Unnatural life and death, and justice for Tawki

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In 1974 the politician and writer Nirmal Sen wrote, “We want a guarantee of natural death.” Yet 50 years on, we still are having to regularly grieve and to protest over unnatural deaths. But the state machinery couldn’t care less and the blood flows on, relentlessly. Actually when life is not natural, how can death be?

Tawki is never alone. This teen poet, writer and artist was killed by powerful persons of the ruling party 11 years ago. All evidence was collected, but the trial was held up by orders from above. As there are no directives from above, the rape and murder of Tonu is not being tried, the Sagar-Runi trial has been postponed over the past 12 years. There is no justice, no resolution. And so there is no end to murder, to unnatural deaths, to untimely deaths. The list grows. Justice, the law, everything depends on the will of those in power.

No institution can function in the country now. Everything is done by orders or signals from above, or in the name of the higher authority. Bangladesh is an example of what happens when there is no freedom of expression, when the judiciary cannot function independently, when there is no transparency or accountability in the system of governance. We are paying for this in our homes, outside of our homes, in transport, in companies, in the market, in the national economy, in political activities, everywhere.

The government now has absolute authority over the universities, the media, the court, the election commission, the anti-corruption commission and all institutions. Universities are meant to be the hub of free thought, research and analysis, creativity, protest against wrongdoing, flourishing of science and knowledge. Even the universities known as autonomous have been rendered dysfunctional.

The main qualification of the administration in various universities is complete loyalty to the government and aiding and abetting in corruption and crime. The halls have been made torture chambers. A student was beaten to death in a hall for the ‘crime’ of expressing his views in national interests.

As I write this piece, the newspaper in front of me declares that 46 have died in a fire on Bailey Road. Most of those who died were very young. It was the same earlier in Nimtala, Hashim Food, Churihatta and Banani. There is no proper safety system in place, everything is conducive for a fire to break out, but not to extinguish the flames, the entrance is all glitzy and glamorous, but no exit can be found in times of danger. There are no empty spaces, no water sources. Yet without all these facilities, high rise buildings sprout up in Dhaka in dazzling development. Approval is given speedily, any inspection is just on paper, everything can be bought. And so people continue to die in these familiar ‘accidents’. As we count the bodies, we hear about the government’s inquiry committees and messages of condolence. Alongside the untimely deaths, there is also no end to such farce!

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Death on the roads continues regularly. The solution is out there, but there is no initiative. Then there are deaths from dengue. Over the past six years not as many people died of dengue as they have this year. But the callousness towards people’s sufferings, greed, corruption and lack of integrated efforts, keep the solutions at bay. And people suffer, die.

Decade after decade, surveillance and suppression continues in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The armed forces and the police have been deployed to ensure security in the hills, yet violence continues. One killing after the other takes place. Former member of the human rights commission Meghna Guhathakurta says the manner in which the killings are taking place, it seems as if these killings are being carried out so that no prospective young and pro-people leadership grows in the hills.

When people look at their beloved river Sitalakkha, they see blood and bodies, they see unnatural deaths before and after Tawki. So how can they forget? It is people’s struggle to stand up tall every month in demand of justice. This living protest is the voice calling for justice of the unnatural deaths over the years that have become Tawki

Before the election, the readymade garment sector workers had launched a movement for a raise in wages. Every time the workers must take to the streets to demand a raise in wages. There is no institutional system in place. This time too, rather than reaching a logical decision regarding wages, the owners’ proposals were accepted. Meanwhile, the police and the musclemen jointly attacked the workers. Four workers, including a woman, were shot dead, many others were injured. There has been no justice for all this.

While people are at a loss due to the spiraling prices of commodities, the cost of power and gas has been hiked again. It is being said that so much subsidy cannot be paid. IMF says the same. Yet there is no initiative to address the problem. A handful of companies have been paid over a trillion taka in 10 years for their power plants to sit idle. Generation costs have shot up as the energy and power sector has been made loan dependent, import dependent, dependent on foreign companies and large local business groups, and dependent on LNG, coal and nuclear energy. And the cost of gas and power is being increased at regular intervals to meet these expenses.

If things continue this way, the prices will simply continue to rise. There are very easier and safer alternatives, but this would mean that certain groups would not be able to amass so much tremendous wealth in such a short time. That is why Bangladesh’s new 22 families are growing the fastest in wealth around the world.

Meanwhile people’s lives have become unbearable with the steady increase in the prices of essentials. A trip around the various localities of Dhaka, the streets, the markets, the restaurants and the stations, reveal the burgeoning growth in the number of beggars. A large number of them are new. Paucity is increasing because the wealth of certain people close to the government is increasing exponentially. A little of this was evident in the affidavits of the candidates of the controversial election. After being elected without votes, their wealth has increased multiple times over in the last few years.

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They need a system bereft of democracy so that this trend continues. They need to hold a sword over the people to prevent them from expressing themselves.

Justice for Tawki’s death and bringing a halt to such killers and looters would spell trouble for those in power. Those in power hope that people will gradually forget all this. But our fight is not to forget. When people look at their beloved river Sitalakkha, they see blood and bodies, they see unnatural deaths before and after Tawki. So how can they forget? It is people’s struggle to stand up tall every month in demand of justice. This living protest is the voice calling for justice of the unnatural deaths over the years that have become Tawki.

The demand for justice in Tawki’s death is a confrontation of the killers, looters, the drivers and patrons of the life-destroying powers. We want a guarantee of natural life and natural death.

*Anu Muhammad is a teacher, writer and editor of the quarterly journal Sarbajankatha

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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