Endless grief but no accountability

published July 30, Daily Star

Photo: APAsif Saleh

AFTER the recent Nimtoli fire, someone on the Unheard Voices blog commented: “Look at the reaction after the fire, endless grief but no demand for accountability from the citizens.” The fire truck came to Nimtoli but quickly ran out of water and had to go back through the narrow alleys and get water again. A few of the firefighters tried desperately with their limited resources.

Only a few weeks after the worst fire tragedy in Bangladesh that highlighted the resource constraint of our public safety organisation, the budget for fire service was cut. There was not a word anywhere. We were still busy grieving without asking the right question.

Who is accountable? How can we do better in response? How can we get to the bottom of it? No questions asked. We have become a country of fatalists. This was in our fate. So let’s just move on.

Today is the birth anniversary of Nurul Islam, the Gonotontri party leader who was burnt to death along with his son in a mysterious fire incident — another two people whose death remains unaccounted for.

A few months ago, his daughter Moutushi Islam showed us a documentary on the progress of investigation (or the lack of it) at Shahid Minar. The Shahid Minar was filled with people watching the documentary with tears in their eyes.

In their grief, they all probably thought this was a pointless exercise. Nothing will change, nothing will matter. What’s the point in demanding? Islam’s family and friends have has made sure that the demand for justice remained. Asking the right question is the first step and the most important step in this process.

So what are the right questions in this case?

-After the initial PDB report that concluded that it was not a short circuit, a “curious” follow-up report was released that contained misleading and erroneous findings. The MD of PDB himself was not aware of the second report. This suggests that some vested interest group has been trying to tamper with the investigation. However, there seems to be no clear effort to identify who influenced PDB to come up with the erroneous second report.

-Nurul Islam was called back to Dhaka on that fateful night by a trusted associate based on a false newspaper report — however, there was no investigation or interrogation regarding the source of this false report. Why?

-The issue of broken key door and bent window grill does not seem to have been taken seriously during the investigation. Why?

-This case has been listed as a “sensational case” but still there has been very little progress in the past 20 months. Why?

-There was no proper forensic analysis done — some chemical analysts were brought in, but no formal report ever came out. Why?

-There is repeated effort to try to conclude that it was a short circuit despite the fact that there is clear evidence to the contrary. Why?

A few months ago an inexplicable series of incidents took away the life a young man, an acquaintance of mine, in a fire. The police investigation team (which does not have a proper forensic team) was clueless and termed it a “short circuit.” The affluent family brought in a forensic expert from Singapore and the explanation was found in only a matter of days. It was not a short circuit. The family mourned, but they were at peace.

Nurul Islam’s family is not affluent. Nurul Islam spent all his life fighting for the rights of the workers. They cannot bring in a specialist from abroad. But the government can. Until we have built the expertise, can we not take help of outsiders to build our capacity? Until we build the capacity, can we not at least take the help for at least the most sensational cases?

Or is justice in this country for those who can afford it? Or are we going to remain a nation of fatalists who think if it was in our fate, then nothing could have been done about it and so no investigation is needed.

Enough of events and activities, we now need to demand results and outcomes. The trial of war criminals is ensuing. The process of righting the wrongs has started. Let’s not stop there.

Asif Saleh is the founder of Drishtipat, a social rights organisation.

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