February 27, 2009

Bangladesh: Mutiny Is Over, But Question Remains

Check out my piece at Global Voices Online. Some excerpts:

Yesterday it was a tensed day in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The 33-hour long mutiny and siege by aggrieved lower rank officers of paramilitary forces BDR ended as they surrendered their arms in the evening at the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) headquarters. According to news paper reports seventeen BDR members (mostly army officers in command of the forces) and four civilians have been killed. Hostages were freed but 65-100 army officers and lower rank jawans are still missing and most of them are feared dead.

There has been many turn of events the whole day as the armed forces prepared an offensive to quell the mutiny. Tanks rolled in Dhaka city and people living near the BDR headquarters were evacuated. But after Prime Minister's televised speech the rebels finally surrendered avoiding bloody consequences.

Bloggers like BDfact were live blogging the prime Ministers' speech. Unheard Voice Blog posted regular updates the whole day. Joruri Khobor rounded up Facebook status messages which described the situation.

Jessica Lim posted some photos in her blog and in Flickr despicting the horror people faced. Dhaka Daily Photo has more pictures.

Shahnaz at Dhaka Dweller provides some background of the rebellion of the BDR members and asks some questions:

And this is how the seeds of discontent were first sown. The masters considered them an elite class, far above the lowly serfs. There was great disparity between pay, benefits, working conditions and career advancement between the officers and rank and file, and issues of corruption practiced by senior officers. [..] Soldiers raised their grievances again and again with their officers, to no avail. Their Director General had promised to place the soldiers demands to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina when she inaugurated the BDR week events. But he must have forgotten his promise, for he only spoke on behalf of his officers on that august occasion. Disgruntled soldiers grumbled all night.

All Sector Commanders were assembled in the Darbar Hall the next morning when in the course of an argument between the soldiers and officers, weapons were drawn and fired. We do not know who fired first, but the results were the same. Soldiers and officers died. And innocent civilians were killed and wounded. Gunshots and heavy mortar firing were heard. Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the BDR complex.

In a democracy, in a people's republic, grievances should not be allowed to explode in this manner. This situation has caught the government unaware, but really, did the government (albeit newly elected), have absolutely no idea this was brewing? Could it not have been prevented?

Bloggers are debating issues like why BDR members resorted to killing the officers and especially, the controversial ‘who fired first'. Quoting a army officer who was present in the scene media reports [bn] that the BDR jawans fired first on the officers. But this blogger quoting his uncle who was also present there [bn] reveals that the BDR chief was involved in firing on a jawan during altercation and this had escalated the situation. The question remains who is telling the truth.

Atiqul Haque rounds up [bn] newspaper and citizen media reports of survivors. Some of the officers who were held hostage revealed shocking tales of brutality on them. The public sympathy shifted from the BDR mutineers to the army victims who were brutally executed. Bloggers like Dhrubo Hasan mourned the deaths. A commenter Nighat Tithi said:

খারাপ লাগছে মানুষের সহমর্মিতা পাবার জন্য তাদের মিথ্যাচার দেখে, শুরুতে টিভিতে একজন জোয়ান বলেছিলেন, মাত্র একজন অফিসার মারা গেছেন, তার নাম বলা যাবে না। অথচ বিদ্রোহের শুরুতেই ৭০ জন (প্রথম আলো'র সংবাদ অনুযায়ী) অফিসারকে গুলি করে মারা হয়েছে। শুধু তাই না, তাদের গুলির পাশাপাশি বেয়নেট নিয়ে খুচিয়ে আঘাত করে হয়েছে। এই কি স্বাধীন দেশের মানুষের নিজের ভাইয়ের প্রতি আচরন? এইসব তথ্য সম্পূর্ণ গোপন রাখা হয়েছিলো ! আহারে, মাত্র ১৭ জনের লাশ পাওয়া গেলো। বাকি লাশগুলোকে কি করা হয়েছে? তাদের কি দাফনও হবে না?

I feel bad to learn that the BDR jawans lied to get sympathy of the people. At first a jawan said only one officer was killed, we will not tell his name. But around 70 officers (as per media reports) were killed at the start of the mutiny. They were also bayoneted besides being shot. Is that how a brother treats his brother in an independent country? These facts were kept hidden. Ah..only 17 bodies were found. What happened to the other bodies? Will not they be buried as per ritual?

The government bowed to BDR's demand by giving them amnesty for the mutiny. Kamaluddin asks [bn] to whom the amnesty was given? Those who brutally killed officers and innocent civilians?

Unheard Voice Blog appeals to the government to declare Saturday, February 28 as the national day of mourning to honor the deceased servicemen and the innocent civilians and demanded justice for the victims.

Update: World Focus posts a blog roundup: Bangladesh revolt ends after deadly soldier mutiny.


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