Seventeen years ago, 11 members of a family were brutally killed in an arson attack on their home in Chattogram’s Banshkhali, but the trial of the massacre is showing no sign of ending anytime soon.
The frustrated relatives of the victims have spent everything they had on the protracted trial.
As much as 16 months have passed since the High Court ordered the disposal of the case within six months from Jun 23, 2019, but the trial court is yet to record testimonies of more than half of the 50 witnesses.
The perpetrators set fire to the house at Sheelpara in Sadhonpur village by using gun powder on the night of Nov 18, 2003, burning to death 11 people, including women and children.
The victims are Tejendra Lal Sheel, 70, his wife Bakul Sheel, 60, their son Anil Sheel, 40, Anil’s wife Smriti Sheel, 32, Anil and Smriti’s three children Rumi Sheel, 12, Sonia Sheel, 7, and 4-day-old Kartik Sheel, Tejendra’s nieces Babuti Sheel, Prasadi Sheel, 17, and Annie Sheel, 7, and their relative from Cox’s Bazar Debendra Sheel, 72.
Bimal Sheel, another son of Tejendra who survived the carnage, later started a case and has since spent the 17 years waiting for justice.
“I’ve gone broke running the case. I’m struggling, but I haven’t had any support,” he said, seeking government help.
“Newspapers publish reports on the anniversaries. That’s all. No one cares anymore about us. I’ve lost my parents. I have nothing else now,” Bimal said.
Rana Dasgupta, the general secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, the premier minority rights group, has been vocal for justice for the Banshkhali carnage.
He said trial of none of the chilling attacks, including the one in Banshkhali, between 2001 and 2006 has been completed.
“The nation wants to see justice for the murders of 11 people in Banshkhali without delay. The relatives have become frustrated. They fear that they will not be able to get justice in their lifetime,” he added.
The state counsels say the trial could not proceed due to the failure to produce witnesses. Also, the court hearing the case had no judge for eight months.
Another judge, Sabidur Rahman, is acting as the judge of the Third Additional District and Sessions Judges Court after the previous judge, Munshi Abdul Mazid, was transferred in February.
Lokman Hossain Chowdhury, an additional public prosecutor, said the court recorded the statement of one witness in the last hearing on Feb 24.
The hearing could not take place as the judge was absent on the next two dates while the activities were paused for months due to the coronavirus lockdown.
When court proceedings resumed, Judge Sabidur issued summons for 10 witnesses, including locals, policemen and magistrate, but none of them appeared on next three dates, including the last day of hearing on Nov 3.
Lokman said most of the policemen and the magistrate have been transferred while several journalists, who were named as witnesses, did not appear.
The state counsel said journalist Samaresh Baidya, who wrote a series of reports on the incident, was among the witnesses. Samaresh, however, expressed surprise when he heard about it, saying he never got a notice. “No one informed me,” he said.
Another journalist, Sumi Khan, alleged that she went to the court to give her statement twice after getting the notice in 2015, but her deposition was not recorded. “No one contacted me afterwards. I haven’t received any notice either,” she said.
Hla Ching Pru, an assistant superintendent of police, submitted the charge sheet in January, 2011. He was the eighth investigation officer assigned to the case.
He brought charges of arson, murder and looting against 38 accused. The state counsel added the charge of murder with an intention to grab property in February, 2012, and the court framed the charges in April the same year.
Only two of the accused are behind bars while 17 are on bail and 19 on the run.
The court began recording statements of the witnesses in May, 2012 and transferred the case to the Speedy Trial Tribunal in October, but it was shifted back to the trial court after the deadline for speedy trial ended without a verdict in 2013.
The next hearing is due on Dec 15 and the court has recorded statements of 20 out of the 57 witnesses.
(This article was published on bdnews24.com on November 18, 2020 and has been reproduced here in full.)
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