First, the daughter – a student – was kidnapped, and then raped. As if that was not enough, she and her mother were then tortured, mentally and physically, for hours, and their heads shaven in an attempt to humiliate and hush them up. In the end, they were asked to leave the town and never come back.
Bogra town Sramik League convenor, Tufan Sarkar, was the culprit. His cohorts abducted the girl, and he raped her. Then his wife, Asha Sarkar, and her sister Marzia Akter, who is a local ward councillor, tortured the girl and her mother. They had the duo's heads shaven.
The picture of the barbaric scene went viral on social media, and outrage followed. To everyone's relief, however, the local police arrested Tufan and his associates on the night of July 28. Police detectives later arrested his wife and relatives involved in torturing and humiliating the girl and her mother.
True, the case broke the pattern of turning a blind eye to crimes committed by those belonging to the powerful quarters. Local law enforcers were quick to arrest the perpetrators. Md Asaduzzaman, the police superintendent of Bogra, said, “How the girl and her mother were tortured was worse than medieval brutality. It's an absolute violation of human rights. Whoever was behind this will not be spared.” He made good on his promise.
What was unexceptional, however, was the reaction from the ruling party. The AL general secretary Obaidul Quader made an attempt to shirk responsibility, arguing Tufan was not “directly” involved with the ruling party. While what Tufan did may not reflect a party as large as the Awami League, resorting to such a way to deflect blame is absurd. For the sake of argument, even if Tufan were “directly” involved with the Awami League, would Mr Quader's reaction have been any different? And what does “directly” mean when Tufan is the convenor of Sramik League? What can be more direct involvement?
He failed to acknowledge that the limitless power Tufan had enjoyed as the leader of the local branch of Sramik League, a major affiliated organisation of the ruling party, contributed to giving rise to the perpetrator's belief that he could get away with literally anything. In fact, according to the victim, Tufan's sister-in-law and ward councillor Marzia Akter threatened her that nothing would happen to them even if they killed her.
This is evident because, according to multiple news reports, Tufan exploited his party position to accumulate big money. He has so far been accused in six cases involving murder, attempted murder, drug trade and smuggling. In 2015, RAB caught him with sacks of phensedyl and Yaba, but he, for reasons unknown, got away. He even maintains his own group of thugs known as “Tufan bahini.”
His brother, Matin Sarkar, was joint secretary of Bogra branch of Jubo League until August 1 when he was removed from the post. Under Matin's patronage, Tufan thrived. Matin himself is extremely powerful in Bogra. A Prothom Alo report states that despite being warranted in a murder case for eight years, he wasn't arrested ever. The police reports submitted before the court have always shown him as “fugitive”—all the while he has met top ministers and attended events hosted by police as an invited guest, and has lived in his house near the local police station! The family is infamous for its involvement in drug and other illicit businesses. All this has been possible because he was a powerful ruling party leader. So now, how can the party escape from its moral responsibility?
AKM Asadur Rahman, the organising secretary of Bogra district Awami League, puts it best: “These actions of a leader of an affiliated organisation undermine the party's image. But those who have bestowed top posts on such persons are not any less responsible.”
In a meeting of the AL presidium committee, the party leaders decided to investigate the case separately. Faridunnahar Laili, the agricultural secretary, said at the meeting that Tufan Sarkar's recent actions tarnished the party's image. Indeed they did, but one wonders why it always takes so long for the political parties to denounce someone of their own. Why were Tufan and his brother not investigated right after they had been accused of committing such serious crimes? Why does the party have to wait until someone commits a crime as grievous as Tufan's?
AL higher-ups should obviously be concerned as they said they were, but when Mr Quader chooses to disown Tufan instead of promising to cleanse his party of such evil elements, we are hardly convinced that their concerns are genuine.
No one is asking the party leaders to repent on behalf of Tufan. All one expects is unequivocal condemnation and resolve to not let such things happen ever again. Whenever a party man commits heinous crimes, why do the leaders repeat the same disturbing sentence that goes “the party will not take the blame for the misdeeds of a bad apple”?
When supporters of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the two US presidential candidates, caused violence, it was up to them to denounce it vigorously. Trump condemned the violence with reluctance, but Sanders did it wholeheartedly as would any other Western politician. If they can take moral responsibility for the deeds of their supporters, why can our parties not take that of their own activists and leaders?
If Tufan had gotten away with committing rape this time, someone on Facebook pointed out, he would have someday been nominated for, say, some elected post. Ironically, he then would also have given regular sermons on “morality” in random events—maybe even one about violence against women. Now that he's exposed the party leaders are ditching him. Obviously, no one in their right mind would lend Tufan any support but simply “removing” or rejecting him does not accomplish anything. The ruling party has to recognise that it is the sense of impunity one feels under its roof that creates monsters like Tufan.
Nazmul Ahasan is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.