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A day of profound sorrow

  • Published at 12:02 am February 25th, 2019
Some scars do not heal
Some scars do not heal / MAHMOOD HOSSAIN OPU

The Pilkhana tragedy left an indelible stain on our national identity

Ten years ago today, 74 people were murdered in the premises of what was then known as Bangladesh Rifles in Pilkhana. Of those murdered in such a crude demonstration of brutality, there were 57 army officers then serving at BDR.

They were some of the finest of our officers. Not even during the War of Liberation did so many officers die while waging an armed struggle for national freedom.

This morning, a decade after the mutiny which took the lives of the 74 people on this day, we remember. We did not forget, we have not forgotten, and we will not forget the calamity which descended on Bangladesh when the jawans of the BDR, in a conspiracy -- whose roots remain as mysterious today as they did 10 years ago -- pushed the country into what was clearly a bloodbath.

Their act of murderous indiscipline left an entire country reeling, at a time when a new government had only been weeks in office.

The number of families whose lives were destroyed, the many widows left behind, the children suddenly made bereft of their fathers and, in some instances, of their mothers, are images we cannot live down.

The killers did not stop at murdering the officers, among whom was the director general of the force. They attacked his residence, ransacked it, and murdered his wife.

The mystery remains, and indeed has deepened over time.

At the time, the appearance of closed-circuit television footage on what actually happened on February 25, 2009 (one does not have a composite picture, though) made matters a little clearer than they had been up to that point. 

Those images of the jawans looting the armoury and searching for officers to kill in their quarters remain chilling reminders of the gruesome tragedy that was perpetrated on the day.

One sits back, rubs one’s eyes in disbelief, and asks oneself -- a decade after all those good men died at the hands of these murderers, if one had not really been caught up in a bad dream.

No, it was not a dream at all. It was a national nightmare; and its dark spectre promises to be a long and extended one, even a decade after the tragedy came to pass.

It will be our long tale of sadness because these good officers were our own. We knew them, and we related to them. That they would all die in an enactment of a modern-day Greek tragedy is a thought that never came to us.

But they did die and today, it is for us, the living, to make sure that those who did away with their lives do not escape justice.

Too many murderers in this land of unmitigated tragedy have gone free. Let that sordid story come to an end. The killers spared no one, from a major general to a captain. They have been tried and sentenced. And yet the nation grieves, for all the right reasons. Some scars do not heal.

Ours is one of the saddest countries on earth. Time was when the Pakistanis killed us, in all their pitilessness. And now we have learned to kill one another and not feel embarrassed about it at all. We killed in 1975; we killed again in 1981. And we killed in 2004. Collective guilt has been ours.

Our sins have consistently clouded our future. Our criminals have largely gone unpunished.

Our present has always been an avalanche of profound sorrow, of unmitigated heartbreak, of an endless search for answers.

Our past continues to haunt us, in the manner of ghosts arising from restive graves in the night. 

Syed Badrul Ahsan is Editor-in-Charge, The Asian Age.