Who lives, who dies, who decides?

‘PAPA, are you crying?’ were the last words popular Awami League councillor Akramul Haque’s daughter had said to him. The family then heard the gunshots. The groan. Then more shots. The sounds, recorded on their phone, and later released to the media, reverberated across paddy fields, along the undulating Chittagong Hill Tracts, across swampy marshlands, on the waves of the Padma and Jamuna, in fancy apartments of Gulshan and Baridhara, and now in the cantonment. It reaffirmed what we all knew, and what the government has consistently denied. That it was the law enforcing agencies of our country, rather than the courts, who decide whether a citizen should live or die.

The Councillor of 26 No Ward of Dhaka South City Corporation, Mr Hasibur Rahman Manik who led a ruling party procession to the venue to disrupt a peaceful performance by Drik Picture Library at Raju Bhaskorjo at the Dhaka University on 4th September 2020, Drik’s 31st Anniversary. © Habibul Haque/Drik

Two months ago, Major (retired) Rashed Sinha was ‘crossfired’ in Cox’s Bazar Marine Drive, locally known as the ‘Death Drive’, where over one-fourth of the ‘crossfires’ across the country had taken place. Later, the chief of army staff assured all that there would be no further ‘crossfires’ [of military personnel, in service, or retired]. But what about ordinary citizens? Despite the clear message from the authorities, ‘crossfire’ is simply too convenient and too profitable. As far as the government is concerned, it is here to stay.

I am no stranger to death. I came across it in 1971. In the many disasters I’ve covered. In the political clashes I’ve witnessed. Drik’s team of Fariha Karim, Tanzim Wahab and Momena Jalil had researched over 600 cases of ‘crossfire’ in 2010, meticulously noting locations, time of death and mode of killing. But it is the more recent killing of Akramul Haque that haunts me the most.

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