A late night burglary in a Bangladeshi village sparks off a day of rioting as the law'n'order situation is turned upside down...
Kaharol, Dinajpur - north-western Bangladesh; in the early hours of Tuesday morning (3rd May) a house burglary occurred in a village in the far north of the country. Dr Rajendranath Devnath, owner of the house, discovered the group of masked robbers at 1.30 am;
“Hearing the sound of breaking the front door, I rushed out of my room to see what was happening. Without saying anything, the intruders hit me with sharp weapons,”
After stabbing the doctor, the robbers also attacked another family member before leaving with Taka 3 Lakh (around £2,500/€2,750/$4,100), some gold ornaments and several mobile phones.
Hearing cries for help, nearby villagers were alerted to the incident and gathered to try to stop the robbers making their getaway in a white microbus. The robbers responded by throwing Molotov cocktails and firing at the crowd before driving away.
As the crowd grew, they began chasing the microbus and eventually caught it by blocking the road at nearby Boleya Bazaar. The robbers, now trapped and surrounded, then introduced themselves to the angry crowd - as police officers of nearby Birganj station. The furious crowd now beat up the five cops and then locked them in a nearby building.
Responding to a call by mobile from the detainees, later in the morning two senior policemen - one a Deputy Commissioner - arrived to insist on the release of the detained cops. Quickly surrounded by an angry mob of thousands, they were chased away under a volley of stones.
Later a larger detachment of eight police attempted to free their colleagues. Firing rubber bullets, a pitched battle began as villagers replied with more volleys of stones. Overwhelmed by force of numbers, these police were also captured and confined in the same room as their colleagues. Abandoned police vehicles were torched.
The level of anger reflected the long frustrations of villagers - as one local explained;
'It is an outburst of the locals against continuous harassment of people by the police and frequent robberies in the area.' (New Age - 4 May 2011)
An earlier incident meant locals were also already suspicious of wider police involvement in the rise in robberies;
On March 8, villagers attacked a robber while he was leaving after robbery in Doptoir village of Biral upazila. The robber was later found to be a policeman of the upazila. (Daily Star - 4 May 2011)
(Upazilas are county sub-districts.) The villagers had suffered reprisal in March; "The next day ... two platoon riot police baton-charged the villagers for attacking the policeman." The following day a regional senior officer arrived and "begged apology to the villagers for the atrocities". (bdosintmonitors.blogspot.com) This suggests the regional police command have long been aware of and concerned at the unrest provoked by local police corruption in the area.
As clashes continued through Tuesday the unrest spread over a wider area. Villagers from Birganj and Kaharol marched in protest to their local police stations and laid siege to them. By 1.30pm Birganj station was on fire, along with several police vehicles. Police repeatedly fired rounds of rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. One person was hit by a vehicle and died while 30 others were injured during the clashes, including three police; one cop is in a critical condition.
The station OC (officer-in-charge/stationmaster) and other officers were forced by the mob to remove their uniforms and close the stations. Some officers fled, leaving behind vans and two rifles.
The locals had their own ideas about 'justice';
The villagers shouted slogans against the OC of Birganj accusing him of being the ‘mastermind’ behind all robberies in the area and demanding that he should be handed over to the locals for trial in the ‘people’s court’. [...]
‘Locals alleged that police were involved in the robbery which I cannot confirm at the moment. But we have taken the allegation seriously,’ Dinajpur deputy commission Jamal Uddin told New Age. (New Age - 4 May 2011)
Two platoons of paramilitary Border Guard(1) forces were rushed to the area and the 13 imprisoned cops were eventually freed after villagers secured a promise of an investigation into the robberies and action being taken against the guilty officers. Several officers have now been suspended - including the OCs of both Birganj and Kaharol stations - and some are apparently in custody (perhaps as much for their own protection as any other reason).
The police Criminal Investigation Department have begun their investigation and are quoted as being "suspicious" regarding the role of local police in the events. One issue is why Birganj police, in the middle of the night and in plainclothes, were at the time of the robbery patrolling an area under the jurisdiction of Kaharol police.
1) Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) are the former Bangladesh Rifles, renamed and reorganised after their 2009 mutiny; for details, see our earlier articles; http://libcom.org/news/bangladesh-bdr-mutiny-10032009