Source: The Daily Star
Arbitration done by AL men in Kalapara
The case of abduction and rape of a class VII schoolgirl in Kalapara on September 25 'ended' two days later at an arbitration conducted by local Awami League (AL) leaders with police looking on, according to an investigation.
Following the abduction and rape of the minor girl that created sensation in this remote town, the local AL leaders decided to settle the matter through what they claimed "tough arbitration".
Ironically, local MP and State Minister for Water Resources Mahbubur Rahman Talukder was present in Kalapara at that time.
Locals including a number of AL activists told The Daily Star correspondents the Kalapara police following the event were told to leave the matter to the local leaders, who promised to "give exemplary punishment to the criminals".
They said the victim's family identified at least four of the alleged rapists and the arbitrators are all active members of the ruling Awami League.
"It was a matter of image for the ruling party men during the puja when a top leader was present in Kalapara. And the way the victim's poor family was compensated and the rapists beaten up, the villagers and the victim's family accepted the arbitration as justice done," says an AL senior activist on condition of anonymity.
At around 6:00pm on Sunday the victim, her mother and younger brother were heading for an unknown destination in Kalapara. The mother said she was worried about future of her daughter.
"You see nothing happened to my daughter that day. People are fabricating tales about her," she said clutching her daughter by one hand.
On September 27 the 16 alleged rapists and their accomplices were summoned to a local high school along with their parents. The arbitrators included Kalapara AL General Secretary Rakibul Ahsan, Municipality Vice-Chairman Sultan Mahmud and local Press Club President and also President of Kalapara AL Bipul Howlader.
During the process of this rough justice each of the 'self-confessed rapists' was fined Tk 10,000. As soon as the money amounting to Tk 160,000 was realised, the parents of the young men were asked to leave the school premises.
The AL activists then locked up the main gate of the playground and beat up the criminals one by one.
According to witnesses, the beating of the alleged rapists was brutal and each had to be admitted to hospital. Several of them had to be sent to Barisal Sher-e- Bangla Medical College Hospital for further treatment.
The victim's poor family was handed over the money realised from the perpetrators and asked to totally avoid talking to journalists.
According to a close family member, the events of September 25 have traumatised the entire family, which is now living under stress trying to make up alibis for what had happened that night to this juvenile girl.
The victim was forced to refute allegations of abduction and rape at a hurriedly called press conference.
The same family source, on strict condition of anonymity, said the victim gave a statement to the police naming some of the rapists after she was rescued two kilometres off from the place of abduction at 2:30 in the early morning of September 26.
"She was shattered and cried loudly as her mother tried to console her. Nobody in this area has ever witnessed such a case of abduction and rape so nobody knew what to do," he added.
A local activist of AL said when some people in the crowd at the Kalapara police station demanded the girl to be sent for medical examination, the officer-in-charge (OC) told everyone to go home.
"At around 3:30am the police station was thronged by several hundred people when the OC told everyone to go home. He took the child in custody with her mother beside her for the rest of the night," he said.
The next day the victim's grandfather took the child into his custody after signing an undertaking. The same day the ruling party local leadership also announced that a salish (arbitration) to try the rapists would be conducted the following day.
The OC of Kalapara later admitted that the police had detained two young men from the place where the girl was dumped but had to release them after the victim failed to identify them as perpetrators.
At around 8:30pm on September 25 the schoolgirl was abducted by a gang of youths from the Yatim Khana Road as she was returning home with her cousin brother after visiting a puja mandap.
During the abduction in front of the residence of a former MP of Jatiya Party, according to half a dozen women in the neighbourhood, there was a commotion as both the girl and her cousin cried for help.
"We could not go out because this part of the road was so dark, but minutes later a young man rushed to inform others nearby about the abduction," said an eyewitness on Yatim Khana Road.
A close relative of the victim said when the alarm was raised about the abduction the entire town became vigilant with scores of men on motorbikes and rickshaws trying to locate the victim and the abductors.
"People all over Kalapara learned about the abduction within minutes but nobody could trace the victim," he said.
The family source said at around 2:30 in the morning three villagers found the victim near the under-construction Denmark-Bangladesh friendship bridge and informed the police over phone.
A patrol team immediately rescued the girl and brought her to the police station.
"She was so traumatised that she could not say much other than how many people raped her," said the relative.
Nikhil Halder, ward councillor of Chinguria and also organiser of the puja mandap, said the abduction took place on a dark road near the mandap, which is on the border of his ward. "We rushed to the spot immediately after the girl was taken away but could not do anything about it," he said.
Emran Biswas, councillor of the Yatim Khana ward, said the abduction took place within the boundary of his ward.
"I learned that the gang involved in the abduction came from Naiyapara. I was never called by the arbitrators," he said.
When the matter was reported in national newspapers, the deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police of Patuakhali visited Kalapara police station on October 2 and talked to the victim.
Both the top officials quoted the victim as saying that she was not raped.
State Minister for Water Resources Mahbubur Rahman Talukder, MP told The Daily Star he had heard about the incident. He added he would expect the police to take action in similar criminal cases.
A top AL leader requesting anonymity said a gang from the town's Naiyapara was behind the abduction and rape. No members of Bangladesh Chhatra League took part in the crime, he claimed.
"The Kalapara Awami League leaders have done justice by settling the matter within the community. This [the arbitration] has in fact saved the girl's poor family and also sent a message to other criminals," he added.
A team of investigators from Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) from Dhaka is now in Kalapara for an investigating, which was never initiated by the local police.