A group of young men stormed headmaster Gopal Chandra Ghosh’s room in Bonogram Girls High School on August 24, dragged him out and beat him up with sticks, iron rods and hammers in front of his pupils.
What was his fault? Gopal refused to be extorted Tk 2 lakh.
Initially, Gopal did not care much for his own safety and he filed a case against the men while he was still being treated for his wounds at a local clinic.
But he had to give in after a month and withdraw the case when the criminals, who had been untouched by the law, threatened to kidnap his family members and threatened him with life.
Gopal denied paying the criminals a handsome amount of money to ensure the safety of his family but many in Bonogram claimed that he paid Tk 1.70 lakh to the criminals.
Gopal refused to talk to the press. He just said, “Hindu families and traders are the victims of systematic extortion but they do not dare to protest or complain fearing for their lives.”
However, in the case he had filed, he had accused Fazlur Khan, 35, son of Nazer Ali Khan, Abdul Mannan, 35, son Rois Uddin Mondol, and Fazlu Munshi, 30, son of late Abdul Karim Munshi of Bonogram village and Khokon Ali, 35, son of Dabir Ali and Akkas Ali, 35, son of Haji Giasuddin of adjacent Gurimgari village in Santhia upazila of Pabna.
Locals claimed that leader of the gang of extortionists Fazlur Khan had worked for a BNP-backed candidate in the last union parishad polls but the fact was he and most of his gang members belonged to no political party at all.
They said the gang of 20-odd men maintained liaison with leaders of all political parties, including the ruling party, for their protection.
In return, the politicians use their muscle when required.
It was the usual comments from the two major political parties in Bonogram.
Denying any affiliation with the criminals, local Awami League leader Korban Ali said, “They [the people who extort] have no party, they are just criminals.”
Mahbub Morshed Jyoti, president of Sathia BNP, claimed that the criminals were under Awami League leaders’ protection and that his party and its politicians had nothing to do with them.
The gang has become untouchable. Police took no action against them between the attack and the withdrawal of the case.
To the surprise of locals in the constituency of State Minister for Home Shamsul Haque Tuku, a month after the attack the gang went to Sima jewellery shop in Bonogram Bazar and demanded Tk 3 lakh.
When shop owner Bashi Rajbonsh told them that he was unable to pay such a large amount, one of the gang members hit him with a table fan.
“I gave them Tk 8,000 for ‘having sweets’, which saved me for the time being,” said Bashi at his shop, which was vandalised during Saturday’s mayhem when over 100 Hindu homes and shops were ransacked in the area.
In fear, Bashi refused to name the extortionists but locals claimed that Fazlu Khan had led gang members Sakib, Akhter, Anik and Mannan to his shop.
Most Hindu families and traders have to pay the gang “protection money” to continue with their businesses in Bonogram. Rampada Shah, Boshir Halder, Topon Shah, and Ranjan Karmakar were the latest victims of the gang.
The victims do not complain to police or the local administration as it only puts their lives at risk. Some Muslim traders too regularly pay the gang “protection money”.
Officer-in-Charge of Ataikula Police Station Rezaul Karim said they could not take action unless the victims file a complaint. Asked about Gopal’s case, he said the accused surrendered to the court, got bail and the victim withdrew the case.
Locals said the Saturday’s attack on Hindu homes was a result of inaction.
They said some youths demanded Tk 2 lakh from Babul Saha, a leading trader in Bonogram Bazar a few months ago.
As he refused, they framed his son Rajib Saha for disrespecting the Prophet on facebook and created a situation taking advantage of which they could loot 100 Hindu houses of their valuables, including Babul’s home.
Babul said he regularly paid the gang Tk 1,000 to Tk 10,000. “But I lost everything, the house and the shop,” he told The Daily Star.
He said he had calls and texts to his mobile phone to pay the toll before the marriage of his only daughter in July. “They threatened to kidnap my son if the money was not paid,” he said, showing his phone which had texts sent to him by one Khokon.
Shafiqur Rahman, secretary of Bonogram Bazar Traders Association, said most of the Hindu traders pay toll secretly. A total of 343 traders do business in Bonogram Bazar and 99 of them are Hindus. About 900 families live in Bonogram and a third of them are Hindus and in fear.
Source: The Daily Star