Cops back jungle rule in northwest
A self-styled vigilante group kills people in the name of anti-outlaw operations, force women to wear burka and men to grow beards all under direct police support
In the northwest, he is the law. Women retreat at his approach, hurriedly covering up their head and face. Those who dare to differ with him know their mistakes the hard way in his torture cell. Azizur Rahman is his name, but he prefers to call himself Bangla Bhai, people call him 'the Terror' who leads a gang that wields guns openly and picks anybody up in full knowledge of police.
In four northwestern districts, police are patronising Bangla Bhai and his organisation Jagrota Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), which has kicked off a drive to apparently 'cleanse' leftist outlaws amid allegations of enforcement of harsh Islamic codes and crimes against the vigilante group.
A top police official yesterday said police stations in Rajshahi, Naogaon, Natore and Bogra were asked to support the group in its mission, but locals accused its members of meting out harsher punishment to 'their suspects' and women violating 'their dress codes'.
The group operatives are painting women with their navels exposed with black, randomly assaulting people terming them as Sarbahara men, extorting protection money and forcing men to wear beards and women to put on burka, villagers in the region alleged.
They said they were fearful of the activities of the group and its 'supremo' Azizur Rahman, but Aziz denied all the charges.
The JMJB, which launched the anti-extremist war in April in the region crawling with the outlawed operatives, has allegedly killed seven people and assaulted hundreds of others who oppose them, terming them as Sarbahara men.
Noor Mohammad, divisional inspector general of police (DIG), Rajshahi, told The Daily Star yesterday that Aziz and his men were assisting the law enforcers in tracking down the outlaws.
"We've asked police stations to support them whenever they go to catch outlaws."
He said the vigilantes caught two Sarbahara operatives at Baghmara in Rajshahi a week ago, adding: "After verification and interrogation, we found the pair to be really outlaws."
"You know Sarbahara men have been quite active in the region for many years and it is not possible for the undermanned and under-equipped police to hunt them down. Aziz is now helping us."
On the allegation that the vigilantes were taking the law into their own hands, he said police would keep a vigil on their excesses.
The DIG was, however, critical of the group's 'over-enthusiasm' in asking people to say their prayers and women to wear burka.
Asked whether any group like the JMJB could carry out the duty of law-enforcers, he said police could seek help from any member of the public.
State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar last night said he had heard of the group which was providing tips-off to police on outlaw operations.
"We encourage such activities," he said, stressing that nobody would be allowed to take law into their own hands.
Babar said he had no knowledge of Aziz before he read some press reports on the group recently.
He said he tried to contact the DIG of Rajshahi yesterday for further details, but could not get him. The junior minister promised to look into the matter soon.
UNB adds: Over 800 alleged extremists surrendered to the JMJB at Raninagar upazila in Naogaon in the last two days, raising the number of outlaws given them up in one week to 2,000.
Aziz with a master's in Bangla from Rajshahi University to his credit launched the organisation on April 1 this year and claims that the group by now commands 3,00,000 activists across the country.
"Our goal is to root out Sarbahara men and corruption from society, seize illegal weapons and establish the ideal of the Rasul (Prophet Hazrat Mohammed (SA)," he recently told Hasibur Rahman Bilu, Borga correspondent of The Daily Star.
On the allegations of his group's enforcement of harsh Islamic codes, he said the allegations were part of a conspiracy against the 'popular JMJB'.
"The allegations of harassing women, disregarding people and extorting protection money are propaganda."
"We will continue until Qaiamat (apocalypse)," Aziz said, "We will establish a political party named JMJB if people want it."
On the JMJB's sources of income, he said, "People from all rungs of society are generously paying us funds, no-one is pressurised for money. If someone happily makes a donation, there's no problem."
Asked about the allegation that the JMJB is working with specified directives from the government, Aziz dismissed the suggestion outright. "I'm neither a government official, nor anyone's agent."
"Police do not protect us, we do not need their help. Police are there to protect the people and journalists."
He said people, including union parishad chairmen and peace-loving leaders and activists of political parties in the pockets of widespread extremist operations, were assisting them.
"Although we do not have a political opponent now, we feel cadres from both the ruling and opposition parties are secretly opposing us because of harm to their interests."
"We will give them an opportunity to correct themselves. If they fail to correct themselves, we'll take a tough line against them," he warned.