Sunday, March 15, 2015

Political crisis 2015: 'Democracy cannot happen through petrol bombs"

Md Salim at the burns unit of the DMCH  
See also in the 'Political Crisis 2015' series:
Analysis of the deaths (updated to  March)

Here are four stories from Dhaka Medical College Hospital's burn unit which emblems the sheer inhumanity of the men who have been throwing petrol bombs into vehicles causing serious injury and often death. In the vast majority of cases, it is reasonable to assume these incidents are the responsibility of opposition picketers, or those working for them.

Md Al Malum's Story
Md Al Malum, DMCH
21 year old Md Al Malum, was lying on his back, with his heavily bandaged arms sticking out, cross-like, from his body. He comes from Tangail, and his parents were with him in the ward when I visited. His mother stays in the hospital all the time with her son, and sleeps by the side of the bed. I first asked Malum about how it happened: 
“I was a helper on a cargo truck and on 18th February we were going from Tangail to Bhuapur. The 18th was itself not a strike today, but a strike had been called for the next day. At 7.45 in the evening I finished loading the truck at Bhuapur and we started on the trip back.

"I had just started the journey when suddenly men appeared and threw a petrol bomb on the ground in front of the truck so the driver had to stop. Another person then came up to the driver’s window and asked “Why are you driving a vehicle during a hartal’. and then threw a bomb into the vehicle through the side window. It looked like a bottle with petrol in it with a flame at the end. A fire then started in the cabin and my clothes caught fire. I jumped out of the truck, and rolled myself on sand on the side of the road.

"There were some houses on the edge of the road and people were beckoning us to come down. They were too scared to come up themselves to help - they did not have the courage to come. So we went down and then people called the police who collected us in about 15 minutes. At the time I was crying out in pain.

"The police took me to Tangail Sadar hospital, and I was given saline but nothing else and was sent to DMCH arriving the next morning at 6 am.

"I didn’t think about the risks. It was not a hartal day and in any case I had no choice but to work. I am on a salary of about Tk 10,000 to 15,000 per month.

"I am burnt on my arms, the side of my face, and shoulders. There is pain all the time, pain killers reduce it for a time but then it just comes back.”
I then enquired what he thought of the people who did this to him and the current political situation.
“People don’t know what they are putting others through. It is the fault of the BNP And Khaleda Zia. 
What kind of democracy will come through petrol bombs. Only those who suffer knows what it is like to suffer from these burns. I don’t think elections is solution to this, but at least they should sit and talk.

Arresting Khaleda Zia will worsen the situation. The government must act to stop the violence. For the sake of development of country the AL should be in power."
Md Salim's story
30 year old Md Salim had suffered 36% burn, and when I interviewed him he was lying on his side on this bed with heavily scarred arms and face. He could not sit up.
"I am a driver of a leguna, which is a kind of mini van, that picks up passengers and I work the route between Mugda and Motijheel.

Md Salim, two months in the burns unit
On 11 Jan, at 7.30 pm. I was driving along, I had no passengers at the time, but I was looking for some. That day was not a hartal, but the next day was. I was working on hartals as I had no other choice. I earned about Tk 700  per day. When I was near south Kamlapur, four people stopped the vehicle, and pretended that there were passengers. I stopped and they came to the side of the vehicle and asked me where I was going and I said that I was going to Motijhil. They then just poured petrol on me and set it alight. My clothes were on fire. I rolled on the road until the flames went out  and ran naked over to a food shop on the side of the road for help. It felt like my flesh and skin was falling of me. The people there gave me water and a towel to cover myself up, and two people then took me to the hospital. At first I did not feel pain, and only when people started to put water on my wounds did it hurt. I still have a lot of pain. There are burns on my arms, on the front side of my body and face. Initially doctors said that that I had very little chance of survival, as I was burnt in my air passage My wife has stayed with me in the hospital for 50 days the whole time. I have children aged 7 and 3.5 year.
When he was asked about what he thought about the political situation, he said:

“I want to see these guys on trial. There should be dialogue under a caretaker government. This government is fine in that it is giving us money but it does not make up for out loss. There needs to be a permanent solution. Both parties are responsible for this.
Md Khokon's story
30 year old Md Khokon arrived in the burn unit on 23 January, with 20% burns on his body.

Md Khokon at the burns unit
“In Gulistan, I have a makeshift shop on the side of the road selling plastics shoes.

At 9pm on 23rd January, I had finished my work and started my journey back home to Narayanganj.

I was on my bus home when it happened. The bus had reached Jatrabari. I suddenly woke up and there was a fire on the bus. My clothes were on fire. I ran to the door and fell down as I was trying to get out and other passengers stampeded over me. I was the last person to come out of the bus.

I asked police who were there for help but none came to my aid. There were a lot of people coming out of the bus and everyone was trying to get assistance on their own. I started running to a place  which was about 4 km away. When I got near there I took a rickshaw to my sister’s who lives in Bangsal [in old Dhaka]."
I asked the sister who was in the hospital, what her brother looked like at the time.
“His flesh and skin was coming off him and his face was hugely swollen,” she said
Khokon continued about what happened to him
"The doctors took a skin graft from my thigh for my hand, but did not work so I have been told they will have to amputate my hand at the wrist. But I am just concerned about how I will be able to provide for my family. I have a 1 year old girl."
I asked what he thought about what has happened to him
"I blame my fate. Both parties are repeosonbiel for what is going on. There should be dialogue in order to prevent any further casualties like this. Even person who did it should be spoken to. I voted for the Awami League in the election before last but the 5 January election was more like a selection than an election."

Tasim's story
14 year old Tasim was a helper of Asean Transport, a private bus firm that travelled between Gulistan to Gausia who received 15 percent burns. I asked him about what happened.
"On 25 Jan, I was working late and when we finished in Gawsia, I decided to sleep on the bus. I woke up at 3 am and saw a fire. Apart from myself there were two other people the bus, a driver and another helper, an 18 year old boy called Shakil, who received 60 percent burns and died some days ago. 
Shakil woke me up and broke the glass, and he dropped me out of the bus windows.
Tasim, at the DMCH burns unit

Shakil was on fire because of helping me. I was not on fire but got burnt due to the heat of the flames and the heat on the metal of the bus which my skin touched.  
After Shakil got me out of the buys, I think he fell over and became unconscious on the bus for a bit of time, before he was able to get himself out . 
We went to local hospital where we were given first aid. Then we were taken to the police station and the police took me to hospital at 5 am. 
My hands and back and my face received burns. My parents are dead and usually I live with my paternal uncle, but just stayed the night on the bus as it was so late. 
I was very close with Shakil. That night we were joking and gossiping. Shakil gave me his coat before he fell asleep as it was cold. He saved my life

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