Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category

Elite Bangladeshi force accused of killings

December 28, 2008

Al Jazeera‘s Tony Birtley reports from Dhaka.

Accusations have been occurring of extrajudicial killings by an elite security force in Bangladesh. Human rights groups inside and outside the country are increasingly questioning the tactics of RAB (Rapid Action Battalion).


Human Rights Watch letter to Bangladesh: Stop Denying Killings and Torture, Address Rights Abuses and Hold Security Forces to Account

October 7, 2008

Human Rights Watch (HRW), New York, October 6, 2008 – The Bangladesh interim government should use its last months in office to seriously address persistent rights abuses rather than deny that they are happening, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the government. Human Rights Watch remains deeply concerned about continuing reports of torture and extrajudicial killings by state security forces and the government’s failure to hold those responsible to account.

On August 8, 2008, the Bangladesh government sent Human Rights Watch a three-page response by the Ministry of Home Affairs to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2008. The ministry denied all allegations that torture has been carried out by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), the country’s most important military intelligence agency, and claimed that the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), its elite law enforcement agency, has not committed extrajudicial executions but only killed armed criminals in self defense and to protect government property.  
“The Bangladesh government is well aware that the security forces have killed and tortured people in custody,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “It is a tragedy for Bangladesh that the government is burying its head in the sand rather than taking action to protect its citizens.”  
Human Rights Watch said it is also critically important for the political parties to begin to think about how to address these issues, with Parliamentary elections scheduled for December 18.  
Since the release of a Human Rights Watch report describing the arbitrary detention and torture of a journalist and human rights worker, Tasneem Khalil, by the DGFI in May 2007, Human Rights Watch has collected detailed and consistent independent accounts from witnesses of the torture of businesspeople, politicians and others at the DGFI offices in the military cantonment in Dhaka, the capital.  
RAB’s involvement in extrajudicial executions, since the agency was established in 2004, has been well documented by Human Rights Watch, other human rights groups and journalists. The Ministry of Home Affairs’ claim that all of the 93 killings by RAB during 2007 that the ministry acknowledges were carried out in self defense or to protect government property is contradicted by the accounts of witnesses, evidence of torture on the victims’ bodies and the fact that many victims were killed after being taken into RAB custody.  
In January 2008, the Home Affairs Adviser, Major General (ret.) MA Matin, acknowledged the problem of deaths in custody and instructed the security forces to ensure that such incidents would stop. While reported cases of RAB killings initially decreased, the numbers have recently increased, and the government has not acted to hold any members of RAB or any other security force criminally responsible.  
“The government’s offhand rejection of documented reports of abuse is not only a slap in the face to those whose lives have been shattered by the actions of the security forces, but it also shows that its talk about restoring the rule of law is little more than empty rhetoric,” said Adams.  
In its response to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of Home Affairs also stated that “the government and its law enforcing agencies and security forces are always respectful to the Court’s verdicts and orders.…” Human Rights Watch’s research has found, to the contrary, that in many instances when the courts ordered that an inmate be released on bail, the release was delayed because prison authorities had not been granted the “required“ DGFI permission.  
Human Rights Watch said that there are also numerous due process violations reported from the special anti-corruption courts, and several lawyers representing high-profile prisoners have been harassed by DGFI. Human Rights Watch has also interviewed businesspeople who say that members of the armed forces extorted substantial sums of money from them, threatening them with arrest or imprisonment.  
“The government and DGFI have engaged in rampant interference in judicial processes,” said Adams. “Even in anti-corruption cases, extortion has been common and violations of due process appear to have been the norm.”  
Regarding the media, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that they are “free and working without hindrance,” but Human Rights Watch said that assessment is not shared by many in the media. On several occasions, newspaper editors and senior journalists have publicly expressed concern about the interference of the security forces in their work. Journalists have also spoken about a climate of fear and self censorship, particularly if they consider taking on the powerful military and its agencies.  
“Bangladesh needs a government that acknowledges that serious human rights problems exist and is ready to act to address them,” said Adams. “As elections loom, it is important for the major political parties, which had poor human rights records when in office, to show that they are prepared to take on this challenge by developing and presenting their own human rights action plans.”

End Wave of Killings by Elite Forces: Donors Should Not Fund Rapid Action Battalion

August 12, 2008

Human Rights Watch, New York, August 11, 2008

The military-backed interim government should take prompt action to end a wave of unlawful killings by Bangladesh’s elite crime-fighting force, Human Rights Watch said today. Since June 1, 2008, officials from the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the police have killed at least 50 individuals under suspect circumstances.

“Despite overwhelming evidence of RAB and police responsibility for unlawful killings, the interim Bangladeshi government seems unwilling to address the problem,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, Bangladesh’s security forces continue to get away with murder.”  
After strong national and international criticism of the Rapid Action Battalion for its poor human rights record, RAB killings decreased in 2007 and early 2008. However, this trend has been abruptly broken in recent months and the number of killings has surged, Human Rights Watch said.  
For example, around 7 p.m. on July 15, RAB officers in Dhaka arrested Moshiul Alam Sentu, an activist in the student wing of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. When Sentu’s mother contacted a RAB officer shortly afterwards, he assured her that her son would not be mistreated. Around 4 a.m. the following day, eyewitnesses observed RAB officers dumping Sentu’s body in a paddy field in Barisal city, south of Dhaka. The body had two bullet wounds in the chest and another in the leg. Sentu’s neck was severely bruised and possibly broken, as was his left hand, indicating possible torture. The RAB later stated that it took Sentu to Barisal to recover a cache of hidden arms and that he was killed in crossfire as the RAB team was attacked by his associates.  
“The officials responsible for killing Moshiul Alam Sentu and others should be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law,” said Adams. “Unless those officers involved are held to account, regardless of rank, the RAB will continue to torture and murder.”  
Established in 2004, the RAB immediately became known for its involvement in what the authorities often refer to as “crossfire killings.” Over the past four years, RAB members have killed more than 540 people. Research by Human Rights Watch and others has shown that many of these “crossfire killings” are in fact poorly disguised extrajudicial executions, often preceded by torture.  
Tragically, the Bangladeshi police have copied the actions of the RAB, killing several hundred people over the past few years. Since a state of emergency was declared on January 11, 2007, the RAB and the police have often operated together.  
On July 26, the mother of Dr. Mizanur Rahman Tutul, the head of the outlawed Purbo Banglar Communist Party (Red Flag faction), informed the media that RAB officers had arrested her son in Dhaka. She urged the government to save her son from “crossfire.” According to the police, Tutul was killed in a shootout between his criminal group and the police on July 27, the day after his mother talked to the press.  
The interim government, in power for 19 months, has stated its commitment to establishing a “healthy and stable democratic system” based on the rule of law, but Human Rights Watch said its failure to address impunity is undermining its own reform efforts.  
“The rule of law can’t become a reality in Bangladesh unless the very forces tasked with upholding the law are also bound by it,” Adams said.  
While the RAB’s human rights record has been so poor that the United States and United Kingdom had refused to work with them officially as partners in counterterror operations, some international agencies and foreign governments have recently initiated or are now considering cooperation with the force. According to reports in Bangladesh’s Daily Star and New Age newspapers, a delegation of US officials from the departments of state, defense and justice visited Bangladesh in mid-July and met with the RAB to explore possibilities for future cooperation. Among other things, the RAB reportedly proposed that the US provide them with equipment and counterterrorism training.  
Human Rights Watch urged governments not to work with or provide support to the RAB until it ends its pattern and practice of human rights abuses and holds responsible officials accountable. For a foreign government to provide assistance to the RAB at this point in time would be to condone the RAB’s record of human rights abuses and would raise serious questions about the donor’s commitment to improving human rights in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch said.  
As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and several other human rights treaties, Bangladesh is obliged to thoroughly and promptly investigate serious violations of human rights, prosecute the perpetrators, and in accordance with international fair trial standards punish them if their guilt is established. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, no RAB officers have ever been held criminally responsible for taking the life of another person or for torture.

Read the December 2006 Human Rights Watch report, “Judge, Jury and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by Bangladesh’s Elite Security Force,” 

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Bangladesh

For more information, please contact:

In London, Brad Adams: +44-20-7713-2767; or +44-790-872-8333 (mobile)

In New York, Elaine Pearson: +1-212-216-1213

In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson: +1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)

Contextualising the popularity of ‘crossfire’

August 4, 2008


NewAge, August 4, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

In reality, the Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh left the people of Baghmara in a double-bind: they wanted relief from the Sarbahara reign of terror, but eventually found that they had unwittingly sanctioned the creation of another monster whose tactics were the same, though convened under a different banner, writes Mahtab Haider

SHOULD it matter that Mizanur Rahman Tutul was a doctor? Can a man be arrested and killed by the state without a trial? Is it possible to ignore that his alleged killers are the recipients of the highest state honour in Bangladesh, Swadhinata Padak, which they received in March 2006 despite allegedly killing more than 200 people? And now that the number of such killings has crossed the 500 mark, is it time to give them another Swadhinata Padak? Do we wish away that the common torture methods used by these ‘law enforcers’ includes boring holes into victim’s bodies with electric drills or applying electric shocks? Is it easy to ignore the fact that the man who once headed this ‘judge, jury and executioner’ agency is now an adviser to the military-controlled interim government? And can a state agency murder more than 400 citizens, even if they are accused of crimes, and still avoid accountability or punishment?

These are some of the questions that we as a society need to ask ourselves in the wake of the custodial death of Dr Mizanur Rahman Tutul on the night of July 26, within hours of a press conference in which Tutul’s mother told reporters that the Rapid Action Battalion had arrested her son, begging the government to ensure that he was not killed in a ‘crossfire’. Sensitive to the mother’s plea, the government’s handout explaining Tutul’s death the next day avoided the word’s ‘RAB’ and ‘crossfire’, claiming that he had died in police custody, in a ‘shootout incident’. Tutul’s mother had predicted her son’s death, but her semantics were off the mark.

Perhaps former law minister Moudud Ahmed, who was instrumental in setting up RAB, could have instructed her on how she should word such allegations. During his stint as law minister, Moudud told reporters in 2006: ‘Although technically you may call it extrajudicial—I will not say killing—but extrajudicial deaths. But these are not killings. According to RAB, they say all those who have been killed so far have been killed or dead on encounter or whatever crossfire, whatever you call it—people are happy.’

Since its creation in March 2004, the Rapid Action Battalion’s notorious ‘crossfire’ — the word commonly used to explain custodial killings — has come to be one of the most feared aspects of public life in Bangladesh, intimidating criminals and ordinary citizens alike. RAB was created by the alliance government led by Khaleda Zia’s BNP, and while the initially announced goal of the agency which seconded personnel from the police, army and navy, was to crack down on organised crime, the trend borne out by the agency’s work over the past four years is disturbing, to say the least.

The rule of law demands that the justice delivery system examine charges or accusations brought against individuals before punishment is awarded by courts of law, as per guidelines set by the parliament. Inherent in this system of trial and punishment are innumerable checks and balances which should prevent abuses of power. What RAB’s record of extrajudicial killings — carried out in the name of crime fighting — has done is make a mockery of the justice delivery system, and essentially provide a state equivalent of vigilantism. There can be little objection to an elite crime fighting force that is equipped with the latest technology in surveillance, tasked to combat types of crime which the traditional state police force have failed to. But if this agency is conceived as an alternative to a police force that is beyond reform, and if it kills detainees because the justice delivery system is failing to deliver justice, the entire internal security superstructure of the state is in risk of collapse. In effect, the state is admitting its failure to protect its citizens by and large, and further destroying public confidence in the rule of law by advocating extrajudicial or vigilante killings as a solution.
 No example illustrates this point better than that of the ‘Bangla Bhai phenomenon’.

It was in April 2004 that the notorious Bangla Bhai and his Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh started their reign of terror in the Baghmara upazila of Rajshahi. In the span of the few months before the JMB had to go underground because of media coverage and public pressure, Bangla Bhai and his militia had executed scores of men publicly, often beating them to death with blunt instruments while making all the residents of a village — sometimes also the victim’s family — watch the spectacle. It has since emerged that the JMB and its sister organisation Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh were largely a creation of the BNP-led alliance government which allegedly provided this militia with the protection it needed from the police and other law enforcers while it carried out its cleansing operations. And who were they cleansing? As has become abundantly clear, Bangla Bhai and his militia were tasked with killing members of the radical left-group Purba Banglar Communist Party, better known across the country as the ‘Sarbahara’.
   Having clearly abandoned the final vestiges of any kind of ideology — left or right — sections of the PBCP have terrorised residents of the country’s eastern belt for much of the past decade, carrying out public executions, gruesome murders and kidnappings for ransom, mostly for financial gain. In areas where the Sarbahara have grown increasingly stronger, the state has often had to beat a retreat, its police force and local administration fearing the leftist ultras as much as the residents do. This terrorisation of public life still continues in many parts of the country, and the local administration and the police often find that they have no choice but to be complicit in their crimes, if they want to live.

The BNP-led alliance evidently bred and nurtured the JMB and Bangla Bhai as a sort of party-sanctioned private militia nourished on an Islamist ideology radical enough that it could counter the Sarbahara on their own terrain using their tactics. Initially, the people of Baghmara, at least, were ecstatic with the JMB’s Sarbahara cleansing campaign. After years, the Sarbahara could no longer kill and maim at will. Far from it, Sarbahara operatives were being picked up in the dead of night by Bangla Bhai and his men, and when they were found the day after, their bodies had been dismembered or their throats slit after relentless beatings. These detainees were often transported in police jeeps to Bangla Bhai’s torture camps, and the district police top brass were often present at public executions. Make no mistake, the local people of Baghmara were initially happy with the JMB and the work they were doing.

As one old man said to me when I visited Baghmara in the wake of the JMB killings, ‘Bangla’s cruelty may have made many forget how cruel the Sarbahara were, killing, raping, setting houses on fire…I won’t forget.’ But in reality, it also left the people of Baghmara in a double-bind: they wanted relief from the Sarbahara reign of terror and eventually found that they had unwittingly sanctioned the creation of another monster whose tactics were the same, though convened under a different banner. Within months, with the Sarbahara beaten back in Baghmara, Bangla Bhai and his militia were also settling private or political disputes for profit and influence. Awami League activists were picked up and tortured. Those locals who failed to pay toll to the JMB were tortured. If a man failed to show up for prayers, or failed to grow an ‘Islamic beard’, his enemies could report him for being a left-radical, and he would be picked up and tortured. This came as a disillusionment for the residents of Baghmara.
   One of the biggest reasons why the JMB’s political masters — the BNP and its allies — had to pull their cover was the spate of media reports that revealed the pogrom they were carrying out, and the extent to which the local administration had aided them. Eventually, the alliance government made a media spectacle of the arrest of Bangla Bhai and Shaikh Abdur Rahman, the chief ideologue, before their trial and execution in 2006.

With a handful of prominent PBCP leaders and numerous more Sarbahara operatives killed in such ‘encounters’ in the four years since the creation of RAB, the battalion is evidently the JMB’s state-sanctioned doppelganger. It is not an insignificant line that separates them. RAB was created legally, with parliamentary approval; the JMB was a private militia. But that makes the battalion’s human rights record all the more terrifying, because the country’s constitution binds every citizen, every government agency, with some fundamental codes of conduct that must stay inviolable. Allowing one security agency to run roughshod on constitutional guarantees cannot make our streets and lives safer; it will eventually have the opposite effect by undermining the rule of law and consequently democracy. Contrasting the JMB killings against those of the RAB contextualises why we cannot allow the latter to carry on its ‘crossfire’.

There is no denying that RAB and ‘crossfire’ both command a great deal of popular support in the country. There are often stories of neighbourhood celebrations after the local ‘mastaan’ falls victim to a RAB arrest and subsequent crossfire. But as with the JMB, these celebrations will likely be short-lived, because as time goes by, governments will almost certainly use this same agency to liquidate political opponents, dissenters, and free thinkers.

In April 2006, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, adviser to then prime minister Khaleda Zia on parliamentary affairs, mockingly warned opposition members to follow the ‘right path’ (siratul mustakim) because they are on RAB’s ‘crossfire’ list. This ‘joke’ might have been funny if it weren’t true for street-level activists of the League. And if the League were to come to power, there is no reason to suspect that they would behave differently. ‘Many people think if the Awami League comes to power again, it will abolish RAB,’ Sheikh Hasina said in March 2006. ‘But we will not do so. Rather, RAB will be given a special assignment to capture corrupt people.’ A report filed by the wire agency AFP in 2005 quotes former foreign minister and BNP top brass Morshed Khan defending the RAB ‘crossfire’ phenomenon with the words, ‘I don’t know of any country in the world where some criminals have not been killed in crossfires’.

When Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed’s military-controlled interim government came to power in 2007, he promised a government that practised accountability, transparency, and decency. Since then a total of 200 persons were killed in various incidents such as crossfire, shootout or gunfight by RAB, the national police and other law enforcement agencies, according to the human rights coalition Odhikar. Against the backdrop of the human rights record displayed by our governments, past and present, the question that we, as citizens, need to ask ourselves is: While it may be in the interests of our repressive governments to kill detainees without charges or trial, is it really in ours to allow it to go on?



Bangladesh patronises torture instead of criminalising it

June 27, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on the Occasion of the International Day against Torture.

(June 26 is observed every year as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.)

The UN declared 26 June as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in 1997 in order to increase support for victims of torture in countries across the globe.  Many states, thereafter, have come forward to amend their domestic legislations in compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment or Treatment (CAT). But the behavioural patterns of some of these states do not show remarkable change.

The frequency of torture has tended to be a tool of political and governmental repression and an inseparable part of the law-enforcement agencies in Bangladesh. It has been “by default” in the custodial procedures posing it an acceptable method. It is rooted so deeply within the systems – comprising the police, border security force, armed forces, other paramilitary forces and the intelligence agencies – that they cannot go beyond this.

The policy makers, politicians, legislators and civil servants of the country recognise torture not only as a useful tool but also patronise it in their diversified capacities. Since the country’s genesis in 1971 the old-fashioned arbitrary laws made by the colonial rulers have remained in effect on the one hand, and new laws have been enacted by the regimes over the past four decades, on the other. The arbitrary legislations have only prepared the grounds for the perpetrators to walk free from the charges of torture against them. The laws have provided impunity to alleged perpetrators and the policy makers have played the role of facilitators. Even though the victims go forward through these environmental hurdles involving malpractices, they are further obstructed by the existing legislations totally unfavourable for them.

There is a specific provision in the Constitution of Bangladesh prohibiting torture and degrading treatment and punishment. Unfortunately, some laws in effect only allow remedy to the victims as a normal “victim of abuses” rather than a “victim of torture”.  The persecutory mindsets of the police and other law-enforcing agents who are responsible for investigating the cases of torture and the lack of commitment in professionals like lawyers, prosecutors and judges constrict the roads toward justice.

The military-controlled government of Bangladesh has been arresting and detaining hundreds of people since the state of emergency was imposed and all the arrested persons across the country either have been tortured or ill-treated by the law-enforcers.

This culture leaves thousands of victims with permanent and temporary disability and in some cases dead but there is no specific legislation criminalising torture as a punishable crime. The victims have no shelter to get redress or reparation or compensation for the damages. Specific legislation ensuring right to compensation and aimed at punishment for the alleged perpetrators appear to be an urgent need for Bangladesh.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the civil society and human rights groups of Bangladesh to create regular discourses all around the country for criminalization of torture in compliance with the CAT of which Bangladesh is a party. Continuous discussion on the issue can only pressurize the government to frame necessary legislations. The AHRC urges the international community including the UN Human Rights Council to hold Bangladesh accountable.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Non-compliance with HC order on torture unacceptable

June 27, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, June 27, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

WE FIND it extremely unfortunate that five years after the High Court Division issued an order on the government to amend section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in order to stop torture, especially torture of people taken into state custody, nothing has been done to give effect to that order. Instead, despite the fact that Bangladesh is a signatory to all major international instruments against the use of torture and thereby is pledge-bound to end torture, we have witnessed an alarming rise in the reported incidences of torture by government agencies during this repressive state of emergency that has suspended the fundamental and democratic rights of the people. Moreover, with the adoption of the Emergency Powers Rules that have done away with many of the checks and balances there were in the first place, it is not surprising that the law enforcers and military personnel perceivably feel increasingly emboldened to carry out torture on the people.

In our view, torture, in all its forms and under every imaginable circumstance, is unacceptable. It is primitive, it is barbaric, it is cruel and it is inhuman. There can be nothing more deplorable, therefore, than the use of torture by the state, which is essentially tasked to protect the rights of its citizens. Yet, unfortunately, torture has continually been used by our law enforcement agencies and the military, sometimes to extract information from detainees, sometimes to arbitrarily and extra-judicially punish alleged criminals and at other times as acts of personal or institutional vengeance against their enemies, whether real or perceived. So widespread has torture become in recent times that, on average, two people die at the hands of law enforcers every month. How many more are beaten and maimed can only be speculated upon. This is unacceptable, especially for a society that aspires towards a genuinely democratic system that is based on the rule of law. When a state tortures its citizens, it not only violates the basic, inalienable rights of its people but makes a mockery of the rule of law.

If the current military-controlled regime were serious about establishing the rule of law and strengthening the roots of our democracy, it would have stopped, we believe, the use of extrajudicial tactics such as harassment and torture long ago. That we have witnessed a rise in torture carried out by the state indicates that this regime does not have a democratic orientation at all, much less the willingness or ability to deliver a truly democratic polity. As another International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture has come and gone, we still await, at the very least, amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure as per the directives of the High Court to stop this sinister practice.

A tortured image

June 26, 2008

By Rahnuma Ahmed*, NewAge, June 26, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Social classes are described as relationships that endure. Likewise, torture in Bangladesh. It endures changes in government, in systems of ruling, in the legitimacy provided for ruling. Dismantling it won’t be easy. Those committed to doing so insist that the torturers be identified, and punished. Likewise, that those who are higher-up, those who order it, not be given any impunity, writes Rahnuma Ahmed 

I AM against torture. Nothing justifies torture. This is a principled stand, there are no ifs and buts.
 But why is it that when I see a recent picture of Tarique Rahman, son of ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia, his face screwed up in sheer agony, I feel no empathy, no compassion? Why do I not allow myself to dwell on his pain? Why do I shut it out, turn to another news item, or turn the pages of the newspaper?

Why does a picture of this torture victim leave me cold?

His medical report [18.06.2008] records, among other illnesses, two fractured discs, D6 and D7. During a remand hearing on January 9 this year, Tarique claimed that he had been physically and mentally tortured. He was unable to stand in the dock, and had to be given a chair. Last week [15.06.08], his lawyer Rafiqul Islam Miah told an anti-graft court hearing that his client was in severe pain, that he could not stand or be seated for more than three minutes. The court was also informed that while in remand, Tarique had been tortured ‘in the most inhumane way’, he was ‘physically impaired’, and might be crippled for life if he did not receive immediate treatment, preferably abroad.

Several days later, a news item catches my eye, Tarique’s spinal problem is an old one, say intelligence agents [Shamokal, 24.06.08]. They claim it dates back to 2005. The very next day, members of his medical board express their disquiet [Shamokal, 25.06.08]. Dr Idris Ali, associate professor of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, BSMMU says X-ray, CT scan and MRI examinations have revealed disc fractures. The injury, he says, could have been caused either by falling down, or by a blunt instrument. A faculty member of the same department tells Shamokal, the 2005 report is not inaccurate. But the complaint, he says, was an easily curable one. Six weeks of rest; unlike his present complaint. Another medical board member, unwilling to disclose his name, says, to imply that Tarique’s spinal problem is a recurrence of the old one, indicates ‘a lack of respect’ toward the board’s expert opinion.

Around me I hear people muttering, ‘Why only two, they could have broken several more, for all I care.’ ‘I don’t feel sorry for him.’ ‘He deserves what he got.’ A CNG driver tells me, `Yes, this government is making a mess of things, but I can’t get over the pleasure of seeing him detained.’

Tarique was generally not liked. Not at all. Scores of grievances flew all around. He was a novice to politics but was nominated the BNP senior joint secretary general in one go. Not a minister himself, he was reputed to be the most powerful man in Bangladesh [from 2001-2006], to have run a parallel government from Hawa Bhaban. Cabinet members flocked there, they waited on him, attempting to curry favour with the man nicknamed the Crown Prince. His bunch of cronies milked many others dry. CNG auto rickshaw drivers of Dhaka city hated his guts. Many accused him of sucking their blood dry. The costs of new CNGs were set at 3,50,000 takas, instead of its actual price of 75,000 takas. This had led to CNG owners upping the daily rent from CNG drivers many times over, in order to recover their purchase costs. He was also reputed to be ruthless. I was talking things over with a close friend who insisted, ‘… and Tarique can’t get away by saying that much of it was fabricated by his political enemies. The fact that he did not try to undo people’s perceptions of him is itself very serious, after all, we are talking of institutional politics.’

I am against torture. I have always been against torture, and yet I have no sympathy for Tarique Rahman who, in all likelihood, is now a victim of torture.

This ambivalence in me is new. I see it reflected in others. People I know well, and also others who are new to me, who I come across in street corners, stores, tea-stalls – no, I don’t see anyone shedding tears over fractured discs. I do hear distress expressed over a passenger who was recently run over in Dhaka city, in an altercation over one taka with the bus driver and conductor. I hear sorrow expressed over other incidents that people read about in the papers but Tarique’s ill health? No. Is it part of the ill-famed minus-two plan? Who knows? I remember reading somewhere that ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia has agreed to leave, but stiff bargaining is taking place over who should leave first. It seems that the government wants her to leave first. Only then will her sons be allowed to go abroad for treatment. Political speculation is rife. It is difficult to separate fact from fiction. What concerns me more is our mixed feelings over torture.

Was this foreseen, that the torture of an intensely disliked political figure, one who was perceived by many to be the chief cause of the downward swing in the BNP’s popularity, would turn out to be a torture overlooked? Did this calculation feed into the decision to torture? If so, are not both parties equally sinful? How can chipping away at principles, that torture is inhumane, that it is evil per se, help to build a democratic society?

Is torture incidental? 

Or is it systemic to the state in Bangladesh? Investigative studies carried out by both national and international human rights organisations, accounts delivered by scholars, activists and victims of torture, testify to the fact that torture and ill-treatment ‘particularly during the initial period of interrogation in police custody’ is all pervasive, that it is endemic in Bangladesh. This is equally true for all manners of regimes (civil, military) that have governed the land since independence. This is equally true for both single party, and alliance governments, that have ruled Bangladesh since the overthrow of the Ershad regime. Studies and accounts testify to the fact that the meting out of torture has, thus far, been inherent to the relations of ruling in Bangladesh. A more recent study (M Rafiqul and S M Solaiman, 2004) has argued that custodial tortures leading to deaths and irreparable bodily injuries increased alarmingly in the period after the October 2001 elections.

To turn to the issue of remand, according to the law, the venue of custody during remand can be no place other than the police station. But, as most Bangladeshis know, remand victims are often enough taken to the cantonment, or to unknown locations. Often, they are interrogated by police-army joint cells, notorious for their brutality and savagery. Incumbent governments exploit the police by getting them to arrest political dissidents. The police itself, on the other hand, exploit ordinary citizens, who are often enough randomly picked up, falsely implicated in cases, and then offered the choice of either paying up, or being put in remand.

Victims of torture speak of various methods that are applied: being given urine to drink when thirsty; being kept sleepless for days; being drowned in high-pressured water while hands are tied-up and faces covered; being hung upside down and beaten on the soles of the feet with batons and metal bars; of nails being hammered into fingers; hot water-filled bottles being pushed through the rectum; being beaten in a manner which damages the muscles but leaves no outward indication; pouring acid; drilling into the body with a drill machine.

A recently-published account of torture under remand is provided by Bidisha, ex-wife of ex-president HM Ershad [Shotrur Shonge Boshobash, May 2008]. Her detailed account is chilling because of the brutality that it describes, a brutality that is deeply gendered, and sexualised (curiously enough, this was toward the end of Khaleda Zia’s regime). Midway through her account of torture, she wonders, the men who tortured me must have gone home to their wives and children. They must have caressed them as people do caress their loved ones. Could his wife tell, could their children tell what deeds these very hands had performed? I do not know whether the families of torturers here have to bear the brunt of what they do. Testimony from other places indicate that they do. Frantz Fanon, Algerian psychiatrist and theorist, in The Wretched of the Earth, wrote of a French police inspector who tortured not only colonised Algerians, but also his wife and children. ‘The patient dislikes noise. At home he wants to hit everybody all the time. In fact, he does hit his children, even the baby of twenty months, with unaccustomed savagery. But what really frightened him was one evening when his wife had criticised him particularly for hitting his children too much… He threw himself upon her, beat her and tied her to a chair, saying to himself “I’ll teach her once and for all that I’m master in this house.”’
   Torture is pervasive.

Dismantling the house of torture

Social classes are described as relationships that endure. Likewise, torture in Bangladesh. It endures changes in government, in systems of ruling, in the legitimacy provided for ruling. Dismantling it won’t be easy. Those committed to doing so insist that the torturers be identified, and punished. Likewise, that those who are higher-up, those who order it, not be given any impunity.

And what about Tarique Rahman? Can we ever forgive him? Will his experience as a victim bring a sea-change in him? If and when he returns to a normal life, will he be remorseful? Will he turn into a defender of human rights? That remains to be seen.

*Rahnuma Ahmed is an Anthropologist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Contact:

Beyond the rule of law

June 26, 2008

NewAge, June 26, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Torture has been used by military governments of the past just as it was used by democratically elected ones, the last of which institutionalised extra-judicial killings as a law and order tool. During this prolonged tenure of the current military-controlled interim government, which has time and again promised to establish the rule of law, we have noticed a rise in the reported incidences of torture, especially of those taken into state custody. Moreover, whereas torture had largely remained an evil practiced by one or two of our security agencies during previous regimes, its incidence seems to have infected a wider spectrum of law enforcers since the emergency was imposed. On the occasion of the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, we present a handful of case studies on instances of torture compiled by the Dhaka-based human rights coalition, Odhikar, which corroborates this alarming trend.

Death of Choles Richil 
in army custody 

On March 18, 2007, four persons, including adivasi leader Choles Richil, were taken out of the microbus they were travelling in by a team of five army members, led by Major Toufiq Elahi, at Kalibari in Muktagacha at about 1:30pm. It was noted that, of the five army men, two were in civil dress. They were brought to the Modhupur Kakraidh BADC temporary army camp. At about 8:00pm a critically injured Choles Richil was brought to the Madhupur thana health complex, where he later died.

Tuhin Hadima, 22, son of Hitendro Atiwarar, an eyewitness and one of the arrested persons, told Odhikar that he was returning home from his wedding along with Choles Richil, Piren Simsung, Protap Jambila and his new bride, Silmi Nokre, in a microbus. On the way, two men blocked their path and the driver, Shukumar Chondro, stopped the car. Three army personnel came out of a microbus parked beside the road and requested them to open the door of their microbus. When they opened the door, one of them asked Choles Richil whether he was Choles Richil. No sooner had Choles replied in the affirmative, they pulled him out and dragged him into their microbus with the four others and drove off. The bride was left behind.

They blindfolded Choles Richil with two handkerchiefs that they took from the others and then the army men told the remaining three to take off their shirts. They did as they were told and were blindfolded with them. The arrested men were searched for arms, but nothing was found on them. Once at the Kakraidh Army Camp, the army men started beating them while they were still blindfolded. After a while, they took Choles and Protap to another room. Tuhin Hadima told Odhikar that he heard the sounds of beating, as the room was partitioned with just a particleboard, (he saw it when his blindfolds were removed). He could hear the conversation between the army personnel and Choles Richil. Choles was asked whether he possessed any illegal firearms or not. He replied that he had licensed firearms but deposited it when he was earlier ordered to do so. While beating him, the army personnel told him to admit that he had illegal arms, otherwise he would be killed.

After a while, the army personnel came to Tuhin’s room, untied their eyes, and asked Tuhin about their relationship with Choles Richil. He said that Choles was his maternal uncle. He was asked whether he knew where his uncle kept his firearms. Tuhin told Odhikar that when he said he knew nothing about any firearms kept by his maternal uncle they beat him severely and went back to the room where Choles and Protap were kept. The army dragged Protap into their room and tied him to a chair. He was beaten inhumanly while two other army personnel held his arms.

Then, they went to the room where Choles Richil was kept and beat him again. One of the army personnel told others to bring pliers, red chilli powder and a blade. Choles was crying and saying he could not bear it any more. The army personnel beat him until about 6:00pm. Some time later, the army told Tuhin and Piran to leave the camp and also told them to see Choles Richil for the last time. They were told they would collect Choles’ dead body later. Tuhin and Piren went to the room where Choles Richil was kept. They found him lying face down on the floor, his body covered in bruises. Tuhin called: ‘Uncle, uncle’. Choles Richil did not reply but looked at them. They left the camp and found their relatives waiting outside. With the help of their relatives, they went to the Jolchatro Church and after that returned home.

Piren Simsung, 38, son of Joidor Chiran and another of the arrested men, told Odhikar that when they reached Kalibari Bazar on the way to the army camp, an army man told Choles to get out and run. One of the officers commented that it would be easier if Choles were killed in crossfire. Another one said, ‘I returned just for you. I cannot send you back alive. I will send your dead body back.’

Choles’s first wife, Sondha Simsung, 30, told Odhikar that she was informed of her husband’s death through a cell phone call and came to Beribaid on the following day. She added that at about 12:00pm on March 19, 2007, the officer-in-charge of the Modhupur Police Station, along with other police officers and constables, came to the Jolsotro Church with her husband’s dead body. On the following day, March 20, Choles was buried. She said she had noticed bruises all over the body. Some of his toes and fingernails were also missing. His arms had been cut and scratched in places with a sharp weapon.

The post mortem of the body was carried out at the Tangail Sadar Hospital. The doam (the person who assists in the dissection of bodies in morgue/morgue attendant) of the hospital, Nirmal, told Odhikar fact-finders that he saw injuries on various parts of Choles’s body. However, he added that he was not authorised to give out details of the injuries.

Adivasi leader Ajoy Mree told Odhikar that on March 18, 2007 that they were in a meeting at the office of the upazila nirbahi officer where the officer-in-charge of the Modhupur police station and other influential people were present. At about 4:00pm Major Toufiq Elahi joined the meeting. The UNO asked him, ‘How are you?’ He replied in the positive. Then the UNO commented, ‘You are fine, as your mission was successful.’ Ajoy Mree understood later that the term ‘mission’ meant the Choles’ arrest.

While talking to Odhikar, Dr AM Parvej Rahim, the upazila nirbahi officer of Madhupur, said Choles’ death was completely illegal. He said that the ACF of the Forest Department, Jahurul Huq, was a senior friend of Major Taufiq Elahi, when they were both students of Jhenaidah Cadet College. The UNO commented that Major Toufiq arrested Choles only to intimidate him, at the request of Jahurul Huq and that he had no intention to kill him. He commented that the torture might have been a bit severe and that, coupled with hypertension, caused Choles’s death. The UNO said that Major Taufiq informed him about Choles’s arrest at around 8:00pm and contacted him again to say that Choles had fallen ill during interrogation, expressing his grave concern over his condition. He added that Major Toufiq Elahi had been transferred from the Kakraidh camp on the night of March 20.

On March 27, Odhikar was able to contact Major Toufiq Elahi via cell phone. He stated that Choles Richil was a notorious miscreant. In answer to a question, he informed Odhikar that the police had been trying to arrest him for the last several years but had failed and that he was finally arrested on March 18, 2007. Major Toufiq said that on that day, he had a meeting with the UNO and other influential people of the locality regarding the Modhupur Forest. He received a cell phone message that Choles Richil was in the Kalibari Bazar area. At about 6:00pm, following his directions, 14 army personnel and two policemen conducted the operation to arrest him. Seeing the presence of the law enforcement agencies, Choles tried to flee but fell on the ground and was arrested. He said he heard the news and went to the Kakraid Army Camp and found Choles in a critical condition. He was admitted to the Modhupur Thana Health Complex but he died after a while.

Major Toufiq Elahi was informed by Odhikar about the statement of the upazila nirbahi officer. Major Toufiq Elahi expressed his suspicions about the statement and wanted to know whether the UNO gave the statement directly to Odhikar or whether Odhikar had colleted it from another source. He added that if the UNO gave the statement to the organisation directly, he would pay dearly for it. Regarding the four arrestees, he said they arrested only two people. He denied the arrest of Tuhin and Piren. He also said Choles had not been tortured. When Odhikar asked him how the dead body and the others who had been arrested received marks and bruises, he said nothing and hung up.

Municipality commissioner tortured to death in navy custody 

On February 20, 2007, a team of 11 navy personnel, led by Lieutenant Commander SM Reza of Char Fashion Naval Contingent, arrested Khabirul Islam Dulal, 32, ward commissioner of Char Fashion municipality, while he was working at his office. Out of the 11 Navy personnel, 9 were wearing lungi and gamchha. He was then taken to his house where he was beaten. After that they threw him in a nearby pond with his hands tightly bound with rope.

Rina Khanom, a female ward commissioner of ward number 6 of the same municipality, told Odhikar that when Dulal was arrested, all of them were in the office. After his arrest, they told him to hand over the firearms allegedly in his possession. When he denied possessing any, the navy men beat him severely and covered his eyes with a cloth and tied his hands. They dragged him by the rope to his house in search of the arms they claimed he possessed.

Dulal’s wife Jesmin Akther Khuku, 28, told Odhikar that the navy officers threw her husband on the ground and kicked him with their boots. After that, they beat her and put their guns to the heads of their two children, Jibon, 3, and Jitu, 5, threatening to kill them if the arms were not produced. The children struggled to go to their parents, but the navy men slapped them. The officers also damaged the rooms of their house but recovered nothing.

Dulal’s neighbour Sultana Razia Baby, 28, told Odhikar that the navy personnel told her to give them red chilli powder, rice husks and salt. She was compelled to provide them and they forcefully fed the mixture to Dulal. By that time Dulal, who was still blindfolded, wanted a drink of water. The officers pushed him into a nearby pond. As Dulal was blindfolded and his hands tied with rope, he started drowning. They rescued Dulal from the pond and brought him to their contingent. They stripped him and beat him severely. He was also thrown into another pond.

Doctor Ekramul Kabir of the Char Fashion upazila health complex told Odhikar that Dulal died long before being admitted to the hospital. Observing the state of the body, he requested Doctor Shahidul Alam, Doctor Shah Alam Sharif, Doctor Mahfuzur Rahman and Doctor Siddiqur Rahman to come to the hospital. Afterwards they sent a report to the Char Fashion police station regarding this. Ekramul Kabir also told Odhikar before a number of people of the locality that there was lot of water inside the dead body and the marks of ropes were clearly demarcated around the wrists. He also noticed that pieces of skin were falling off the body due to severe bruising and that the testicles were also bruised. Dulal’s throat was distended, and some of his toe and finger nails were missing too.

The Odhikar fact-finding officer visited the Navy contingent to talk with Lieutenant SM Reza. Reza tried to shake him off and ultimately threatened to have him arrested as a member of the banned Islamist organisation Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh. He claimed that he did not have Dulal arrested to kill him and that if that was their intention, they would have done so in ‘crossfire’. He commented that Dulal was not meant to live a long life and met his fate by drowning.

On July 24, 2007, Dulal’s wife Jesmin told Odhikar that she had registered a complaint with the first class magistrate’s court against 17 people, some of whom were unidentified. Khuku said, since the police station would not agree to file a case, they filed a case directly with the court.

However, due to lack of funds they could not afford to employ an advocate. She said after they had filed the case many people had come to their house at different times and threatened them by saying that if her family goes too far with that case they would make arrangements to send all her family members to jail and that they would meet the same fate as her husband.

Death in custody of Department of Narcotics Control

A narcotics department team, led by its Ramna Circle inspector, Shamsul Kabir, arrested 25-year old Abdul Halim from Khilgaon Jheel Par at 4:30pm on March 17, 2007. He was taken to the Shahbagh Police Station and detained there for the night. Halim was admitted to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital after he fell ill. He died at 4:00pm on March 24, 2007.

Elder brother, Abdus Sattar, said Halim lived at Khilgaon and was an informer for the Khilgaon police. He, like a number of Halim’s acquaintances said Halim was not involved with drugs. Sattar had come to learn about the arrest from others and said Halim never regained consciousness from March 18 when he was admitted to the hospital.

According to accounts, it was Halim’s reporting on drugs that enraged members of the local racket who conspired against him. Accordingly Ramna Zone’s sub-inspector, Mujibur Rahman, arrested Halim from Sutrapur and took him to the Department of Narcotics Control where he was tortured.

Mujibur, who filed a case against Halim, said the team arrested Halim at 4:30pm on March 17, 2007 from Khilgaon Jheel Par. But none of the people at the said location recall Halim being arrested from in front of the Shoukhin Beauty Parlour. Allegedly the narcotics team seized 30 grams of heroin and a pair of small scales (usually used to weigh gold and silver). He was taken to the narcotics control office for interrogation.

Mujibur said Halim was in good health when he left him in the custody of Shahbagh police. But at around 11:00pm he was informed of Halim’s illness. He took Halim to the hospital emergency that very night and claims to have attended to all medical requirements and paid for the services as well staying with Halim throughout the night. When Halim’s condition worsened next morning, he had him shifted to the intensive care unit and looked after him regularly till his death. He claimed that Halim was not tortured at all and that there was no torture cell in the narcotics control office. He pointed out there were no signs of torture in the autopsy report.

Suruzzaman, a sub-inspector of Shahbagh Police Station said Halim was sick when Mujibur brought him to the station at 8:05pm on March 17. When Halim began to salivate and vomit blood at around 11:00pm, he made sure it was communicated to narcotics control.

Samita, a nurse on duty at ward 30, said Halim was admitted at 12:45am on March 18. She said that ward 30 was intended only for patients with brain-injuries. But only the concerned doctor could say whether Halim sustained such injuries. She confirmed that Halim remained unconscious till his demise.

Fruit vendor beaten by RAB to death

Md Afzal Khan, 21, a resident of village Binodpur Charerkandi in Shariatpur, was arrested by a team of the Rapid Action Battalion-8 on March 18, 2008, and died in Dhaka Medical College Hospital on March 20. Afzal’s mother Khadija Begum told Odhikar that one doctor Ganesh filed an arms case against Afzal in 2006 and the Palong police, Shariatpur, arrested him and remanded him for 10 days. Afzal was later released on bail and was instructed to attend court hearings thrice a month. Later, the court sentenced him to 14-years imprisonment which he wasn’t aware of as, according to Khadija Begum, they had migrated from Shariatpur. On March 17, 2008 Afzal along with his friend Sher Jamal went to their village home and the following day Khadija’s nephew Aziz informed her daughter Shahnaz that Afzal had been arrested by RAB officers from beside Doctor Ganesh’s drug shop at Mahmudpur bazaar. Then she came to know that Afzal was admitted him to Shariatpur Sadar Hospital as he was severely beaten up and was later transferred to Dhaka Medical College Hospital where he died.

Afzal’s father Abdur Rahman, a retired subedar of the Bangladesh Army said on March 21, they collected Afzal’s body from the DMCH morgue and the body bore multiple injury marks. There were wounds on the left side of the forehead, on the cheeks, lips, gums and the rear end of the skull. Afzal’s neck was also broken on the left side. His stomach was inflated due to trampling. The veins of his legs had been slit and there were blood stains.

Shahnaz Aktar, sister of Afzal, said she went to the Shariatpur Sadar Hospital in the morning of March 19 and found Afzal in a critical condition and under the custody of four policemen. Shahnaz said that since Afzal’s gums were hit, all his teeth had become loose. A pistol’s head was used to poke the insides of Afzal’s mouth and he was bleeding continuously. The skin of Afzal’s ears was also cracked up due to excessive pulling. Blood was pouring out from the skull which had been hit by a pistol. Shahnaj said when Afzal refused to lay down on the hospital bed, the RAB officers broke his neck. It was after his neck was broken that Afzal lost his ability to speak. His stomach was inflated due to trampling and his two thighs also bore injury marks. The hospital bed on which Afzal was lying also bore blood stains.

Halim Sardar, a member of the village police, Mahmudpur said at around 6:00pm he saw Afzal engaged in a scuffle with two men in front of Union Parishad-er Graam Adalat O Shalishi Parishad Karjalaya. Halim saw one of the two people trying to put handcuffs onto Afzal’s hands and Afzal trying to escape which was why they threw him to the ground and continuously struck his head with pistol butts. Afzal was kept against the ground when a RAB officer pressed his leg onto Afzal’s throat. Afzal continued to try to release himself and this led to them tie up Afzal’s legs, grab him by his hair and smashed his face against the ground. As people were beginning to gather, the two men introduced themselves as RAB officers and threatened to shoot if the people didn’t go away. Then a RAB officer asked where the village police were, Halim Sardar came forward and grabbed hold of Afzal. He also informed that 8/10 minutes later, two more RAB officers arrived. The RAB officers then ordered the shopkeepers to shut down their shops. When the religious men from the mosques came forward, the RAB officers also chased them away. Afzal tried to escape and while trying to do so hit the hands of a RAB officer, Mokbul. When Afzal hit another officer’s arm, a RAB officer came forward with a stick and began to beat Afzal with it. When the stick broke, he took another stick and continued to for about 20/25 minutes. Bloods were gushing out of his nose and mouth and then he vomited. The RAB officers then twisted Afzal’s left hand and broke it by trampling on it. Later on two more RAB officers arrived and they too began to beat him.

Doctor Mijanur Rahman, Shariatpur Sadar Hospital, told Odhikar that on March 18, 8 officers of RAB-8 admitted Afzal to the hospital. Afzal’s body bore multiple injuries and the veins of his ankles were slit. Doctor Momtaz, Ward No. 32, Dhaka Medical College Hospital informed that Afzal was admitted to Bed no. 15 at 8:30pm on March 19 under police custody. There were injury marks all over Afzal’s body and his neck was swollen, which prevented any food from reaching his stomach.

Sekandar Ali, who assisted the doctors in the post mortem, said the victim had lost excessive blood due to slitting of his ankle’s veins. Since a metal instrument was pushed into Afzal’s mouth, his mouth and throat were excessively swollen. Afzal’s neck was dangling towards the left and it could not be readjusted. There were wounds on his abdomen and at various other places of his body.



Torture a prime impediment to democratisation

June 26, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, June 26, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

THAT torture, psychological or physical, of human beings in any sphere of life – family, society or state – affects the dignity of the victim has been recognised by the democratically-oriented people of the world long ago. Subsequently, in the face of sustained political pressure and persuasion by the international communities of rights activists, the United Nations adopted more than one declarations, conventions and covenants, obligating the member states not only to stop conducting torture on its citizens, be they in or beyond their custody, but also to support the victims of torture of any kind. Bangladesh is a signatory to these UN instruments, and thereby pledge-bound to do away with any kind of custodial torture, at the least. Nationally, in addition to the constitutional guarantees against torture, the subsequent governments have also made, and amended where necessary, legal provisions to do away with the practices of physical torture, particularly torture in state custody.

But, practically, the managers of the Bangladesh state, political or anti-political, elected or unelected, have hardly bothered to live up to the anti-torture pledges that the state is bound to. The coercive organs of the state hardly miss any opportunity to inflict physical torture on the citizens arrested on various grounds – lawful and unlawful, while the situation gets worse when it comes to the political opponents of the incumbents. The physical torture – or violence on the ‘body’ in other words – is being used as a means of control over the ‘soul’ of the political opponents, with a view to making the dissident submit to the will of the authority – political or otherwise. The ‘state of emergency’, presided over by a group of military-backed apolitical individuals, and that too having a self-styled political agenda of its own, has now created a wider space for the coercive agencies of the state to use violence, psychological and/or physical, against those that the authorities find unruly. Emergency, which keeps the constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights of the citizens in abeyance, after all, provides the authorities a sense of impunity. The number of allegations, explicit and implicit, published and unpublished, of custodial torture has increased significantly since the emergency was imposed on the people in January 11 last year. The incumbents have allowed almost all the coercive agencies of the state to exercise physical violence against a large number of people, sometimes in the name of containing law and order, sometimes combating financial corruptions and sometimes in the name of ‘disciplining’ politicians, generating a pervasive culture of fear.

It is high time that the democratically-oriented sections of society realised that the idea of ‘disciplining’ citizens’ minds by way of controlling their body through physical torture, be it in the name of extracting ‘confession’ of a crime or making a political dissident obey the ideologies of the incumbents, is a prime impediment to democratising the state, which is definitely the need of the hour. The democratic responsibility of the thinking sections of society, therefore, remains to extensively mobilise public opinion against the state’s sustained practice of violence against citizens, with the objective of protecting and promoting the dignity of human beings. The International Day against Torture could be a fresh beginning to start mobilising opinion against the state-sponsored torture, and, of course, against the emergency that provides the state authorities with arbitrary power to carry on such violence at a greater degree.

While opposing the torture by the state, it is, however, also important to keep in mind that torture at the family and social levels needs to be done away with. The prime objective of the physical violence against the body, be it in the family, society or state, is to control the mind of the person concerned with a view to suppressing his/her own points of views on issues of personal, social, national or international importance. While consent – not control – of the citizens is the core principle of democratic governance, fighting against torture, or a tool to control and thereby ensuring obedience in other words, remains an essential task for the democratic forces of society.