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Where have they gone?

  • Published at 12:01 am December 12th, 2016
Where have they gone?

There is enforced disappearance and there is self-imposed disappearance. Both of these types of disappeared men have been hitting the headlines from the shadows for quite some time now, although for quite different reasons.

The first category of the disappeared men are in danger, if not dead already, and need to be rescued and handed over to their families. While the second category of disappeared men pose danger, and they need to be dealt with.

Enforced disappearance has been haunting Bangladesh for several years and is one of the most significant human rights issues we are facing today. According to the human rights organisation Ain-o-Salish Kendra at least 82 people were abducted between January and September of this year, up from 55 throughout all of last year.

How so many men have vanished into thin air and why law enforcement agencies could make no breakthroughs in tracing them, are questions that need to be answered.

Last week, when the family members, including little children, of 20 such victims gathered in front of the National Press Club, an emotional scene unfolded. A number of aged mothers came searching for their sons, wives for their husbands, and at least four children pleaded to know where their fathers had gone, people who have been missing for years now.

These families are worried to death. They repeatedly broke into tears while speaking in the press conference demanding whereabouts of their loved ones. They have been desperately seeking for them for years, repeatedly approached police, RAB, and the detective branch of the police, but to no avail.

Nowhere to be found

Most of the families claim that the victims were picked up by the members of law enforcement, either wearing uniform or in plainclothes posing as members of RAB or police.

But it is a charge that all law enforcement agencies tend to deny, despite their frequency -- but, then again, the state denies these allegations as well, so how can we expect otherwise from law enforcement?

Following the press conference held by the families of the missing men, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal brazenly said: “There is no enforced disappearance; they are hiding to embarrass the government.”

Such a comment is insensitive, to say the least.

Even if they have been hiding for all those years, can the state evade responsibility without doing anything at all? All of their families have lodged complaints in the police stations, why doesn’t the police go out and find them at least?

The rise in the case of enforced disappearance has created a climate of fear, and, particularly, family members of the abducted are living in continuous despair.

Whatever the truth is, the state cannot just shrug off the allegations brought forth by so many families. Everybody deserves the right to live without fear of being abducted

False hope

There have also been numerous allegations that some people identifying themselves as agents of RAB or police are extorting ransom from these families, with threat of having the missing person “killed in a crossfire.”

In one such case, the family of a missing man named Yasin Mohammed Abdus Samad handed over Tk50 lakh to a so-called “source” of the law enforcement agency to save him, as a vernacular daily reported. But after taking the money, the source disappeared itself.

If not our law enforcement, as they appear to be, then who are these people who have been whisking away random individuals so easily and collecting ransom from their traumatised families? Are they some stray miscreants or members of organised crime? Why doesn’t the police take any interest in investigating these matters?

The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has been mired in allegations of conducting extra-judicial killings under various euphemisms like “crossfires,” “encounters,” “gunfights,” “exchange of fire,” etc from time to time. But surely the recent wave of allegations surely could not have gone ignored by the infamous paramilitary group.

Whatever the truth is, the state cannot just shrug off the allegations brought forth by so many families. Everybody deserves the right to live without fear of being abducted.

Wake-up call

Self-imposed disappearance is a type of disappearance that has already proven to be a danger to society. The perpetrators of the attack on Holey Artisan Bakery and their cohorts who carried out similar terrorist attacks across the country were all young, educated, and had been missing from home for a long time.

After a brief lull, following the annihilation of a number of leaders of terrorist groups, new reports suggest that more and more youths are leaving their homes every day in the name of joining a global “jihad.”

While the police have been probing in the dark about the six youths who disappeared from Dhaka within a week, new report says that three more have gone missing from Pabna, Rangpur, and Barisal.

We must find them because they are a cause of serious concern as long as they are at large. So, the efficiency level of the law enforcement agencies needs to be enhanced so that they can track them and make them face justice.

Reportedly, most of the missing youths are from well-to-do families. What led these young people to the path of terrorism? What made them give up a decent life and choose a life of hell?

That said, there are many teenagers and youths who set their foot in the trap of militancy after being brainwashed. Efforts should be taken to bring them back. To that end, merely exercising force will not work.

Atiqul Kabir Tuhin is a freelance contributor.