Sunday, 5 February, 2023

160 Sacks of Rice Turned into 16 Dead Bodies

Syed Borhan Kabir

It was an afternoon. I was watching Bangladesh-India ODI. Batting of Mehedi Hasan Miraz made me impressed and excited. Somebody called me over the phone but I could not notice. After the game, I called back. The person from the other end told me with a panting heart that BNP-police clash in Paltan has claimed many lives. Some leaders have been arrested. I pressed the remote button, selected a news channel and kept eye on it. Finally, I came to know that the clash left one innocent person dead. He was not affiliated with any political party. Such kind of incident is well-known to the people knowledgeable about Bangladesh politics. Clash between police and political party is very antique, taking place before and after the liberation of the country. Police is considered opponent by the agitating people not only in Bangladesh but also in other countries also.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) and movement against abortion law in the USA saw a clash between the demonstrators and law enforcers. China has recently experienced such a clash amid Covid-19 restrictions. German is launching crackdown on the anti-government movement. Twenty five persons have been arrested so far. Compared to those countries, the incidents in Bangladesh are very negligible.

BNP decided to hold a rally in Dhaka on December 10. The party had been holding rallies in divisional cities in the last two months. Ahead of the Dhaka’s, the party leaders made instigating statements. One leader said the country will be run by BNP chief Khaleda Zia from December 10. Another leader said Begum Zia will be taken to the meeting venue at Nayapaltan. 

Some other leaders said they will not leave Dhaka city but oust the government. Meanwhile, a BNP leader showed a red card to the government. Against the backdrop, police asked BNP to hold the rally at Suhrawardy Udyan. But BNP was adamant to hold the rally at Paltan. The party leaders and activists started to flock to Nayapaltan from December 7. An innocent person was killed in the clash between BNP and the police. Did BNP want it, a dead body? Does politics prefer death to life?

However, police raided BNP office at Paltan and seized 160 sacks of rice stored inside. I do not know about any recent relief campaign of BNP. Then did they store such a huge quantity of rice? Did they want to hold a food fest blocking the public road at Paltan? Storing huge rice at the party office is enough, let alone explosives.

It is interesting to note that 160 sacks of rice turned into 16 dead bodies by the grace of social media. The USA and UN issued statements expressing concern over the incident. The reactions created such an impression that as if Paltan incident was the first of its kind in the country. What a surprise! Spreading rumour knew no bounds. By no means the rally can be called a government ouster movement. But some people in social media as well as in mainstream media spread such rumour, which has been the main tool of their anti-government movement. In the last couple of months, anti-government elements are resorting to 'rumour' instead of street movement. Accordingly, they are spreading rumours about the government’s failure to handle politics, economics, human rights, foreign policy and international relations. Rumour mongers are trying to project Bangladesh economically bankrupt and that there is no foreign exchange reserve and no money in banks. Unlike previous times, the conspirators are spreading rumours going beyond social media, Facebook, and YouTube. Some convicts and fugitives sitting in different parts of foreign countries tried to mislead the people by speaking in different ways and manners on one issues.

Nowadays, rumor is not confined to social media only. Rather, some mainstream media and some prominent civil servants are playing vital role in creating and spreading rumours. I want to cite an example. Last Tuesday, a reputed English daily published a piece of news related to the debt of a business organisation. The last Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Commissioner of Chattogram were also quoted in the news. The news was presented in such a way that a reader would easily think that, on the instructions of the Prime Minister, his Principal Secretary asked the Deputy Commissioner to investigate the ‘scam’ of the company. The following day, the Principal Secretary expressed his surprise at this false news. He said, "I am surprised".

The Prime Minister's office was not confined to the issuance of a rejoinder to the newspaper. The Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister vehemently upheld the falsehood of this newspaper and protested it. If a leading and influential daily of the country publishes a fictitious story about the Prime Minister's office and a Deputy Commissioner, then the magnitude of 'rumour' may be understood. I request readers to think a little more calmly. Bangladesh Bank is responsible for investigating loan-related matters. However, the Prime Minister's office was deliberately quoted in the report.

The rumor machine started to function much earlier. During the economic crisis in Sri Lanka, some civil society members said Bangladesh was on the way to becoming Sri Lanka. Reports from some newspapers can be quoted in this regard. An influential daily wrote, 'Bangladesh will become Sri Lanka in October-November.' November is over. It is the second week of December. Bangladesh is yet to be Sri Lanka. Rather, Bangladesh is going to emerge as a trillion-dollar economy. Recently, global consulting firm 'Boston Consulting Group' (BCG) published a study report on Bangladesh. It says the economy of Bangladesh is progressing in many ways. Already, Bangladesh has emerged as a growing economy, leaving behind Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Thailand. But so-called experts have branded Bangladesh as bankrupt.

So-called intellectuals-led media outlets have invited social media to propagate their planned 'rumour'. The 'Sri Lanka' rumor was overcast by human rights issues. An international human rights organisation controlled by the anti-liberation forces has been buzzing with disappearance of 76 people. This organisation named Human Rights Watch started rumours against Bangladesh from the time of trial of war criminals. This organisation was hired as a lobbyist by the war criminal families. As a lobbying firm, the organisation began presenting the war criminals' trials as a 'human rights violation'. Second generation Razakars' were hired to reinforce their claims. Foreigners who have contacts in Bangladesh were hired. Dr. Kamal Hussain's British national son-in-law David Bergman was assigned in this regard.

Members of the anti-independence families, involved in NGOs and human rights trading shops, were also engaged in the job. They include Adilur Rahman Khan of 'Adhikar', Syeda Rizwana Hasan of BELA, and Shahidul Alam of Drik. David Bergman took a public stand for war criminals. The other three were masked. Civilians were working outside while Rajakar was inside. They brought forward the issue of human rights. Their main weapon was 'rumour'. Adilur Rahman Khan was the first to start using 'Guzab'(rumour) as a botika (tablet). In May 2013, his organisation 'Odhikar' reported the death of 61 people while in custody. This news sensitized the West. Later, it was found that the people shown as dead in Adilur’s report are alive. They are studying in madrasa. Syeda Rizwana Hasan started the missing chapter in Bangladesh. Hiding her husband, she made a missing game experiment. Fortunately, law enforcement agencies rescued her husband shortly. Later, many others followed her example. Lobbyist firm hired by war criminals publishes list of missing people in Bangladesh. The list was accepted by the UN Human Rights Commission without verification. Afterwards, it was found that some people are confined to Indian jails and some others are at their homes.

Bangladesh is perhaps only country to have missing persons back home. What a surprise! But the incident commits a collateral damage. On the International Human Rights Day last year, the United States issued a sanction on some RAB officials. The list which was published on December 10 last year was a routine work. This sanction was imposed on thousands of individuals and institutions in different countries of the world. The US came up with such travel ban on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before he was elected Prime Minister of India. When he became premier, United States invited him and accorded unprecedented reception. The United States exerts various pressures on various countries for its own interests and foreign policy. It has nothing to do with human rights or democracy.                 

US wants Dhaka to join QUAD. Washington DC does not like Dhaka’s avoidance of QUAD, growing economic relations with China and good relations with Russia. The US also keeps Bangladesh under pressure over Nobel laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus issue.

Reports of Human Rights Watch pave the way for western pressure on Bangladesh. Therefore, the US n banned RAB. When the ban came on Human Rights Day last year, civil society, some media houses burst into joy followed by a sea rumors about the disappearances of people. Various campaigns started on social media. The story of Ayna Ghor (Mirror House) beats even a thriller. Similarly, before Human Rights Day this year, a section is very much active with rumor machine. Like astrologers, some are speculating about imminent sanctions. They are publishing list of the sanctions may be imposed on Bangladesh if BNP does not come to the elections.

As the government disclosed whereabouts of several 'disappeared' people, rumours stopped. But human rights propaganda continues. On December 6, 15 countries including the European Union issued a long statement on the human rights situation in Bangladesh. The countries include the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia which poked nose into free and fair elections in Bangladesh.

I would like to question QUAD countries why they did not condemn killing of Bangabandhu and most of his family members on August 15, 1975? No they did not.

Whether these countries request the then Bangladesh government to cancel infamous Indemnity Ordinance which blocked trial of killers of Bangabandhu? No, they did not. Did they protest the grenade attack on Awami League rally killing 24 leaders and injuring Sheikh Hasina of August 21, 2004? Did they impose any ban on masterminds and perpetrators of the barbaric attack? Why are they so vocal about peaceful assembly, rule of law, good governance, justice and human rights? There are two reasons for their outcries: First, Bangladesh should be subservient to them withdrawing from its independent and self-contained position. Secondly, the new generation rumour mission of the anti-independence groups misled them.

The people who once committed the greatest and most heinous human rights violations in history in 1971 are now the agents of human rights. The successors of Razakars are now the custodians of human rights in Bangladesh. Shining example of the rumour spreading is Drik's Shahidul Alam. The false rumours spread by this Razakar's son in the name of safe road movement defeated Goebbels. The half Razakar and civil society controlled newspapers tried to highlight him a rare figure. Making human rights issues ingredients for the West, a section of ‘civilised and mainstream media outlets’ are now on a mission to break the backbone of the banking sector. They are spreading propaganda about the banking sector of Bangladesh. Reports on banking sector collapse are being published based on false information. I wake up in the morning with a newspaper report that 10 banks are closing. In the afternoon, I come across news that the bank is not able to repay.

One night, my wife shared a newspaper report that all Islamic banks are being closed. These rumours can make you bewildered. But an investigation will show that all banks are functioning well. The depositors of Sonali Bank did not lose their money despite Hall Marks scam. Basic Bank remains intact despite defaulted loans. The depositors of Farmers Bank are still in good condition. Why should a strong financial organisation like bank be defaulted? These all about rumours.

An AP news on injury of the then US President Barack Obama due to explosion in White House can be quoted in this regard.

It was 1: 7pm of April 23, 2013. The AP published the news creating panic and casting a colossal impact on share market. Within three minutes, $136.5 was smoked out. Later, White House spokesperson rejected the news. Unfortunately, Bangladesh is flowing over the sea of rumours.

A section of politicians, civil society members and their sympathizers are engaged in spreading the propaganda which is purported to oust the government.

It is important to thwart the propaganda and disclose the truth. The White House took instant stand against the rumour and issued counter statements. But the government of Bangladesh remains indifferent towards the rumour. It does not take timely steps. When the rumour makes collateral damage, the policymakers are moved. The common people do not believe the statements of many policymakers of the government for different reasons. It is longstanding culture of the people. In such a situation, the country is flooded with the rumours. The government must find a way out to save the country.


The writer is the Executive Director, Poriprekkhit

Translated by M Firoz Al Mamun