[ BREAKING NEWS: 4 Rajshahi University Professors, Associate Professor Moloy Kumar Bhowmik of the Department of Management, Selim Reza Newton, Dulal Chandra Biswas and Abdullah Al Mamun of the Department of Mass Communications, sentenced to 2 years hard labor for “inciting anti-army riots” by students]
[This letter from one of the professors to his wife was received the night before the verdict]
A Rajshahi University teacher’s letter to his wife.
Naturally I was anxious. 25 November was the day of verdict. The night before, darkness had fallen heavily on me. No space left for sleep to enter. “IF” — that one word kept circling inside me, it made all else seem insignificant. “If” the verdict was announced, “if” they decided to punish me would I be able to stay calm and strong in the courtroom? I lay on my prison bed and wondered. I kept telling myself that such things had repeatedly happened in history, from the time of Socrates. No, I could not break down. I would have to be strong. I would have to resist the injustice. I must hold my head up high. I must not bend. I know I will lose my job, you will have to find one…, what can I do in this situation, what should I do, what will happen to you my love? I keep thinking, over and over. I think I have only one weapon at my disposal. I must remain strong, I must keep my spirits high. Like many others in prison. Most of the prisoners are innocent. They are victims of the judicial process, that is why they lead imprisoned lives.
And what if they set me free? One is willing to give up all that one has, to be set free. Life in prison teaches you that, it teaches you the meaning of freedom. If they set me free I think I will go to our famiiar haunts with you — Talaimari, campus, the road beside the Jail which follows the river Padma. I want to see people walking, I will closely observe how men who are free go about their business. I want to sit in the rocking chair at home and read, I want to watch television with you, I want us to sit together and plan new pieces of writing. But first of all, I want to start working on a collection, writings on student protests, the loyal caretaker government, World Bank, IMF activities, our imprisonment, on the all-pervasive culture of fear that has been carefully crafted. If I were to lose my job I will have no regrets, as long as they set me free. That is what I long for, that is how I feel at this moment. Here I have come to know many prisoners who sold the last of what they owned, a piece of land, they gave their last farthing to the dalal (middleman) but did not become free. They lost everything. Some of it found it’s way into the lawyers’ pocket, the rest went to the dalal. Law-administration-jail, it’s a frightening knot, it breaks to pieces ordinary people, political dissidents, those who oppose the powerful. “Case”, its a horrible word, it is monstrous. It is a monster with poisonous hands and feet. These thoughts kept circling my head that night.
I knew the moment I entered the courtroom that the verdict was to be postponed. When I heard 4th of December, after so many days, I was very angry, very disappointed. But things seem to fall into place. This “collaborator” regime wants to set instances. It wants to hurt people. It wants to build a culture of fear. It wants to strip the land naked and sell off all resources to foreign companies. It wants to create a donor-driven code for our universities, it wants to occupy our universities. Look at how the American warships have arrived, without having been invited. They have built a temporary base in Barisal. And look at the jolpais (army) who have planted themselves at the head of institutions. And the Pakistani army medical corps, they too have come, surely for the the first time since 1971? Hasan Moshhud says, if Dudok (ACC) is not allowed to complete its work, it’ll signal the people’s defeat. The Supreme Court has dismissed the High Court injunction on Hasina’s property estimates. Much is said in the name of the land, its people. Those who rule the country are selling it off, they are enslaving its peoples, and it is they who speak in the name of the people. How farcical can things get, how super-real! And all the while, the ordinary people, and those who are with them, they become breathless, they are panting like TB patients.
When the new date was announced in court, I did not wait, not for a moment… I did not speak to anyone. I rushed into the prison van. It seemed like a black curtain had gathered around us. We returned to the prison. We had been silent in the van, we had not spoken to each other. On reaching the jail we had to wait outside, in the space between the two iron gates. It is like being in the mouth of the alligator, waiting to be devoured. We were waiting for the ‘inner’ gate to be opened, waiting for orders to enter the prison building which was built in 1800. While waiting I noticed an old man, sitting on the ground. He was very frail, very old. His haunches alone could not support him, he had to use his hands for support. He turned his head sideways and glanced at us. I could see that it hurt, the sideways glance. His body quivered. I kept looking at him, at his unshaven cheeks, at the prison sheet wrapped around his thin frame to ward off the cold. One of his hands wore a handcuff, it had a long rope trailing off from the handcuff. Does this old man have the strength to escape? One can tell he is very poor from the way he sits, his helpless look, it makes me shudder. His chains are an insult to humanity.
The inner gate was opened and we entered. Another super-real sight greeted us. Seventy to eighty men were sitting on the ground in three rows. They will be taken to court. Prisoners who are being sent off to court have to sit down kneeling. They were guarded by babus, who accost prisoners when they have to go from one part of the jail to another. It reminded me of the first day we had been taken to court. We had been made to stand and wait just like them. And then… we had been ordered to kneel down. Should we…we were agonising when a jomadar came and saved us. He made us form a separate line, we were allowed to remain standing.
Hell. The myth of hell which is inscribed in religion, that is prison. Dhopachalis work in the hospital area, next to our division room. They are 7, at most. That day I got up from bed, went outside and saw them working. A huge earthen fire, a huge pot full of prisoners’ uniforms, the water boiling. One of the men was stirring the clothes, turning them this way and that, another was carefully stoking the fire. The long piece of wood was used to pick the clothes and drop them on the washing board. Korban, who is handsome, and some others were thrashing them on the board, cleaning them of dirt and grime. I felt as if the whole prison, the whole country was boiling in the pot. Boiling in hell.
Two old macchichalis (prisoners deputed to swat flies of those who have division status) were sitting on our veranda, killing flies. One of them… I think he belongs to the marfoti tradition. He had told me early on, “The jail will not be able to contain you.” The other day he said, “A mother cannot keep her baby inside her for more than ten months and ten days, and you think the government can keep you in here?”
….What is going to happen? The last couple of days, I have felt quite low. They were bad days. I keep hoping for good news, but it’s the opposite. I waited for you today. Take care. Be careful. I long to see ma. If the news is bad on the 4th I want to see ma. I send you my love, but I am angry at you for not looking after yourself.