By Susmita Abani:
Being an expatriate often feels like dwelling in a parallel reality. The unbridled corruption, widespread poverty and regular struggle for basic standards of living are facts we almost forget until the memories are revived by a visit home. Last month, my mother travelled to Bangladesh for a month-long holiday to see family and friends – while my father and I held our breaths at the news of political violence resurfacing in Dhaka. Upon returning, my mother described to us her constant dread of being attacked during her trip – in contrast to the desensitisation of fear experienced by those who face it day in and day out.
More than 70 deaths bloodied the first month of 2015 in Bangladesh. Hospitals already at capacity are struggling to accommodate for a rising number of injured and burned patients. With hundreds of vehicles ablaze from acts of arson and vandalism, trucks and buses terrorised by arbitrary petrol-bombing and transport blockades decelerating the nation – activists of the opposition party, BNP, have painted their fury across Bangladesh’s political canvas. Their latest uproar commenced on the eve of last year’s controversial election, when the reigning party, Awami League, enjoyed a comfortable victory following an election boycott by the opposition.
Since October 2013, the BNP are protesting for polls held under a neutral caretaker government, a system that ceased under Awami League rule. The nation’s largest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, was banned from the 2014 election, and the execution of their leader for his war crimes in 1971 intensified their resentment. The combined effect of these events paved the way for opposition retaliation on members of Awami League, polling venues including schools, security forces, Hindu minority groups and the general public.
This cycle of violence was further fuelled by an equally disturbing response to the opposition attacks by government security efforts. The Human Rights Watch report, Democracy in the Crossfire, recorded the government’s deployment of combined Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) forces, some of who carried out “extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and the unlawful destruction of private property”. Numerous illegitimate arrests and detention of activists were undertaken for their mere association with Jamaat-e-Islami or BNP, and not for any evident breach of law. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has this time vowed “to take any action whenever and wherever deemed necessary”, emphasising her acquiesce of the brutality committed by government forces.
The USA and EU have pleaded for an end to the atrocities being committed where innocents are being trampled in a mad riot for power, while India remains largely silent on the issue. In a country that shed sweat, blood and tears for its independence, freedom has since been scarce and peace a distant luxury.
Human Rights Watch rightly concluded in its report in 2014 that the Bangladeshi government abandon its exercise of impunity towards crimes within security forces, and to prosecute those responsible, transparently. It called on the three key political players Jamaat-e-Islami, BNP and Awami League to publically condemn all forms of political violence and its orchestrators. It requested for fair investigations of every case by an independent body. Or in other words, it has demanded a fairytale solution for a real world crisis.
Every expatriate yearns for a safe haven they can truly call home. No person enjoys returning to their roots anticipating the worst, cowering through the emotions of reuniting with their loved ones. I want to repeatedly visit the warm embrace of the land that holds so much beauty, a vibrant culture and brave people, and be able to one day tour its wealth with my children. But my beloved country is unfortunately on a downward spiral, becoming less inhabitable with time. One can only wish for that day when our politicians finally transcend its dirty game of thrones at the expense of innocents, and reinstate the free nation of our relinquished dreams.