What does a murder say about a city?
On October 6, Abrar Fahad, a 21 year old sophomore at BUET was beaten to death by members of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling Awami League. As details emerged, the truth became harder to swallow.
Abrar was beaten for four hours, in three shifts. Each time, he was allowed to recover before being tortured again. After the third round of beating, he lost consciousness. When Abrar’s mother called, she didn’t know her son was lying dead on the floor of one of the finest institutions in the country.
We speak about collective responsibility a lot, but often forget the political structures that render dissent obsolete. No one spoke up because it was normal for students to be tortured in room 2011. No one intervened because they feared if they did, they would be next. No one called the police because they didn’t know if it would help.
Why must we speak of all this in whispers?
Since spearheading the country’s push for self determination, the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) has traded in its political currency for bayonets and bullets. For decades, BCL cadres have descended on protests, broken up opposition rallies, and held institutions across the country hostage to their often discursive demands.
When road safety protests rocked Dhaka, BCL cadres swooped in on school children. When Bangladesh went to elections in 2018, BCL stood guard outside voting booths. When its members were accused of rape, arson, and murder, it promised to learn from its mistakes.
Every time questions are raised about BCL, leaders come to its defence. They shift blame to Shibir, the student wing of the now defunct Jamaat-e-Islami. They label critics unpatriotic, or worse, operatives. The murders follow.
Abrar wasn’t an anomaly; he was the norm. Days after posting about the unequal sharing of resources with neighboring India, Abrar was ‘interrogated’ by BCL to assess which side he was on. Four hours later, he was dead.
What does it say about our leaders that they continue to stand by a rowdy, dangerous outfit overrun with thugs who think of themselves as the sole vanguards of freedom? What does it say about the country we have created for ourselves, where educational institutes are the sites of torture cells? And what does it say about us, that we continue, collectively, to suffer in silence?