, 'Join us as our members. If you don't accept our membership, we will leave you and your sons in a field after either slaying or cutting off limbs.'
In the mean time, panic swiftly spread in vicinities. Leftwing extremists slew Afjal at nearby Abadpukur in broad daylight. The misfortunate victim was then chairman of Ekdala Union under Raninagar Upazila in Naogaon District. An incognito woman was raped and left in a field.
Sarbaharas dreadfully increased their gruesome activities in Bheti Village in 2004. They sent letters to the rich demanding ransoms that ranged from 20 thousands to 3 lacs. One of the rich was Shariatullah (35), who bought and inherited total land of 30 bighas. They demanded a ransom of 3 lac takas from him. He tried to propitiate them with 1.50 lacs. The chairman of Bheti Siddiqia Fazil Madrasa initiated construction of his new brick-built house. Sarbaharas demanded from him a ransom that could be equivalent to 25% of total assumed expense for his house. A farmer was forced to hold his own land of 20 bighas, but distribute the rest to Sarbaharas. If the man had not obeyed their order regarding land distribution, they would have killed him ruthlessly. At last, every night of Bheti became horrible. When the somber grisly dark crept, 2-3 vehicles came to raid the damned village. Vehicles were filled with out-coming leftwing extremists, estimated to more than 100. Those desperate ruffians went from door to door to seek males of every family. Some locals named Saidul, Belal, Babu, Kuddus, Suis, Shamsuddin, Khubsurat and Mohon collaborated with them. Local girls were not victimized but warned not to open door at dawn when anyone knocked there. Before night came down, blanched males had left houses to take shelter in bushes or any place outside the village. An old villager described that he felt as if days of 1971's war returned ghastly.
The miserable, disconsolate victim was Rafiqul Islam, then member of 6 no Kaligram Union Parishad. He was a popular people's representative. On April 12, 2004, a gang of 60-70 Sarbaharas seized houses of Rafiqul Islam and Shariatullah. Fortunately, Shariatullah could escape, except for Rafiqul Islam. In that evening, he was assisting his daughter in her homework in the light of a lamp. A large gang with sharp weapons, iron-rods and tube-well handles swoop down upon him. They chopped him more than once and made their getaway leaving his blood-soaked body thinking that he was dead. Though treatment could resuscitate him, one seriously wounded leg was amputated necessarily, and the other became disabled forever. Now he walks on an artificial leg and crutches. 2-3 villagers said that another candidate of membership in Union Parishad named Saidul Islam conspired to kill him. Both Saidul Islam and Rafiqul Islam are relatives. Saidul Islam could not easily take election victory of Rafiqul Islam; therefore he conspired to take revenge and to wipe out the contestant from his way. The writer did not get Saidul Islam to take interview.
Shariatullah said he was vice chairman of Bheti Siddiqia Fazil Madrasa in 2004. In that time, there was a vacancy in the post of lecturer. Sarbahara Abdus Salam put in pressure to get the post. Before a gang of Sarbaharas seized his house, they had thrown two conditions to him – one was the appointment of Abdus Salam in the post of lecturer and the other was a ransom of 3 lac takas. It can be assumed that appointment in favoritism was a prerogative of Madrasa committee members including Shariatullah, which roused resentment among the deprived.
Activities of JMJB
Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai was chief leader of Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB). He, escorted by a large gang and a police force, suddenly appeared in the mosque of Bheti in May 2004. He invited people to be recruits of his outfit. He avowed that the advent of his group was for the annihilation of Sarbaharas. Villagers, bewildered and distraught from regular forays of leftwing extremists, welcomed them expecting that the day of their deliverance probably arrived in hands of these Islamists. Bangla Bhai set up a temporary camp in Bheti Siddiqia Fazil Madrasa. In this time, some locals ─ Shariatullah (35), Ishak Master (55), Manik (35) etc ─ aided Bangla Bhai. According to the statement of Shariatullah, he reluctantly acquiesced in JMJB's demand of 5 mound rice. Militant leaders said to him, 'You have paid to Sarbaharas 1.5 lac takas. Why will you not appease us with some food and clothing? Give us 5 mound rice.'
Bheti Siddiqia Fazil Madrasa, where JMJB tortured hostages.
From the analysis of all stories, it can be concluded that Shariatullah did not get assistance from local police to mete out condign punishment to Sarbaharas, who extorted a large amount of money from him. JMJB's entrance to the village gave him a chance to take revenge. Other victims in glee also affirmed allegiance to these out-coming Islamists expecting deliverance from leftists. They handed over a name list of local Sarbaharas to JMJB, probably having no idea that JMJB followers could terminate life of anyone in the name of religion.
Some local aides of extremist leftists were confined in Bheti camp. Some hostages were Jahidur Rahman (35), Abdur Rajjak (40) and Shamsuddin (40). Brother of Jahidur Rahman said that JMJB sent a message to him. The massage was – 'Either send 10,000 takas to us, or we will bruise a leg, gouge an eye of Jahid and then send him to his house.' Family could save Jahid in exchange for the demanded ransom. Rajjak and Shamsuddin were hung from the ceiling of a room and had been ruthlessly beaten with hockey sticks in Bheti camp for three days. A quack named Shahidul was confined. He was a popular, social-welfare worker, for he provided treatment to many poor men without taking fees. People reiterated that he was not a leftwing extremist, but a few local leftists came to his chamber now and then.
While 7 inhabitants of this village were tortured, more than 100 persons from adherent villages were confined in Bheti camp. Idris Ali Khejur (32) from Simba village was confined, dismembered and decapitated. In the precarious situation, Sardar para became almost empty of scared males, who took shelter in towns and other remote villages. After possessing the camp for two weeks, Bangla Bhai and his gang left the village in order to search another place for extortion.
On May 29, 2006, 7 militant leaders including Bangla Bhai were sentenced to death in the murder case of those two judges, who once worked in Jhalakati. On March 29, 2007, caretaker government headed by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed implemented this judgment. Bangla Bhai is no more on earth. Bheti is now free from threats of leftwing and rightwing extremists. But none knows, how long this peace, neither perpetual nor imperturbable, will sustain.
Where economic disparity is strong, there the poor think they have shares in property of the rich. Leftwing extremists inculcate the idea on poor men that only forced occupation of others' property can bring their rights on their shares. Thus, they entice people to be their recruits and to be transgressors. In this way, Sarbaharas have been working for decades. On the verge of bearing because of continuous threats from leftwing extremist PBCP (Lal Pataka), villagers of Bheti welcomed rightwing extremist JMJB from the expectation that the latter would be their savior. Where law-enforcement and justice are weak, there people take laws in their own hands in above ways. But after providing support to JMJB, they could realize, they handed over themselves from one extortionist group to another. Both Sarbaharas and militants were counterparts in case of their same sinister motive – extortion. Though political ideologies made grounds for perpetrating crimes, individual interest was a priority to them. They were hired criminals of local political influential leaders. Law-enforcement agencies did not play impartial roles to save ordinary people. Despite subsidence of shocks, inhabitants of Bheti, still have not sound sleep from the feeling of insecurity.
Acronyms and Glossary
Bigha : A land measure. One bigha means a land of approximately 0.33 acre.
JMJB : Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh.
Lal Pataka : Red flag.
PBCP : Purba Banglar Communist Party.
Sarbaharas : Leftwing extremists.
Upazila : An administrative unit under a district.
*Kamrun Nahar achieved her PhD degree from Institute of Bangladesh Studies (IBS) under University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Her research title was 'Political Violence in Bangladesh: Nature and Causes.' She went to Bheti Village in order to collect data on September 28, 2007, and February 29, November 22, 2008.