By Nazmus Saquib
Two and a half years have passed since the bloodbath of the 2009 BDR (Bangladesh Rifles) mutiny which left an indelible mark on the country’s psyche. The mutiny which was the outcome of a series of internal conflicts between the BDR Jawans with their higher authorities has still shrouded in mystery because of various reasons. All hell broke loose at the Rifles Square’s Pilkhana in city’s Dhanmondi — the headquarters of the border guards in Dhaka on 25 February 2009 when some disgruntled soldiers of BDR took arms and revolted for better financial and working conditions. This mutiny which was perceived as a revolt by the deprived soldiers soon turned out to be a calculated massacre aimed at destroying the force which was entrusted with the responsibility of guarding Bangladesh’s land borders.
The mutiny which lasted for 36 hours saw the killing of fifty-nine officers of the Bangladesh Army, who were on secondment to the BDR, and some BDR personnel as well. These officers constituted the entire command structure of the BDR. The murder of such a large number of officers at the hands of the men they commanded left the entire nation stunned in horror and disbelief.
Abul Mansur Ahmed, a teacher of the Mass Communication and Journalism department of Dhaka University while talking with Bangladesh Chronicle said, “I think some of the satellite channels were responsible for spreading the carnage. Munni Shaha – a popular news reporter of satellite channel ATN News was partly responsible for playing with the sentiments of some of the soldiers. When the mutiny started at 10am on 25 February, Munni Shaha at once went to BDR gate and interviewed some of the soldiers which was aired live. She even sympathised with the disgruntled soldiers and announced that the mutiny was the outcome of longstanding disputes between the soldiers and their top tiers. She even said that the ‘Operation Dall Bhaat’ – a programme which was launched to contain price hike of essential commodities was the success story of the hard working BDR Jawans but their top tiers deprived them from having the fruits of the profit of that programme.” Mansur added, “Like Munni Shaha, many other reporters of private tv channels indulged in a hate campaign of the BDR high officials for depriving the Jawans from their fare share. The angry Jawans watched all the proceedings live from the tv and thought that media was on their side. Therefore they continued the mutiny for as many as 36 hours. Our Prime Minister and our news media should have realized what was happening inside the Pilkhana on that fateful 36 hours. The media and Prime Minister’s failure to sense the gravity of the problem was responsible for the death of so many soldiers. We could have avoided that by using our brain.”
Wishing anonymity, a Major General of Bangladesh Army said, “Rather than coming to a quick solution to stop the carnage, our Prime Minister was busy in a meeting with the three heads of the defence – Army, Navy and the Air Force. But the meeting yielded nothing. Worst of all, our Prime Minister sent Home Minister Shahara Khatun to Pilkhana at midnight on 25 February but the minister only rescued a handful of officials and their families. Many other victims were trapped inside their buildings but the minister was afraid to go there and rescue them. People still wonder why Prime Minister was afraid to send her troupes to attack the barracks in order to rescue the remaining victims.”
Sheikh Iraj – a university student who lost his best friend Tarek said, “Tarek was the only civilian who got killed in the mutiny. Beside Tarek two other civilians were injured. One was an old rickshawpuller, and another was a teenaged boy, who used to sale vegetables. The eyewitnesses said that Tarek went to the Dhanmondi Lake with one of his friends. When the mutiny stared there were gun shots everywhere. One of the policemen near the BDR Gate was shot in the leg and was not able to move. Everyone kept watching silently without making any moves. Suddenly Tarek ran across to him and hoist the policeman on his back and took him inside the Rifle Square (now Shimanto Square). As soon as he reached the gate of the Rifles Square, he was shot from behind. He was alive for more than 20 minutes but nobody came to rescue him. He was bleeding profusely and died there.” Iraj continued, “A.N.M Shamusddoha — Tarek’s father received 2 lacks Tk initially and later the government compensated him with 8 lacks more. But the father of the victim’s questions whether his son is worth 10 lacks Tk. He also asks why his civilian son had to die due to the protest of the defence persons.”
Finally when the mutiny ended on 26 February after various rounds of negotiations with the government, a large number of BDR personnel fled Pilkhana. It has been widely reported that many escaped together with a large number of automatic weapons, ammunition, hand grenades and other explosives. Many fear that if such a large number of weapons and ammunition ultimately fall into the hands of terrorist organisations, criminal gangs or individuals that will certainly have grave consequences for Bangladesh’s national security.
When the mutiny ended, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had a closed door meeting with the BDR and Army officials. They heavily criticized the Prime Minister for her inept handling of the situation. They shouted at the Prime Minister for not taking any initiative to save the lives of the BDR officials. The Prime minister assured them for a fair trail. She hoped that those who will be found guilty for conspiracy will be handed with exemplary punishment.
The trial proceedings of 654 soldiers of the 44 battalion of the BDR started at the Darbar Hall inside the Pilkhana on 26 April 2010. It was reported that a total of 30 Jawans of the 44 battalion were involved in the brutal killing of the 56 army officials. All the 30 suspected killers along with other mutineers were produced before the court on 27 April 2010. A total of 40 cases were lodged in 37 police stations in 28 districts in connection with the mutiny outside Dhaka. The trail proceedings are going on for more than a year now in various courts – in and outside of the capital. Many startling revelations are coming up from the trail however many civil society members and rights groups have expressed resentment about the proceedings. So far, more than a hundred mutineers have died due to ‘heart attack’ under custody. National Human Rights Commission Chairman believes that the mutineers are at present going through enough psychological pressure. They are being pressurised for providing information. He also said that such a large number of deaths in the name of interrogation is simply unacceptable in a civilized society.