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International Day of the Disappeared: Agonizing wait for missing ones

  • Published at 01:52 am August 30th, 2019
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Representational photo

Sajedul Islam Sumon has been missing for five years and nine months

Arowa was two years old when her father went missing. Her memories of him have perhaps faded. The only father she has known for these past six years is in the photographs on the walls.

Her father, Sajedul Islam Sumon, has been missing for five years and nine months.

Sumon, general secretary of BNP’s Ward No 25 unit, was reportedly picked up along with five others from Bashundhara Residential Area in Dhaka on December 4, 2013.

Every year since then, on the International Day of the Disappeared, many families of the missing band together to mourn their losses and repeat their pleas for any information under the banner of Mayer Daak, a platform that helps the families come together.

Sumon’s wife Nasima Akter, bitter after years of waiting, does not even demand her husband’s return.

“I have just one question, is my husband alive or not?” she asked.

It has been noted that many of the missing were involved with the political opposition of the ruling party. However, they are not the exclusive victims.

SM Moazzem Hossain Topu, president of Bangladesh Chhatra League’s Rampura unit, also got disappeared on January 26, 2016.

His mother Saleha Begum, while longingly caressing a photograph hanging on the walls with a tired, wrinkled hand, said: “I am growing old. I am sick. I just want to see my son for one last time before I die.”

Her husband Mosharrof Hossain could not bear the shock of the incident. After the disappearance of Topu, their youngest child, he died a year later on May 24, 2017.

The prime minister and home minister have met with Saleha numerous times, but assurances alone have given her nothing to grasp at.

“My son was a victim of internal party conflicts,” she alleged.

From Kalpana to Michael Chakma

Minority groups, like indigenous residents of Chittagong Hill Tract, also suffer disappearances.

Almost 23 years after Kalpana Chakma was last seen on June 12, 1996, Michael Chakma, a leader of the United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF), went missing on his way to Dhaka from Narayanganj on April 9 this year.

Michael was an avid spokesperson for hill people’s rights and a known public figure. His disappearance has stirred great fear among activists in the hill tracts.

The loss of a charismatic speaker can be devastating to a movement, but the loss suffered by the family is immeasurable.

At a public program, his elder sister Subhadra Chakma wailed: “I have a burning desire to know the whereabouts of my brother. Where will I find him? Where do I go?”

Former diplomat Maroof Zaman, academic Dr Mubashar Hasan Cesar, IT specialist Tanvir Hassan Zoha, journalist Utpal Das are a few names among the ones who have returned. And like every returnee, they have refused to discuss the circumstances of their disappearances.

Human rights activist Sultana Kamal alleged that the nature of the missing cases implied state involvement.

“The government claims the missing people are actually in hiding after committing crimes. They are blaming the victims. If they are actually criminals, then the state should find them and bring them to justice.

“If the state is unable to resolve the situation, it has failed. If it is negligent, then it is a crime. The returnees refuse to speak because they are afraid. The state has failed to assure them of security,” said Sultana Kamal.

Human rights activist Nur Khan Liton, also the former executive director of Ain o Salish Kendra, said there is no doubt that law enforcement agencies are associated with such incidents.

He added: “The government is not doing enough to track the missing people or find out what happened to them. The few who return are refusing to speak.

“Their abductors are well-organized, and the victims feel the abductors impunity from the law.”