Wednesday marks the 20th anniversary of the Udichi tragedy
Twenty years have passed since a twin-bomb blast killed 10 people and injured more than a hundred others at a cultural function of the Bangladesh Udichi Shilpigosthi at Jessore Town Hall.
The brutal massacre, which took place on March 6, 1999, still haunts the memories of survivors, victims’ families, artists and cultural activists as they await justice. But justice has yet to come.
The survivors demand that those responsible for the Udichi attack be identified and brought to trial during the tenure of the present government.
The Udichi Shilpigosthi are known as the largest anti-communal and progressive artists’ organization of the country. Founded in 1968, they pride themselves on having played a significant role in the democratic and cultural movements of Bangladesh.
Far cry for justice
On the night of March 6, 1999, terrorists targeted the cultural function held to mark the 12th National Convention of Udichi. The blast left ten cultural activists dead, including Nazmul Huda Tapan, Sandhya Rani Das, Isias Munshi and Babul Sutradhar, and injured more than a hundred others.
Those who survived the attack are still suffering the physical and mental scars caused by the terror attack. Even after 20 years, justice eludes the victims and their relatives.
The victims urged the government to set a positive example by concluding trial of those responsible for the bombings, so that the people of Bangladesh are relieved of this nightmare.
Case hangs in limbo
Survivors have complained that, due to the weak investigation process, many suspects of the bombing case were acquitted on May 30, 2006.
Both the Udichi and the then Awami League government appealed against this verdict in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The case has been in limbo even after the appeals were accepted by the High court.
Among the 23 accused acquitted in 2006, 5 have already died under different circumstances. Meanwhile, 17 others are roaming free after being granted bail by the trial court in July 24, 2011. One of the accused is presently living in Malaysia.
Cultural activist Sukanto Das, who lost a leg in the Udichi tragedy, told the Dhaka Tribune: “I feel tremendous disappointment that those responsible for the gruesome bombing have yet to face justice. The incident was a huge and barbaric attack on the people.”
“However, we do not see any enthusiasm regarding the case among the administration and the government,” he said.
He continued: “Cultural activists used to stand united and sought justice for the victims. But sadly, this is no longer true. The trial was an important component of a cultural revolution in Bangladesh, but that has yet to become a reality.”
“The people of the administration, government officials and the cultural activists must shoulder this burden of failure,” he said.
Adding that the cultural community has been demanding the trial of the Udichi bombing case for decades, Sukanto added: “Victims of the August 21 grenade attack have also not received justice.”
“I am strongly urging the government to take necessary steps for concluding the trial process of the Udichi bombing. We are extremely disappointed, and it is up to the government to reassure us,” he said.
Sultana Beauty, sister of deceased victim Tapon, added: “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been re-elected after ending the previous tenure. I am urging her government to help conclude the trial process of the Udichi bombings.”
“My mother is still alive, and she wants to see justice done for her deceased son,” she said.
Addressing the issue, Jessore Shilpakala Academy General Secretary Advocate Mahmud Hassan Bulu said: “We are extremely sad and disappointed, as the victims of the Udichi bombings have yet to get justice after 20 years. The investigation of this case appears farcical to us.”
Echoing the same opinion, Harun-or-Rashid, former president of Jessore Sommilito Sangskritik Jote, said: “We, the cultural activists of Jessore, are very concerned and disappointed. The terrorists carried out the attack to shut down all cultural activities across the country.”
“The police are capable of unearthing any mystery, but sadly they have yet to do so in this case. The conclusion of the Udichi bombings trial will once again free the cultural movement in Bangladesh. The people’s confidence will return,” he said.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, the district’s Public Prosecutor Rafiqul Islam, said: “The people of Jessore want justice for the victims of the Udichi bombings. I will personally contact the honourable attorney general and urge him speed up the trial.”
Marking the day
Various socio-cultural organizations in Jessore have organized programs to mark the 20th anniversary of the Udichi tragedy.
Discussions, placing floral wreaths at the memorial monument, light decorations and cultural programs have been organized as part of the commemoration.