Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gamekeepers turned poachers; villagers cop the robbers May 5 2011

A late night burglary in a Bangladeshi village sparks off a day of rioting
as the law'n'order situation is turned upside down...

Kaharol, Dinajpur - north-western Bangladesh; in the early hours of
Tuesday morning (3rd May) a house burglary occurred in a village in the
far north of the country. Dr Rajendranath Devnath, owner of the house,
discovered the group of masked robbers at 1.30 am;

“Hearing the sound of breaking the front door, I rushed out of my room
to see what was happening. Without saying anything, the intruders hit
me with sharp weapons,”

After stabbing the doctor, the robbers also attacked another family member
before leaving with Taka 3 Lakh (around £2,500/€2,750/$4,100), some gold
ornaments and several mobile phones.

Hearing cries for help, nearby villagers were alerted to the incident and
gathered to try to stop the robbers making their getaway in a white
microbus. The robbers responded by throwing Molotov cocktails and firing
at the crowd before driving away.

As the crowd grew, they began chasing the microbus and eventually caught
it by blocking the road at nearby Boleya Bazaar. The robbers, now trapped
and surrounded, then introduced themselves to the angry crowd - as police
officers of nearby Birganj station. The furious crowd now beat up the five
cops and then locked them in a nearby building.

Responding to a call by mobile from the detainees, later in the morning
two senior policemen - one a Deputy Commissioner - arrived to insist on
the release of the detained cops. Quickly surrounded by an angry mob of
thousands, they were chased away under a volley of stones.

Later a larger detachment of eight police attempted to free their
colleagues. Firing rubber bullets, a pitched battle began as villagers
replied with more volleys of stones. Overwhelmed by force of numbers,
these police were also captured and confined in the same room as their
colleagues. Abandoned police vehicles were torched.

The level of anger reflected the long frustrations of villagers - as one
local explained;

'It is an outburst of the locals against continuous harassment of
people by the police and frequent robberies in the area.' (New Age - 4
May 2011)

An earlier incident meant locals were also already suspicious of wider
police involvement in the rise in robberies;

On March 8, villagers attacked a robber while he was leaving after
robbery in Doptoir village of Biral upazila. The robber was later
found to be a policeman of the upazila. (Daily Star - 4 May 2011)

(Upazilas are county sub-districts.) The villagers had suffered reprisal
in March; "The next day ... two platoon riot police baton-charged the
villagers for attacking the policeman." The following day a regional
senior officer arrived and "begged apology to the villagers for the
atrocities". ( This suggests the regional
police command have long been aware of and concerned at the unrest
provoked by local police corruption in the area.

As clashes continued through Tuesday the unrest spread over a wider area.
Villagers from Birganj and Kaharol marched in protest to their local
police stations and laid siege to them. By 1.30pm Birganj station was on
fire, along with several police vehicles. Police repeatedly fired rounds
of rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. One person was hit by a vehicle
and died while 30 others were injured during the clashes, including three
police; one cop is in a critical condition.

The station OC (officer-in-charge/stationmaster) and other officers were
forced by the mob to remove their uniforms and close the stations. Some
officers fled, leaving behind vans and two rifles.

The locals had their own ideas about 'justice';

The villagers shouted slogans against the OC of Birganj accusing him
of being the ‘mastermind’ behind all robberies in the area and
demanding that he should be handed over to the locals for trial in the
‘people’s court’. [...]
‘Locals alleged that police were involved in the robbery which I
cannot confirm at the moment. But we have taken the allegation
seriously,’ Dinajpur deputy commission Jamal Uddin told New Age. (New
Age - 4 May 2011)

Two platoons of paramilitary Border Guard(1) forces were rushed to the
area and the 13 imprisoned cops were eventually freed after villagers
secured a promise of an investigation into the robberies and action being
taken against the guilty officers. Several officers have now been
suspended - including the OCs of both Birganj and Kaharol stations - and
some are apparently in custody (perhaps as much for their own protection
as any other reason).

The police Criminal Investigation Department have begun their
investigation and are quoted as being "suspicious" regarding the role of
local police in the events. One issue is why Birganj police, in the middle
of the night and in plainclothes, were at the time of the robbery
patrolling an area under the jurisdiction of Kaharol police.

1) Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) are the former Bangladesh Rifles, renamed
and reorganised after their 2009 mutiny; for details, see our earlier

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