BACHCHU RAZAKAR: RAGE, SATISFACTION AND FRUSTRATION TOO
The court verdict to hang Abul Kalam Azad aka ‘Bachchu Razakar’ for crimes committed in 1971 has been welcomed by all. He had lived a charmed life till only a few years back and it’s only expected that the cheering sounds on the streets after the verdict against him should be heard so loudly. But along with the verdict, now to be appealed, certain troubling issues must be faced particularly on trying any criminal who is a higher up. This affects our social, institutional and political life. ‘Bachchu Razakar’ and his life history is a good example for what goes on in Bangladesh.
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The term ‘Razakar’ has now developed a generic meaning for a traitor but in 1971 it was generally the rural poor who in a difficult economic year took up this village based paramilitary jobs. The Pakistan state never built a law and order infrastructure in East Pakistan so when in 1971 the situation demanded the building of a network to uphold the flag they chose the “Razakar’ system. It was also a carte blanche for committing criminal activities. It was not just loot and plunder by themselves but also helping scout out wealthy rural people to loot or women to take for the pleasure of the Pakistan army.
In a classical class sense they belonged to the lumpen proletariat in most cases and basically in return for defending “Pakistan” in the villages, they could do whatever they want. However, in cases they were just a very poor lot with a horrible job and more under the control of the village leaders rather than any political leader. Research also brings up few examples of a politically committed Razakars. Most were happy to loot and steal and kill. Political traitors came from the Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim League, etc. Like Bacchu.
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Bachchu Razakar comes from a different world. He is a man who was not paid to serve Pakistan but a man of will and intent who did so out of conviction. He is in a different league of his own and there should be no confusion that it’s such people who were capable of committing war crimes. We are not going to go into the quality of the trial and the controversies that have been generated unfortunately around the ICT but the social evidence has been there for long 40 years and in the minds of many witnesses, he was always guilty. That is not a legal issue of course but much more about the perception of the criminal in this society.
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In most of the villages where the Razakars committed atrocities, they met with social justice after 1971. It means mobs attacked the criminal Razakars and killed many of them. We have documented such ‘mob justices’ in at least three places where large scale Razakar killing had occurred. In the places where they had done nothing, little happened. Between the day of liberation and the day when the formal state began to intervene, we notice such events. Since, the formal legal sector takes such a lot of time to bring even one criminal to task, the people often go for immediate mob justice, however illegal or horrible that may be. Mob justice will end only when the state legal system strengthens.
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This also points to the fact that Bachchu Razakar was arrested but let go after 1975because of political reasons and that puts the link between crime and politics in full focus. But it would be wrong to think that this involves war crimes only. In every sector there are big criminals whether murderers, looters, bank scammers or the less glamorous ones like share market manipulators, bank loan defaulters, and so on who survive through political protection. Their criminal sectors may be different but the essential, structure, process and system of immunity for criminals are the same.
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However, this is not only about protecting criminals but also a lack of astonishing competence of our law and order forces. Bachchu Razakar was a war criminal and very well known yet our security agencies failed to arrest him on time and he is now thumbing his nose at us all. Some think that this is deliberate and they let him go after being paid but our history shows that the law and order forces simply didn’t have enough capacity to do the job. The state didn’t have the ability to do so in 40 years although the entire people — barring a few of their supporters — were behind the state. It’s a bit embarrassing that a known criminal managed to escape the feeble net of criminal justice and may never pay for his crimes.
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Bachchu Razakar had a large number of followers thanks to his TV role. He was considered a Maulana, a respected scholar, etc. His link with the religious institution of Islam made him revered and he shone using the light of his association with Islam. This is a lesson for us. We should neither support nor accept anyone simply because they belong to the camp we also support. Bachchu Razakar was a criminal who hid behind the walls of Islam.
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In the end, while the verdict brings relief, the verdict itself also may become an academic matter because the convicted is missing. Many reasons can be cited for this but it’s obvious that we are still somewhat behind in delivering full justice. When the criminal escapes, justice escapes too. Nevertheless this verdict goes someway and hopefully it’s not contested on legal and factual grounds.
Since it takes around 40 years to try a war criminal, it will probably take longer to try the economic war criminals. So maybe we should start now.
Meanwhile congratulations to all and let’s hope Bachchu Razakar is caught and returned to Bangladesh wherever he may be.
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.
January 23, 2013