BAGERHAT: It is difficult to believe that not all that long ago, Mostafa Sheikh, nondescript proprietor of a small motorcycle garage in the Shahartali area of Bagerhat town, had entire towns and localities, and even the rank-and-file in agencies of law enforcement, quaking in their boots at the mere mention of his name, reports UNB.
No, not Mostafa Sheikh. That would hardly move anyone. But Mostafa Sheikh had another name, his nom de guerre during years spent as a pirate in the Sundarbans as the chief of an infamous gang of robbers known as the Master Bahini. Yes, Mostafa is, or used to be, none other than the dangerously feared, most wanted criminal, Kader Master.
Under Mostafa, Master Bahini was involved in robbery, kidnappings, abducting fishermen (and other creatures when possible) and creating panic in the world’s largest mangrove forest, but now Mostafa is passing an ordinary life after his bandit group surrendered to Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) on May 29, 2016. They also deposited 51 firearms and 5,000 rounds of bullet as they gave up their arms.
Setting up his motorcycle garage in Shahartoli soon after, today he identifies as a motorcycle mechanic, and it is through this profession that he supports his three-member family.
“I have three motorcycles and I rent those. I also repair motorcycles of others at my own garage. And I earn money in this way to bear the expenses of my family,” Mostafa said.
Mostafa hailing from Rampal upazila in Bagerhat district had formed the gang - Master Bahini - involving nine other pirates seven years ago. They used to attack trawlers of fishermen, Bawalis (golpata and wood cutters) and Mawalis (honey collectors) and abduct fishermen for ransom deep inside the Sundarbans.
About his journey from a marauding pirate to a quiet citizen with an honest income, Mostafa said: “I started my pirate life with ‘Salam Bahini’. A Union Parishad (UP) chairman of Rampal upazila forced me to become a pirate and he supplied arms and weapons to us. I tried to return to a normal life several times, but could not do it due to the chairman’s insistence.”
Just three years before surrendering to RAB, Mostafa said he formed ‘Master Bahini’ with 10 pirates where all of its members were experts to operate both local and foreign arms, but they had no peace in their minds.
“We had passed every moment in fear that we could be killed any time in gun-fight with cops or our rivals in the forest. We had also the fear of attacks of wild animals like tigers, snakes and crocodiles,” the ex-pirate said, adding that he did not think that he would be able to return to normal life, but he did it, and now he is passing a bonus life.
Mostafa said they surrendered to the law-enforcement agency to return normal life, but they now want work and withdrawal of all cases filed earlier against them so that they can enjoy a better life.
Abdullah, a member of another pirate gang Alif Bahini, who also surrendered earlier, said he is happy after returning normal life from his pirate life although he has been facing financial crisis since his surrender. “Now I am a vegetable vendor and I bear my family expenses by selling vegetables. I want a better work so that I can earn more money,” he added.
Official sources said in the wake of escalating crackdown by the law-enforcement agencies, a total of 132 members of 12 infamous forest robber gangs based in the Sundarbans surrendered to the government from May 29, 2016 to April 29, 2017.
Like Mostafa and Abdullah, all the ex-pirates demanded the government create better work opportunities for them and withdraw all the cases filed against them.
On Wednesday last (August 23), 132 pirates of 12 robber gangs were provided Tk 1 lakh each from the government and Tk 50,000 cash on behalf of EXIM bank, mobile phones, and other essential food products like rice, red lentil and oil during a donation programme for rehabilitation of forest robbers.
Speaking on the occasion at Sheikh Helal Uddin stadium in Bagerhat, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said no one will be allowed to commit robbery in the Sundarbans. He assured that the government will rehabilitate the robbers who want to surrender and return to a normal life and the robbers who surrendered earlier will be provided proper assistance in resolving all the cases filed against them, except for rape and murder charges.