Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree
Silence. Eternal silence. Shohagi Jahan Tonu does not rest in peace. She died, she was killed, but no one killed her. Her body bore marks of brutal assault, but no one raped her. The voice of reason demands justice. No one hears. The voice of reason demands explanation. It is silenced. Tonu rests in unrest.
The 19-year-old vibrant soul escaped the earth and she was forced to do so. Who knew that a regular day from her simple yet colourful life would be the end of a story it could have been! Who knows how high, all the murdered birds, that our crooked conscience let us to cause and accept, could fly?
Tonu, one of those lost birds, loved drawing. She was into dancing. She had a knack for cultural activities. She was an artist in the making. A spirited young girl, while studying at the Comilla Cantonment High School, started taking part in the school’s cultural programmes. She even performed in quite a few programmes that army personnel organised in the Comilla cantonment. Because of her talent, the school authorities would often let her represent the institution in cultural events.
Her inclination towards art and drama made her join the theatre at her institution, Comilla Victoria College, where she was a second-year student of history.
In February 2016, just a month before she was murdered, she had taken part in a dance competition arranged under the National University in her district. She came first. Not only that, she held the second position in the entire Chittagong division in that competition. She must have had planning for her next adventures, next ventures into success. Dreams, unfulfilled, stolen.
Yet, life only but goes as planned. It will be two years on March 20 that Tonu was murdered. And for two years, her family — her old parents and two brothers — have been living in a void.
In a conversation with Nazmul Hossain, Tonu’s elder brother, came up a picture of the person that Tonu was. She was a brother’s sweetheart, every night when she was done with her daily studies, the siblings used to chat and laugh, share their day’s happenings, this and that. A calm conversation would make life relaxing for her brother. Tonu was the only one who spent the most time with the parents among the two brothers and her.
A caring daughter and a granddaughter, she used to bathe her ailing grandfather, feed and take care of him whenever he visited her house. The grandfather fell severely sick after Tonu’s death and he joined her in the journey shortly, within six months. The brothers can feel the void to the bones. The parents went wordless. The sons have to go to work. If Tonu’s father could, he would keep his sons in the house sitting with him, just spending some time. The fear for more loss is apprehensible. Her friends, who loved her aplenty, are scared to talk to anyone about her. Why? This is a question that needs an answer from responsible authorities.
How has life been for these people after they lost Tonu? Nazmul says, ‘We are living dead. We are merely breathing. That’s about it.’ He leaves a question for us, ‘Do you know how it feels when a father holds the murdered body of his own daughter? Do you know how it feels to describe how she was lying there, dead?’
Tonu’s father, Yaar Hossain, had to go through a gruesome scarring process of describing the condition of Tonu’s dead body when he found her in the cantonment area, time and again, to the law enforcement agencies. The members of her family were taken for interrogation, again and again and again, but we only know of the law enforcement agencies to be interrogating five probable suspects, once, and that was it.
Unspeakable, mind-boggling things have happened ever since Yaar Hossain found his daughter’s dead body. Tonu’s father alleged, as his brother related to us, that before preparing the inquest report on Tonu’s death, the relevant police official took their signatures on a blank sheet of paper. As they showed unwillingness, the police official insisted on their signing it for filing a case. Not only that, the members of the family were interrogated, they were pressured to make false statements too, such as Tonu being involved in an affair of love with one of her college mates. The mockery of a terrible death did not end just here. It was rather the beginning.
Tonu’s father claimed that a side of her head was smashed and she was injured in the nose terribly when he found her dead. After taking her to hospital, physicians stated she was brought in dead.
However, to lay it out straight on the inefficiency or the falsehood of the forensic doctors who conducted the post-mortem examinations, the first report did not find the cause of the death or any sign of rape. The inquest report does not describe meticulously the sign of injuries in the victim’s body. But as stated before, Tonu’s father found her head smashed, nose injured, and blood coming out from her nose and ears. He said the police officials, and the woman who bathed Tonu, also saw the signs. And yet, Tonu was buried rather hastily. The police inquest report did say that her dress was torn somewhere; they did not care to mention exactly which part of the dress was torn.
The unsatisfactory result of the first post-mortem examination was rejected by her family. The report ignited a rage in her friends, students all over the country, and in ordinary people who cared. Even the CID was doubtful about the findings. It was decided that a second examination would be done, but by then, most of the raw evidences had been lost, or who knows, intentionally destroyed, as alleged by many.
Tonu’s highly decomposed body was exhumed on March 30 for the second examination. It was a slap on the grieving family again as the second report still could not find the cause of the death and they did not draw any conclusion on the possibility of Tonu being raped. However, making the first examination report quite apparently fraudulent, the second one mentioned that there ware evidences of ‘sexual intercourse’ before her death. The report claimed that three samples of spermatozoa were found on the victim’s body. If that is not a clear indication of rape, given that she died from ‘unknown’ reasons, on one can tell what is!
Like being raped and killed was not the ultimate suffering for this youth. They had to bring down her dignity too. However, the CID later said that the DNA samples of three people found on Tonu’s body confirmed rape before death. Regarding this, human rights lawyer Salma Ali gave the three-member forensic team a notice to show cause for the contradictions in the two postmortem results, their comments were rather contradictory.
New Age Youth asked ASP Jalal Uddin, investigative officer of Tonu murder case, about the progress on the case so far, will they be able to make an arrest anytime soon and what is the reason behind the delay, in reply he said, ‘Our investigation is still ongoing, it is taking time since we have been conducting an extensive investigation. We have interrogated a large number of people and have prepared a smaller list of suspects, we are hopeful. However, we cannot say for sure how long it will be till we can make any substantial progress, as it is not just any case, it is of great weight in term of a case.’
And here we are, almost two years later, no progress in Tonu’s murder investigation, no one arrested, no one found guilty, even though her case is covered by both the Penal Code and the Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Act, and even though the prime minister herself said that Tonu’s murder trial would be held under the existing laws! The CID wants to deal with it very carefully so that the perpetrators are punished, but their diligence in delaying her trial says something else. Something like that of the two Marma sisters, who were raped and molested allegedly by some ‘men in uniform’ recently, being held in high security and in a safe distance from the ones who could try to bring justice to them.
Justice, it seems, has become a travesty of itself, a mockery, a non-traceable organism in our country. Thus, Tonu and all the other birds who flew to nowhere do not rest in peace.
Still I asked to human rights lawyers and activists involved in seeking justice for Tonu and her family, why the case has been stalled:
‘From the contradictory comments of the forensic team, it is clear that they were made to write the reports.’
Human Rights Lawyer, BILIA
Starting from the home minister to the investigative officials from the CID, they have been making the same statement for more than six months now that they have made fast progress on the case, however, we saw no result. I simply do not get the mystery that where their progress gets lost in the way! They say they need time, but they have to be prompt on maintaining a time frame for such cases, justice delayed is justice denied.
I am sure Tonu’s parents are losing their hopes by now, ordinary people too, that’s what happens when justice is denied.
We gave a notice to show cause why the two postmortem reports were highly contradictory, it is sad that their reply was rather comical, they couldn’t show any satisfactory reason. Moreover, the comments from the three members of the forensic committee contradicted each other.
It clearly seemed from the confusions and contradictions of their comments that the forensic team was made to write the reports that they gave out.
We have to say it that other than Dhaka, no other places in the country has efficient forensic department, no forensic experts, no proper labs, no nothing!
After CID took charge of the case, we were hopeful as the team was efficient, we really hoped to see some progress, and yet, no result. I see no reason for their delay, to delay is to destroy evidences. The girl was even called names after her death, but she is dead now, this is the suffering of the parents, I am a mother myself and I can realise how hard it can be for the members of the family.
‘A woman prime minister or opposition leader does not stand for freedom or empowerment of women’
General Secretary, Bangladesh Students’ Union
We need to get one thing straight. Let’s look at what happened on 7th March, quite a few girls were molested on the roads, BCL didn’t take any responsibility as usual, the home minister denied of any such thing happening, he later said it will be looked into. The girls do not get the courage to say anything, after one of the assaulted girls spoke out, the rest also got the courage.
We have a culture of burying the crimes conducted against women; no justice for Tonu is an outcome of that culture. Our government not only denies but also wants to bury the incidents of violence against women, for some reason the government also seems to be letting these things happen.
What happened in the case of Tonu murder is that people were hoping for a strict progress resulting in justice, but it didn’t happen, this disheartened people, it is frustrating. A bigger mobilisation is needed for achieving women’s freedom. A woman prime minister and a woman opposition leader do not stand for freedom or empowerment of women.
The piece was originally published in New Age Youth on March 11, 2018.