As I opened the morning paper on Saturday the 7th, among other headlines there was one in particular which announced, much to my incredulity, that the BSF court has acquitted the soldier charged with the murder of Felani. I stared at the headline for a while, completely unwilling to read the content. It was not the mere loss of life of a Bangladeshi citizen or the death of hopes and dreams of a young girl that really bothered me. Then it dawned on me, it was the implied absolute disregard for the worth of life of the people of an entire country that was the point of botheration. The casual acquittal of BSF constable Amiya Ghosh and an absence of any government official from Bangladesh during the trial process hint towards a deliberate act of not delivering justice and further endorsing of such killings in the future.
The case of Felani however should be a catalyst for self reflection rather being a reason to look elsewhere or question the intentions of a neighbouring country. For a sovereign nation which gained its independence more than four decades ago, have we learned to value the life of our own citizens? Are we living in a just society where the state ensures basic fairness for its citizens? The answer to both these questions is an emphatic NO. Article 11 of our constitution states, “The Republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed, and in which effective participation by the people through their elected representatives in administration at all levels shall be ensured.” While justice is very much contingent upon the whims and the will of the executive nowadays, it is rather difficult to guarantee respect for the dignity and worth of the common person.
Looking beyond the innumerable cases around the country that are awaiting justice, if we just centre our attention to the high profile ones, we would notice that justice has been delayed and in certain cases even denied. The culprits of the Sagar-Runi murder are yet to be apprehended, whereabouts of the BNP lawmaker Elias Ali is still unknown and lastly no one has been brought to justice for manipulation in the capital market which looted the savings of thousands of our fellow citizens. These are just a handful of instances of injustice that has been visible in the social and public media. The common man’s ordeal with justice everyday in this country is more or less an untold story.
Article 10 of our constitution clearly states, “A socialist economic system shall be established with a view to ensuring the realization of a just and egalitarian society, free from the exploitation of man by man.” In order to enable realisation of an egalitarian society, it is absolutely imperative to ensure good governance and a judiciary that is free from the influence of the executive and politics. While successive governments have failed to ensure these elements, they also seem to have taken a completely opposite approach over a period of time, which has now taken a severe form. In the case of Felani for example, it was the human rights organisations in both Bangladesh and India that played a pioneering role in bringing the issue to public notice and create pressure for a trial. There were no visible initiatives from our government, at least till it was made an issue by the others, to address the matter which involved the killing of a citizen. Media played its part in broadcasting the killing but our government looked very much unmoved and content with a trial held by the BSF court which did not have a representative from the government of Bangladesh to ensure transparency and fairness. It was as if the state had no responsibility towards a murdered citizen.
It was also rather disconcerting to see that our law minister and home minister had hardly any knowledge about the legal framework under which the trial took place and even more distressingly had no idea about the full verdict. Apart from the fact that the government could not negotiate to have an observer to oversee the trial process on its behalf, it also does not have the moral strength to condemn the verdict or express its disappointment in clear terms. So far the government has refrained from making any substantive statement on this issue and this is just unacceptable. A hint of retrial has been expressed by the Indian authorities under mounting pressure from various human rights organisations. Our government on the other hand still remain less than proactive.
When the state displays no sympathy or solidarity towards its own citizen, pointing finger at a neighbouring country is counterproductive. When the state in its actions degrades its own citizens, there is no reason to think others will show respect. Taking the verdict into consideration, as it stands, no one has killed Felani. The image of the lifeless body of Felani wedged in a barbed wire has made me come to a stark realisation. It is us who killed Felani. By continuously providing mandates to those who are guided by a political system that is destructive, unproductive and most importantly, not people centric, the people of this country have brought this predicament upon themselves. It is our silence and failure to hold the state responsible for not protecting our dignity is what killed Felani. It is the inability to gauge our self worth is what killed Felani. We killed Felani.
Israfil Khosru is a businessman and runs a youth led think tank called The Bangladeshi.