The lines around her cheekbones and forehead have grown deeper in the past months. Her eyes speak emptiness and look exceptionally quiet. A defined dark patch is now visible around those eyes. The thick black hair has turned grey and I have not seen that bright red dot (teep) in between her eyebrows in a really long time.
Perhaps she has not worn it in a while; perhaps she has forgotten that she ever wore one. I do not know.
I have not looked at her properly since that night on December 2008. I cannot look at those broken lines on her face. She is someone who is lost in profound despair and still trying to find out what has been taken away from her on a fateful dark night.
She is my mother. On December 3rd, 2008, she lost her husband Nurul Islam, a labour rights leader and Ganotantri Party president, and her only son Tamohar in a fire in our rented Lalmatia apartment. It happened 26 days before the national election on 2008 where my father was a contender for the Noakhali-1 seat. My father and my brother were called back home by my father’s political associates from his election campaign area – Chatkhil, Noakhali.
My mother was visiting me in the US at that time. Our house was unguarded and maybe hence the timing was right to execute a well-thought out attack? We rushed back to Dhaka on December 4th only to hear that both of them had left us, without a last word, within a night. Many a newspaper read “…it is a well-planned murder to jeopardize country’s democracy and an independent electoral process”. The nation went into shock and suspicions ran wild.
Consequently, my father’s colleagues and various political leaders held press conferences and rallied to demand an independent and thorough investigation. With time, it was becoming clear to many of us that my father had most likely become the victim of sabotage, due to his inclusion on an Awami League ticket in the grand alliance.
Today is my father’s birthday and this December will mark three years since that horrific night in 2008 when they were taken away from us. Instead of celebrating my father’s life, we have been knocking on every door to seek justice and a fair investigation for the two unaccounted deaths.
It is true that my parents’ political colleagues and our friends have stood by us. Our honorable ministers have repeatedly assured us that they will do everything to attain justice. Despite the apparent support from the government, the progress (or the lack thereof) in the investigation is surprisingly slow. At this point there even appears to be a cover up, and there seems to be a deliberate attempt to portray the killings as mere ‘accident’ given subsequent attempts to hush up an independent investigation, urging people to “forget” and move on.
But there are too many discrepancies for us to simply “forget” and move on. The evidence and reports that were found have led to more unsolved questions than credible answers. It may be worth mentioning the questions that have arisen in past months in this article:
1. The Dhaka Power Development Corporation (DPDC) submitted their final report in 2008 concluding that it was not a case of short circuit in our former Lalmatia apartment. Within a year, there was a “curious” follow-up report which contained misleading and erroneous findings. The MD of DPDC himself was not aware of the second report. This suggests that some vested interest group has been trying to tamper with the investigation. However, there seems to be no clear effort to identify who influenced DPDC to come up with the erroneous second report.
2. A recent report highlighted that dangerous chemicals such as Osmium and Arsine were found inside the unplugged refrigerator in our Lalmatia apartment – where the explosion took place. First of all, an unplugged fridge cannot explode by itself. Besides, these chemicals are highly volatile and injurious to human health and rare to be found in home appliances. Then WHO brought those chemicals into our apartment?
3. My father had to cut short his trip to Noakhali on December 2nd evening and returned to Dhaka when he was informed by a trusted associate that his name had been listed in a local newspaper as a loan defaulter. The allegation was proven to be false in next few hours by the Sonali Bank authority. WHY there was no investigation and interrogation done to find the source of this false allegation?
4. This case has been listed as a “sensational case” by the government but still there has been very little progress in the past 32 months. Why?
5. The “fire” that killed the two most beloved persons in our lives was “suspicious” because it was limited to a relatively small area in our living room, leaving many flammable items such as papers, books, and plastic products which were all within 5-6 feet from the explosion almost intact. Eye-witnesses, including my father himself and the neighbours who tore down the door did not mention seeing flames – they only noticed heavy smoke and intense heat. If it is not an ordinary fire, then what could have caused so much damage? It was not electric short circuit, so what could have exploded from the front lid of an old, unplugged fridge while leaving its gas cylinder completely intact?
6. The key of the entrance gate was found broken. Why haven’t the issues of the broken door-key and bent window grill been taken seriously?
There are series of WHYs and too many co-incidences to list it as an “accident”. If one wants to address it an accident, they have to justify their ground and prove it. Just calling it one is not enough.
Close family friends described my parents as the ideal, romantic couple — the leftwing trade unionist married to his poet wife, who devoted their entire life to fight for the oppressed and the impoverished. We grew up seeing the beautifully loving parents, happy and selflessly working for people. Whenever my father went out of town, he always warned us not to bother Ma while he is away “…please look after your mother. She has done a lot for all of us.”
Yes, the family meant everything to my mother and she had happily survived three jobs to keep their dreams alive, their commitment to work for people and their journey towards a socialist world. My father loved the colour red — it was the colour of his party’s flag and the colour of that dot on her forehead .While my father was busy serving the oppressed she was accompanying him to meet his goal. Their lives together were full of beautiful adventures like the ones we read in fiction or revolutionary novels. And her life revolved around my father and those he served.
After 2008 her life stopped while the rest of the world moved on. Perhaps that bright red teep turned into a stubborn full stop in her life. A poet turned MP, she does her job diligently, with extra care. She prepares carefully for all the campaigns we hold to seek justice. But her eyes are quiet as ever, her expressions are blank. Sometimes it feels that I not only have lost my father and brother but also my mother.
Moutushi Islam is the daughter of late labour rights leader and Ganotantry Party president Nurul Islam.