Interview of Rafiur Rabbi by Shahidul Alam

Interview: Shahidul Alam and Rahnuma Ahmed
Transcript: Saydia Gulrukh Kamal
Translation: Hana Shams Ahmed

Interview of Rafiur Rabbi, father of murdered teenager Tanvir Mohammad Toki of Narayanganj. from Shahidul Alam on Vimeo.
Transcript of interview of cultural activist Rafiur Rabbi of Narayanganj. The body of Rabbi’s teenage son, a brilliant student from Narayanganj, was found in the river. He had been tortured. It is generally felt in Narayanganj (as Rabbi himself feels), that this was done by Shameem Osman, considered the godfather of Narayanganj, to stop Rabbi from impeding his (Shameem’s) business.
The murder of Toki follows a similar pattern where over the years, people who have resisted activities by Shameem Osman’s family have been murdered.

Tanvir Mohammad Toki, wgi was murdered in Narayanganj. The family blame the godfather of Narayanganj, Shameem Osman.
Tanvir Mohammad Toki, wgi was murdered in Narayanganj. The family blame the godfather of Narayanganj, Shameem Osman.

Shahidul Alam: Rabbi bhai. A father who has lost his child, it is very difficult to question but I am questioning you because, you are a special person, your role is different, we do not see Towki as your child only, we see him as our child too, we see him as Bangladesh?s child, and that is why we need to find out. If you could tell us a few things about Towki at first.
Fazle Rabbi, cultural activist from Narayanganj, father of murdered teenager Tanvir Mohammad Toki. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Rafiur Rabbi, cultural activist from Narayanganj, father of murdered teenager Tanvir Mohammad Toki. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Rafiur Rabbi: His mother will be able to say more about Toki than I will be able to, what I can say from my position is that, Toki was different from 8/10 other boys. His thoughts and concerns were completely different. ? (pause)? and within our family and with his friends and classmates from school, there were never any instances when he spoke loudly with them. He never made any complaints about anyone, even if someone misbehaved with him, he would never complain about him. At various times when T0wki came back home his mother would ask him if something had happened in school, has any teacher treated you badly, or whether any friends have, he would say no all the time. He never had any complaints about anyone. He would do his studies on his own. We never put any pressure on him about his studies, do it like this, or do it like that, we never used to say these things to him. He would do his studies in his own way, until his O-levels he would start studying at nine at night and continue to study till four or four-thirty in the morning. And he never took coaching anywhere. So we asked him several times, if you need to take coaching somewhere, you can tell us. But he did not want to take coaching. But when his O-level results came out, the results were good, he got star in six subjects out of seven, he got an A in English. He got the highest mark in the country in Physics. The highest mark in the country. So, it did not seem like he tried really hard to achieve these results. During his A-levels, his mother would especially express concern, she would tell me that his results might not be very good. But even then what I would generally say, at least mistakes? [incomplete sentence] let whatever happens, I never said anything about doing good or bad results? [incomplete sentence] so once after giving his exams, after his A-level exams, he told me, one day, baba what?s use of doing good results? I told him that, it?s actually of no use to do good results, but time is being spent to achieve results, so it?s making good use of that time? so he told me that, those who have become good people or big people, good results have come of no use to them. I said, no, it hasn?t. But it?s not good to dilly dally with it either. Sometimes his mother would say to him, look baba, please make sure your results are not bad. His mother would get very concerned when she saw that he would pay more attention to reading other books over his text books. This was because when he was in class six then in his Bangla exams he scored 68 out of 100. At that time I told him, look baba, Bangla is our own language, you must do well in Bangla [emphasis]. So, he told me, I am giving you my word baba, three days later he said, I will do well in Bangla. Then I noticed that, he started reading up on these topics from various outside books. When his results came out the following year, he achieved the highest score in his class in Bangla. It was probably 86 or 87 out of 100. I noticed the attraction that he had for books from outside, which books attracted him most, I noticed that he started out with Akhtaruzzaman Ilias. He read Chilekothar Shepai and Khowabnama, these things? I used to notice them very carefully, is he actually enjoying them, or is he reading them for the sake of reading. Then I noticed that he was reading them very attentively, and later I saw that he was reading Edward Said, Jack Derida, these things, he was reading these books. One day I asked him, can you understand Jack Derida? He laughed and didn?t say anything. But towards the end, his exam finished two months ago, three months ago, after that [could not understand the word] I used to see that he was studying, before that I saw that he had almost entirely finished reading Tolstoy?s War and Peace. So, sometimes, he would want to write a bit, he would show it to me, I would correct some things. His writings, in Bangla and English, were published in various places. The day he left, on the 6th of this month, at 4 in the afternoon, at that time, I was sitting right here. He told me, baba I?m coming from outside. I told him, okay. He was leaving the house wearing the t-shirt he was wearing at home, I told him to change the t-shirt. He changed his clothes. I asked him, have you taken your mobile with you? He told me, no. Take the mobile. He took the mobile. I called him to me. You look worried, are you concerned about something? Are you worried? He said, no. I told him, okay go. I didn?t ask him where he was going. Because I knew all the places where he would go to. Maybe Sujon Library, at this end [inaudible, I couldn?t understand the name of the place] he wouldn?t normally go out of the house much. I would talk to him, so that he would go out of the house, when I was in class five I walked from Narayanganj High School to Khanpur to buy an expensive stamp. I went to Sylhet after my SSC exams. Like this, like this. So, sometimes it would seem like, that maybe, he does not have the courage. But it was not actually like that. What I saw, he actual gave explanations for these things, he didn?t like it. Chatting with friends, all these things, he actually would not enjoy those things. For that, he had built a world of his own. A universe of his own. He wanted to stay by himself. The day he left, two days before that he told me, baba, at The Daily Star, they publish a couple of pages on youth, they want to appoint someone, they want a journalist, they have given an advertisement there, should I apply? I asked him, what qualifications do they require? He said that, someone with good skills in English. I told him that if you feel you should apply, then go ahead. The day he left, that morning he was standing at the balcony, he usually does not stand in the balcony looking so gloomy. So, I called him, after calling him Toki and I had breakfast. I was usually late to return home in the afternoon, if I was late, I usually called home to inform this, you finish eating, I will be late, but it turned out that even if I was one or two hours late, he would wait not eat and wait for me. So that day, when as I am waiting to eat my lunch, I am waiting, I called him and had lunch together. That morning I told him, your results are going to come out tomorrow, you should go to school and find out whether your friends have taken admission or not or when admission starts. You should find this out today or tomorrow. He shook his head. So, then he left at four, saying this, at six I?
Rafiur Rabbi: Then, I went to find out, we searched for him here and there, we could not find him anywhere. By the time I got back it was nine-thirty. I got back here at nine-thirty and went to the police station at ten, to do a GD. By this time a lot of people had called in and found out, a few teams were coming in to the police station, after doing the GD at the police station we went to the RAB office. It was eleven at night at that time. I gave a written letter at the RAB office and came back home. The RAB office is about 40 feet, 40 yards from my house.
[Rahnuma, I just saw it, Amol showed it to me]
And the place where I recovered Toki?s body from, the distance of that place is between 300 to 350 yards. Which means that the whole area is within RAB?s jurisdiction. But RAB did not show any urgency, police did not show any urgency. The following day they informed the press, we did this, we did that, and the day was over. On the morning of the 8th when the police came here to ask various questions, at that time, the officer-in-charge at our Narayanganj police station, s/he made a phone call, this is what has happened, we found someone at that place near the colony. They didn?t say we have found a body. We found somebody. Jeans pants, that pant, he was wearing black jeans. Was the jeans very tight or loose? I said, medium. Then I asked him, what was the shirt like? He was going to wear a shirt, he changed after I asked him to. A black stripe shirt. I said, what is the shirt like? He could not say. It was mixed with sand? I said, does he have a mobile with him? They said, yes, there is a mobile on him. I asked them, is the mobile button or touch screen? It was filled with sand, they immediately responded, it?s a touch, Walton. I immediately right away, I am coming. I went there immediately. After going there I identified him. That day, at night, I buried him. Now the thing is that, the kind of boy Toki was, the type of person he was, he did not use that mobile phone much. When we saw his call list for the last seven days, we saw that there were two received calls, and one dialed call. It came from the same number and went to the same number. That is his mother?s number. On the 6th. That very day. And on the 2nd there was a call from his friend?s number, one of his friends, his name is Ruhul. They discussed where they would get admitted to, those kinds of things. That?s why he never had any interest in mobile phones. He does not even go out with his mobile, he was not doing so, he only did so because I asked him to. What I saw, and we saw it after tracking it as well, that the phone was turned off at one point. It was not turned on after that. So, he has no reasons to have enemies. That this and that happened to him because of that reason. What has happened to him, is because of me. Because, for a long time, we have been involved with various movements and struggles, and this tradition has been there in Narayanganj for thousands of years. [There were loud sounds outside.] There are various histories of movements and struggles. During the British period, I can talk about the movement of ?52, I can talk about the movement in ?71 which gave birth to a lot of political parties. And our misfortune is that after independence our Narayanganj is once again being known throughout the country as a thoroughfare for terrorism. And especially because of one particular family, one group this badge has been sported on Narayanganj?s body. We have seen that this family, to extortion, to maintain their dominance has not hesitated to do anything necessary. Land-grabbing, they increase the rent somewhere, there is a transport syndicate here, they increase the rent here from time to time at their own free will, we protested.. At one time the transport-owners gave a letter to RAB here, this is towards the end of 2010, they gave a letter to RAB explaining how Nasim Osman collects money from them through extortion, how Shamim Osman collects money from them through extortion. How they are having to pay extortion money to them. So we took a look at that paper once, and in June of 2011 when they increased the fare from 22 takas to 30 takas, we protested, we voiced our protest quite loudly, and various social political and cultural groups from Narayanganj together took up a movement to protect the right of passengers, and they made me the convener for this. From that time on we started doing various movements and programmes, and that?s when I said, the extortion money that is being paid to Nasim Osman, if we can stop it, then the price that has been increased, it will come down to half of what it is now. It is very important to put a stop to this extortion. We had a meeting about this with the DC. Shamim Osman, on behalf of the owners was in support of raising the fare, and all other political, social, cultural groups, and even various Awami League MPs and the mayor were against raising the fare, this is how we positioned ourselves. So this created an unfavorable situation as people all over the country saw on TV and video footage. There was a huge argument between parliamentarian Sarwar Kobori and Shamim Osman and there was exchange of indecent words, these things happened. And they have used various means to subjugate people through various activities, and they still do. And they talk about independence. They say that rajakars, if we don?t stay here then this place will be filled up with rajakars and Jamaat-Shibir. Shamim Osman?s father-in-law, there was an organization created by the name of Narayanganj Islamic Society, he is the director of this organization, the organization with which the current Amir of Jamaat-e-Islam Maulana is involved, the former Amir Nazrul Islam is involved. Kamruzzaman who is now in jail waiting to be hanged for war crimes, he?s also involved with this organization. And despite this, those who speak against them, against their dominance, against their terrorism, against their extortion, they are labeled as being anti-independence, as being Jamaat. Those who protest against these things are threatened, murdered, and they have built some torture cells in Narayanganj, the sons of these are the sons of Shamim Osman and Nasim Osman, and everyone knows where these torture cells are, everyone in Narayanganj knows. Many nights people living near these cells hear people?s wails, they hear the sound of gunshots. Yet, the administration doesn?t know it, RAB doesn?t know it, the police don?t know it. No actions are taken against them. These things are going on. So they [unclear] have been doing these things in this manner for a long time. During the last City Corporation elections they broke many of the idols in the temples, they broke the arms of the idols and spread terror that if Shamim Osman does not succeed in the elections the Hindus are not going to be safe anymore, their communal power is not going to let them stay there anymore, they have even done such abhorrent things here. We took a strong stand at that time, against everything during the City Corporation elections at that time, an election steering committee was set up in the name of Shommilito Nagorik Forum (Combined Citizen?s Forum) to conduct the election work of Ivy, I was made the member secretary of that, Akram shaheb was the convener. So, especially at that time I have said those things, to the people of Narayanganj and to the media, this battle is the battle to give a verdict against terrorism. Whether we want to let the terrorists maintain their dominance over the people of Narayanganj. The battle to decide this. The people of Narayanganj gave their verdict against the terrorists. And Ivy won against Shamim Osman with a difference of more than a hundred thousand votes. They had a lot of resentment towards us over these matters for a long time, they used to very nonchalantly think of extortion, terrorism, land-grabbing ? as their work, as a result of which, such a time has come that in the nation.
Shahidul: Now
Rafiur Rabbi: Now such a time has come that the anti-independence groups Jamaat-Shibir are brutally attacking the minority communities in various districts across the country, they are setting fire to their houses, breaking their temples, and the day when the demand for death penalty for Kader Mollah was made, the day death penalty was given, from the day when the entire country rose to demand the death penalty, we started the movement on 7 February. And we have till now preserved the movement here, we have asked for the highest punishment for the war criminals, for the banning of Jamaat-Shibir?s politics, we have been talking about these things. Their Jamaat-Shibir politics? they terrorize them there, they talk about Jamaat-Shibir there, yet, all these programmes that have been going on against Jamaat-Shibir for such a long time, or this demand for highest form of punishment for the war criminals, we do not see any role of them here. But, they thought this was an opportune moment, if they can hurt Rafiur Rabbi now, they can easily pass it off as something Jamaat-Shibir has done. That is why they have chosen this moment. And that is why they have done this, and I think everyone in Narayanganj will know about this, the administration know who has done this, this family has caused this, it can be said that they do these things like murders, killings and extortion as a matter of family tradition, and to maintain their dominance without interruption they carry out these murders at various times, they maintain their torture cells, they brandish their arms through their cadres. So that people don?t open their mouths here. So that they don?t make a single noise about it. For years and decades they have been holding the people of Narayanganj hostage in this manner. They attack those who give testimony against the war criminals, Jamaat-Shibir is attacking them. They are changing their targets.. In Narayanganj they thought this was the right opportunity to do this and make it look like something Jamaat-Shibir did. The incident in Narayanganj was not caused by Jamaat-Shibir. Jamaat-Shibir has nothing to do with it. But this message was given to the media, this is what is being assumed outside Narayanganj, because I am the main initiator of the Gonojagoron Moncho here, that?s why it must be Jamaat-Shibir who carried this out. But that is not the truth here. Jamaat-Shibir are not very strong here. Today they shout that they oppose Jamaat-Shibir and that they are a force for the independence. When in ?92 an? anti- Jamaat-Shibir movement was built here by Jahanara Imam, we, I took an initiative to form the Ghatak-Dalal-Nirmul Committee, in Narayanganj, in ?92. We set up a 21-member committee with Bir Pratik Giasuddin as convener and Tamizuddin Rizvi as member secretary. They were not involved with that committee. When we expanded it and made it 41-member, we involved them. When Sayedee came to Narayanganj, when Sayedee came here they were in the procession, but it was us who resisted them. The fight was with us. Our people got beaten up by the police at that time. We obstructed them, we resisted them. And now they are raising the smoke about Jamaat-Shibir and they are reaping the benefits of independence, they are hitting the heads of those who are pro-independence. They murder them and want to pass it off as Jamaat-Shibir. This is the misfortune of the people of Narayanganj that, we can say that, Awami League is the leadership organization for independence, my father was one of the founding members of Awami League. But I don?t do Awami League. Awami League has given leadership in the struggle for independence, yet, the reality in Narayanganj is that when Awami League came to power, this family, this evil power came alive, and they set themselves up on the shoulders of the people of Narayanganj like a jogoddol stone. And we the people of Narayanganj want to be relived from this. And what they have thought is that through the killing of Toki they have been able to make their dominance through their empire free of obstructions, they would be able to do it without any impediments. They have thought this wrongly [special emphasis on the word]. They are living in a fool?s paradise. This will never happen. This will never happen. Not in a million years. The people of Narayanganj will give their answers with clenched teeth, and they will uproot all this terrorism, dominance and murders. The people of Narayanganj will never accept this. Never this. And Toki has shown the path for everyone to walk on, we have taken the pledge to walk on this path.
Shahidul: Let?s come to another point, you mentioned the name of some organizations, but you are also involved with other movements including the oil and gas committee? Do you think there is any connection to this with those?
?Rafiur Rabbi: The thing here is that, as you know, we are anti-imperialist, just like the moncho, those who are exploiting natural resources, all these nationalist parties when they come to power, the imperialist countries exploit our natural resources under the patronage or support of these parties, we have built up a country-wide movement against this, oil-gas, mineral resources, electricity, the national committee to protect the ports, a lot of the left political groups here have been standing up against these from the very beginning. I have been made the convener of this committee, look at the railways we have here, some crooked railway employees together with these syndicates here are trying to grab the lands of the railway, and a few people are getting together here to loot and plunder. We have been resisting these things at various times. We are standing up against the looting of our national wealth. They give out tenders to sell land that belongs to RAJUK. We have built up a strong movement now. That we won?t allow the looting of RAJUK land, railway land, and land belonging to BIWTA. These lands have been acquired from the people of Narayanganj at various times. They were acquired from the then pourashava (city council) at that time. The people of Narayanganj don?t have access to a good medical college. There are no universities here. No play grounds. No parks. We have not been able to set any of these things up because of the scarcity of land. And in this scenario we will not let our lands be looted like this. We from the Narayanganj citizens? committee, and I am the senior vice-president of the Narayanganj citizens? committee, we protested from the Narayanganj citizens? committee at that time. We have built up a strong movement, this land belonging to RAJUK, the looting of this land. And we have succeeded in this resistance. We have carried out a movement against the Narayanganj bus owners, and we have managed to bring down the bus fare. We have managed to bring BIW and BRTC buses to Narayanganj. And they, the bus owners, did not want the railway to come here, or the BRTC buses to come here, they wanted the rail to barely function — this is what they wanted. And they were colluding with the employees of these organizations to carry out these activities without any obstructions. We have managed to make the BRTC buses functional here, we have increased the number of bogeys in the railway, we have increased the numbers, we have sat numerous times with the railway ministry, we have sat with the minister. This went against their interest. That is why they could not accept this from the people of Narayanganj. But those who are in the administration here, instead of looking at the interest of the people of Narayanganj or the interest of the common people, are busy giving security to those who are carrying out murders and looting. We express profound protest against the administration. And this is because they are patronizing this from the highest level of the government.?
Rafiur Rabbi: on 25th March 1971, Tikka Khan landed on this part of the world and said, I want the land of this place, not the people. Saying this they started murdering people like birds. We want to ask, the person who is in the top position of the present government, she should give security to the people of Narayanganj, do the people of Narayanganj want that those who are carrying out these murders and hooliganism, that they take the side of these executioners? She has to take this decision there. And we the people of Narayanganj, we will no longer carry around this jogoddol stone on our shoulders.

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

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