Friday, November 27, 2009

The seven sages, and Caesar's wife

Seven High Court judges refused to hear the lower court's verdict in the Sheikh Mujib killing case. They were intimidated by Sheikh Hasina's followers, with ministers taking to the streets with sticks.

The names of these High Court judges should be engraved in gold – not golden – letters in the premises of the High Court. The reason they were embarrassed was obvious to any student of law: they did not wish the judiciary to be involved in a moral, not a legal, issue, and thereby become politicized, and a branch of the executive.

The other day, I attended a dinner party where the host was in agreement with the Supreme Court affirmation of the earlier High Court ruling of guilty.
However, what was truly interesting was his view of the judiciary: "This government would never have allowed the convicts to be acquitted". That is to say, the judiciary was simply carrying out the wishes of the executive.

This view of the judiciary will be permanent: no one will ever again believe that the judiciary is independent.

The late Justice B.B.Roy Chowdhury told me that General Ershad had never interfered with the judiciary: he was highly critical of the fact, indeed furious, that Chief Justice Shahabuddin had become president after Ershad resigned, thereby violating the constitution.

Now, no judge can ever claim that the executive does not influence (to use a mild expression) the judiciary. Caesar's wife has lost her credibility. She will always be suspect.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Background to a Killing

What was the background against which Sheikh Mujib and his family were killed? The younger generation do not know and those who know do not care to enlighten them. Here are a few excerpts from Lawrence Zirring's classic "Bangladesh" (Dhaka: UPL, 1994). Please share this blog with as many as you can.

"Mujib believed he was Bangladesh, more so that he was good for the country and that it could not manage without him. Those who reinforced Mujib's impression of himself and his role did so because it benefited them politically or materially, not because they truly believed in his leadership." (p. 93)

"Mujib's bitter struggle with the army high command is illustrated by the decision to construct the Jatiyo Rakhi Bahini or National Security Force.…The Rakhi Bahini had quickly developed a reputation for intimidation and wanton aggression against the Bengali nation. Opinion was strong that that the para-military organization was no different from Hitler's Brown Shirts or the Gestapo. To informed observers as well as to a large segment of the population, Mujib and the Rakhi Bahini, not the Bangladesh army, posed the more significant threat to the country. The Bangladesh army, therefore, began to think of itself as the nation's salvation, the 'true' friend of Bengal." (pp 97 – 98)

"Unrestrained by law or law enforcement, defiant of the formal military establishment, gangs of toughs, many identified with the Rakhi Bahini even if they were without any official affiliation, roamed the countryside, looting the poor villagers and committing bodily harm on those resisting their demands. In the name of protecting society, the Rakhi Bahini, Bangabandhu's own, was viewed employing methods no different from the other anarchic groups." (p 98)

"In point of fact, Mujib exerted little if any control as the Rakshi Bahini assumed a life of its own and took upon itself the responsibility of eliminating Mujib's adversaries." (p 98)

"By 1974, several thousand local politicians had paid with their lives for their defiance or support of Mujibur Rahman. [Footnote: The environment of violence contributed to the events that ultimately took Mujib's life.] (p 99)."

"The momentum of violence had shifted from non-governmental to quasi-governmental contingents. Mujib, therefore, could not avoid the responsibility for the climate of fear and terror that gripped the country. Many of those allegedly killed by the Rakhi Bahini were rural leaders who had defeated Awami League candidates in the local polls that followed the parliamentary election (p 99)."

"Famine, always a threat, spread through the countryside in the summer of 1974, and no one, in or outside the government, seemed capable or willing to effectively grapple with the situation. Mujib was forced to acknowledge the starvation deaths of almost 30,000 people, and that was known to be a very low estimate (p 99)." [According to the Britannica, the figure was around 50,000, and there was food in the country, but the food was exported to India: see 'famine', Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition.]

"Thus, rather than starve in their remote villages, tens of thousands of peasants trekked to the towns and cities in search of relief….The task of keeping the famine-stricken outside the city limits was given to the Rakhi Bahini which showed little sympathy for their plight. The popular reaction to this callous display, this apparent breaking of a sacred promise, was predictable. Mujib was held accountable and he finally could not talk himself out of a hopeless situation. Empty words and gestures were exposed and the 'Friend of Bengal' witnessed the fading of his beleaguered popularity (p 100)."

"By the end of 1974, four thousand Awami Leaguers were reported murdered, including five members of parliament. There was reason to believe that many of the Awami League deaths had been cased by the Rakhi Bahini, which sensing a declining government apparatus and the loss of Mujib's prestige, sought to advance as well as protect itself….Mujib's fear had reached panic levels and he understood that this crisis would not pass. In a fateful move, he tried to back away from his reliance on the Rakhi Bahini, publicly attacked their violent excesses, and called upon the regular army to contain and control the smugglers and criminal elements in and outside the government (p 100)."

"Mujib found himself entangled in a web of his own making. His first order exposed the Bangladesh army to the magnitude of the national problem. His second order proved to be more fateful. On 28 December 1974, Mujib proclaimed a 'State of Emergency' in the country. These acts implied a form of martial law imposed by civilians rather than the military. Mujib had swept aside the constitution. Eventually the parliament was itself dissolved and the Awami League was transformed into a non-entity. Mujib had already laid plans for his new functional organization that he said better reflected his goals and hopes for the nation. BAKSAL was the inevitable outcome of these manoeuvres, but it was to be short-lived. Mujib sealed his own fate when he abandoned the three-year-old constitution and publicly condemned it as a legacy of colonial rule….But Mujib's coup did not have army support (p 101)."

"In January 1975, Mujib had himself sworn in as the country's president….Mujib, not the Bangladesh army, had removed the constraints on the arbitrary uses of power (p 102)."

"Having reached a moment when the only instruments of government lay in the utilization of violence, the question that emerged centred on where the violence would be directed. Mujib must have believed he could punish his enemies, i.e., anyone who challenged his supremacy. Indeed, Bhutto shared that thought two years later. But Mujib, as Bhutto was to learn, had the violence visited upon himself (p 102)."

"Mujib presided over a court corrupted by power. It acted as though it could shelter itself from the realities of Bangladesh. But the license that might have been ignored in some other societies, could not be ignored in a country overrun by self-styled enforcers, gouged by profiteers, and raped by government officials. With literally hundreds and thousands dying from hunger, with millions more threatened, high living in Bangladesh could only be equated with debauchery and hedonism, with irresponsibility and indifference. To anyone with a grudge or a sense of national purpose, the conclusion was the same. Deliberate efforts had to be made to reverse course, and the only option for such a reversal lay with a new team, and the only team capable of making the manouevre was the Bangladesh army (p 103)."

"BAKSAL was not only a coercive assembly, it was predicated on the elimination of other organizations. BAKSAL was Mujib's way of expressing his One-Party State. Thus in a more significant way, BAKSAL was meant to serve the purpose of the Bangabandhu's personal dictatorship, not the cause of national development and unity. BAKSAL was proof positive that Mujib intended to convert the country into a personal fiefdom for himself and his family members, and his many detractors did not need convincing that their once respected leader, not they, was the real threat to the nation's 'democratic' future (p 105)."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vendetta in Bangladesh

15 August, 1975 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and part of his family killed

June, 1996 His daughter Sheikh Hasina comes to power after western donors restore democracy

April, 2001 High Court confirms death sentences for 12 of the accused

October, 2001 Shaikh Hasina loses election and Khaleda Zia becomes prime minister

December, 2008 Sheikh Hasina reelected

August, 2009 Final appeal hearing begins

November 19 2009 Appellate division confirms judgment of death by hanging

Thus, we see that the case had lain dormant, under the protective mantel of an Indemnity Ordnance, promulgated by President Khandker Moshtaque Ahmed, and later ratified by General Zia as Indemnity Act of 1979.

The "assassins" were rewarded with lucrative posts and given heroes' status by every subsequent government until the election of 1996 produced Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Mujib. She had survived the killing becasue she had been out of the country in 1975.

Therefore, the pattern that emerges is this: killers are hailed as heroes till 1996, the dynasty acquires state power in that year, loses it in the election of 2001, when proceedings against the killers stop, and are resumed again after Hasina, the daughter, returns to power in December, 2008.

A personal vendetta? A lynching? Victors justice? All three.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was fourteen, and I lived in Dhanmandi, very near the scene of the killing. At dawn, I heard the booming of guns, and woke up in fear. Later, we learned that Mujib and his family had been killed: there was rejoicing throughout the land!

Against this background, what are we to make of the Supreme Court verdict? Well, to put it mildly, it opens up an enormous gap between law and morality. The law must posit that every killing in peacetime is murder; but a moment’s consideration will show that morality can never posit that every killing in peacetime is immoral. Was the killing of Caligula murder? Certainly. But was it immoral? Certainly not.

Furthermore, we cannot consent to the proposition that the law, and the legal process, is always just.

Take Chief Justice Taney. A devout Catholic, he had emancipated all his slaves; yet, when the Dred Scott case came up, he had to assert that 'a black man has no rights'. When the Bengal terrorists were gunning down British officers and, after due process, were being carted off to the Andamans, Bengalis hated the English for that: now, several streets in Calcutta are named after 'terrorists'.

Moreover, the Supreme Court, respect for which must be implanted in the heart of every citizen if we are to live in peace and with a clear conscience, has been sullied by a case that was basically moral, not legal. Now, no one, except the narrow band of fanatics devoted to the House of Mujib, who reck with neither morality nor logic, will regard the ‘due process’ as little more than an elaborate charade. The Supreme Court came into bad odour the day democracy was introduced: December 6, 1990. On that day, after General Ershad resigned, the Chief Justice became president, instead of the vice-president per constitution; later, he had this illegality legalized when parliament sat and passed two amendments. Since then, no one has ever believed that the Supreme Court is above politics.

Now, they will say, there goes the last institution to the democratic dog.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Corruption and the Family

Omnes diligunt munera

I've known first-hand what corruption and greed can do to a family.

I've looked up Mullah's Principles of Mahomedan Law, and it assures me that I cannot disinherit myself. That is, no doubt, as it should be.

The trouble with corruption is that you have to keep your money with your wife, brothers-in-law and nephews or nieces. So, everybody has a stake and an interest in the family. The family loses its intimacy, and becomes a money-laundering machine. Of course, all goes well if everybody in the family is corrupt and greedy. The problem with me was that I never wanted much in life, just enough to get by.

So, when my father passed away, and one piece of property in an obscure part of town turned up, and I wanted to move in there, the rest of this mafia Corporation ganged up against me. My mother and brother tried to have me declared mentally incompetent; the other 'clients' watched, amused, and no one objected because they were all in on it. Then last night one of my cousins threatened me with a beating, harassment by law-enforcing agencies and - golly! - a defamation suit! Between these two extremes hovered the 'moderate' threat of a police GD. And all this with the connivance of my flesh and blood.

The problem remains: I cannot disinherit myself.

All I can offer are my words as a gentleman that I will not - repeat, not - resort to my rights. I renounce my right to my patrimony.

Will this convince my mother and brother? Even though I put it here before the world, in plain black and white, I don't think so. You see, corruption drives the family members paranoid. They think that just because the state is after their property, everybody is. After all, it wasn't earned, it wasn't something you could call 'mine'.

Now, all my life, I've been obsessed with what's truly mine. That is why I studied Farsi, as I mentioned in an article: to discover 'my' civilisation. This search for authenticity has served me ill materially, and well spiritually.

Into this difference between what's legally mine and what's morally mine - let's say de facto and de jure mine, respectively - enters a million devils. The 'respectable' people in my family are actually money launderers and corrupt businessmen. Therefore in my family I have no honour, for I have no wealth, that solitary standard by which we judge things. But that's no problem: I don't covet the honour of the dishonourable. But I don't desire their persecution either.

So, how do I convince my family that I don't want a square inch of their property? Of course, I could emigrate, but this is no age to leave one's own country, except perhaps for sightseeing, for which I lack the resources. Of course, I could allow the family hoodlum to bump me off, but that would be suicide.

How does one extricate oneself from such a situation, this side of heaven and hell, so that those in the wrong and those in the right can go their separate ways? That is the eternal conundrum.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Ambition is bad enough when your country is independent; but when it's a colony, as Bangladesh is, ambition appears as a contract with the devil.

If not for ambition, Dr. Mozaffer Ahmed wouldn't be grovelling before the DFID, screaming "Corruption! Corruption!" for a bit of attention. He is proud of his background at the University of Chicago, and he does his best to hide his Muslim faith: he never speaks out against Israel because that would put the nails into the coffin of his career.

If not for ambition, Dr. Kamal Hossain wouldn't be kowtowing to every American ambassador: he was sold to the devil when he entered the University of Notre Dame.

If not for ambition, Rehman Sobhan wouldn't be clinging to the coat-tails of Amartya Sen....

If not for ambition, Fazle Abed wouldn't be taking prizes from the mass murderer Bill Clinton....

If not for ambition, Yunus wouldn't have buttered up Bill and his buddies to get his paws on the Nobel Peace Prize....

If not for ambition, Mahfuz Anam wouldn't be giving copies of his daughter's novel to the American ambassador....

We don't read the Persian writers anymore: had we read Sheikh Sa'adi, we would have been impressed by his insistence on the frivolity and vanity of this world. Better to stay away from ambition and lead a humble life, he has said again and again.

Every person I have mentioned above claims to be Muslim and yet they are all busy ingratiating themselves with the killers of Muslim children. There is a hadith that says that the mosques will be full before the day of judgment, and that the truly pious will be unable to live among fellow Muslims....

Why do Muslims fight Muslims? Because some Muslims see that Muslims collaborate with mass murderers and seek fame in a civilisation that is against Muslims.

What is the use of a career that means betraying your people, and your God?

We are trained since childhood by the likes of Mozaffer and Sobhan - and even our own parents - to be munafiq, hypocrites. Nowadays, when I see a pious young person, I say to myself, "He or she will surely go to America". For the most devout among us find prestige and fortune in the Land of the Damned. "God damn America," said a pious, good American. He must be the only one there.

We tell our children, "Look, there is Yunus, he has won a western award! Surely he is a great man. Try to be like him - a flatterer, a dupe, a conscienceless Muslim."

We point to Rehman Sobhan and Mozaffar Ahmed and say, "See, these men helped to create Bangladesh and backed a man called Sheikh Mujib....They are learned people, honoured by the whole of society. Try to lie and deceive like them."

What do you say? You do not wish to be like them but to spend your days unknown, earning an honest income and seeking happiness in family life? You are a fool!