Hindu student accused of hurting religious sentiment has been missing for two weeks
Tithy Sarker, a third-year student of zoology department at Jagannath University (JnU), has been missing for two weeks now following her alleged social media post containing derogatory remarks about Islam and Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh).
On October 25, she went out saying she was on her way to the police station and then supposed to go visit Durga Puja pavilion near her home. However, she has been missing since then, according to Tithy’s sister, Smriti Rani Sarker.
Two days later, her family filed a missing report with the Pallabi police station.
While visiting Tithy's residence in Pallabi's Hindu Para on Thursday, Smriti told this correspondent that Tithy’s phone has been switched off ever since she went missing.
Pallabi police station Officer-in-Charge (OC) Kazi Wazed Ali told Dhaka tribune: “The search for Tithy is ongoing. We are trying to trace her.”
Tithy's family told the media that she went missing after leaving her home saying she would go to the police station before heading to a Durga Puja Mandap on October 25.
However, in the general diary filed with the police, Tithy’s sister said she left the house without informing anyone, said OC Kazi Wazed.
What happened that day?
Tithy’s family has been living in Hindupara in North Kalshi in Mirpur 12, Pallabi for the last 35 years. She and three of her other siblings were all born in this area, neighbours said.
Her sister, Smriti said Tithy used to do all the work of the temple ‘Sarbojanin Durga Mandir’ next to their house. She was handling all the work of the temple for this year’s Durga Puja as well.
She said on October 23, Tithy went to the hospital with her father at 7am in the morning. After returning home at around 11am, she immediately went to the temple as it was the seventh day (Maha Saptami) of Durga Puja. After working at the temple till 4pm, she came back home and found a huge number of missed calls and messages on her phone.
At that time she learnt that one of her posts on Facebook had gone viral. She informed her sister about the matter and said she had not been able to access her Facebook for the last two days.
Later in the evening, Tithy filed a GD with Pallabi police station claiming that her Facebook account was hacked and the hackers posted derogatory comments to malign her image.
By October 24, the post spread in the area and the Muslims living there came to Tithy's house to talk about the matter. Smriti said they were sent back after explaining that Tithy's account was hacked.
Later a police officer came to her house that evening and asked Tithy to go to the police station the next morning.
On October 25, Tithy left her home at 9am. Every year Tithi organized a boat trip with the locals on the occasion of Durga Puja. She told everyone to prepare for the boat trip before leaving the house, her sister said.
She said: “Between 9:30am and 10:30am, two calls came to me from the police station saying that she had not reached there yet.”
Missing or gone into hiding?
“We started worrying for her when it was getting late that day and started looking for her everywhere. For the first two days, I thought maybe she went somewhere to hide herself. As she contacted nobody in two days, we filed a GD with the police on October 27,” said Smriti.
Tithy is a very responsible person, if she had gone somewhere willingly, she would have informed the family at least once, she added.
She said incoming calls on her phone were blocked from the day before she went missing.
“Our only question now is whether our sister was abducted? Where is she?” Smriti asked.
One of Tithy’s neighbour said: “We last saw her around 7am that day. She was leaving the house and going somewhere.”
OC Kazi Wazed said: “I advised Tithy to go to the cybercrime unit as they would investigate the hacking of her Facebook account. She was supposed to come to the police station on October 25 to talk about that.”
“One of our officers went to speak to her family on Wednesday. The missing report along with her picture has been forwarded to all police stations across the country. The CID (Criminal Investigation Department) and DB (Detective Branch) are also helping us,” he said.
After going through Tithy’s phone records, investigators found that no calls were received after 2.30am on October 24. The last location detected on her mobile was around her house that night. Nothing unusual was noticed after checking her call history.
What did she write?
Tithy holds the posts of JnU unit’s convenor of World Hindu Struggle Council and office secretary of Student’s Protection Council. She was suspended from the student organization, Bangladesh Student’s Right Council on October 23 when her post went viral.
Raisul Islam Nayan, president of Bangladesh Student’s Right Council JnU unit, said: “Seven months ago, there was a controversy over several Facebook posts of Tithy. It was true that it was religion related. She never made any direct comment that time although argued with her seniors on Facebook.”
“At that time, we told her on behalf of the organization to not post this kind of post or comment. But when we saw her viral post on October 23, we suspended her within 7-8 hours,” he added.
Tithy’s classmate, Mohammad Shariful told Dhaka Tribune: “7-8 months ago she posted on Facebook about conflicts between Hindu and Muslim community, but did not make any direct criticism then.”
Tushar Sarker, Tithy’s cousin said: “I never heard her talk about other religions.”
Her sister, Smriti said: “We didn’t even know she was a member of World Hindu Struggle Council or writing anything on her Facebook.”
On October 26, authorities of JnU issued a suspension order against Tithi for reportedly hurting religious sentiments.
It also served her a show-cause notice seeking an explanation of why her studentship should not be permanently cancelled.
Meanwhile, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of police arrested a man Niranjan Baral, 50, a resident of Jhalakathi, on Monday from Dhaka on charges of circulating rumours against the agency over the recent disappearance of Tithy Sarker. A case was filed against him under the Digital Security Act (DSA) with Paltan police station.
On November 5, Tithy Sarker, was sued under the Digital Security Act for allegedly making derogatory comments about religion on Facebook. Abu Musa Rifat, a student from Tithy’s department, filed the case with the Cyber Tribunal in Dhaka.