Thursday, January 29, 2009

Land-grabbing by criminals in Chittagong, Bangladesh

Criminals: The powerful land-grabbing syndicate in the Chittagong metropolitan area include: (1) Jaker Hosain Chowdhury (son of late Kala Miah) of 187 Manu Mianji Lane, Chandanpura, Ctg.; (2) Jashimuddin, s/o Abdul Mannan of Mannan Villa, 1697 K.B. Aman Ali Road, P.S. Bakolia, Ctg., (3) Ekramul Haque Kaderi, s/o Ahmadul Haque of Village Chapra, P.S. Patiya, Ctg., (4) Md. Momtazuddin Manjur, s/o Moktar Ahmed of village Barunchar, P.S. Anwara, Ctg., (5) Md. Mahbubul Ahsan, s/o Md. Nazimuddin Bhuiyan of 155/2 West Kafrul, Dhaka, (6) Md. Wahed Molla alias Md. Zaher alias Md. Jahed, (7) Md. Moinuddin, s/o (late) Md. Azizul of village Farhabad Musabia, P.S. Hathazari, Ctg., (8) Nurul Amin Sanobi, s/o Syed Ullah of village Sonua, P.S. Bashkhali, Ctg., (9) Md. Shahjahan Chowdhury, s/o Raja Mia of village Sreepur Kharandip, P.S. Boalkhali, Ctg. (10) Champaiya alias Abu Hanif (right hand man of the most feared politician Godfather in Chittagong); (11) Md. Abdul Mabud (a notorious money-launderer); (12) Ratan Kumar Bhowmik; (13) Mahtabuddin Chowdhury; (14) Md. Nasiruddin; (5) Fayyaz (a goon who works for the most feared politician Godfather in Chittagong); and (16) Abdur Rahim (a cadre leader who lives near the mazaar of Gharibullah Shah) amongst many others – mostly from Bakolia/Boalkhali area.
They work in collusion with greedy and corrupt politicians [e.g., a BNP-MP and his notorious son during the BNP rule (2001-2006)] to grab people's land.

Land-grabbing is a Mafia like operation involving Crores of Taka with connections in the Land Deeds & Records Department, Chittagong city and Sitakund Thana plus a corrupt judiciary system (where sometimes verdicts can be bought in favor of the criminal syndicate) and an equally corrupt police force (who sometimes show serious dereliction of duty and betray public trust to seal the immoral land-grab).

Facts: This land-grabbing syndicate of Jaker Hosain Chowdhury has victimized and continues to threaten many genuine land-owners by falsifying deeds and buying influence from immoral and corrupt government officers. Their criminal scheme follows a typical pattern:

(1) Buy the so-called 'power of attorney', often through illegal money-laundering, from family members of a dead zamindar (who had moved to India after Partition of Pakistan) now living in India. [Note: During the British Raj, while most Muslims were peasants in the aftermath of the Permanent Settlement Act, most of the new zamindars were Hindus in the East Bengal. After partition of India, a large majority of them settled in India];
(2) In that so-called Deed of Power-of-Attorney, deliberately falsify information by showing the “raiyat” (peasant) properties -- tenanted (projabili) lands of land-owners -- as part of the zamindari property so as to target such properties for potential land-grab [Note: the zamindars under the British Raj were responsible for collection of revenues only from the prajabili lands (tenanted); such properties never belonged to the zamindar as ‘khas-dakhali’ lands. With the passage of the East Bengal Estate Acquisition and Tenancy Act of 1950, the entire Zamindari system itself was dissolved, all the raiyats were made owners and asked to pay their revenue directly to the Government, while former zamindars were paid adequate compensation by the government for loss of their income];
(3) If the previous two methods could not be employed, falsify land deeds in collaboration with the corrupt officers in the Land Deeds & Records Department, Chittagong City and Sitakund Thana to show that the property was bought by or sold to the land-grabbing criminal [Note: the Sitakund office was set on fire deliberately by some criminals in the mid/late-1970s to further complicate the issue on land ownership record. It is well known that an official falsified record could be obtained from these vital offices with a payment of approx. 1% of the actual property value];
(4) File 'Partition Suits' on behalf of the dead zamindar family member (who had become Indian citizens) without the knowledge of the real owners and get a verdict in their favor so as to prepare the groundwork for future land-grab with support of government agencies (Note: in these cases, the real owner is not made aware that his/her land is being contested by these attorneys, and as such, are often ill prepared to put up an injunction on time to stop such a court-decreed possession or land-grab by the criminal syndicate);
(5) Grab the property of the legal owner of the (erstwhile) ‘raiyat’ property by evicting him/her and/or his/her tenants with tens/hundreds of criminal cadre behind. In this scheme of things: the local thana is already managed by the land-grabbing syndicate, and the corrupt politician is engaged for his/her support so that the entire criminal project will move smoothly with no actions expected to come from the law enforcing agencies; no court order is even served to the affected family who did not know that there was an old case, resurrected from the early Pakistan days, on its property and that the court, without an independent, unbiased inquiry, had already issued an execution case for possession of his/her legally owned and possessed land by the land-grabbing syndicate that had wielded its power of attorney;
(6) In the meantime, sell the property to tens of greedy buyers willing to buy land at prices significantly lower than actual market value, making them all a party to the criminal loot;
(7) Before the actual land-grab, sometimes the legal owner is threatened to pay extortion money (which may run into several crorers of Taka), failing which he/she is threatened about the dire consequences of losing his/her entire property on which he/she had been living and paying taxes, revenues, bills, etc. for all these years;
(8) Upon illegal land-grab, quickly change the face of the property by demolishing old structures/buildings and repopulate the properties with new buyers;
(9) Use connection with powerful, corrupt and greedy politicians, government officers, police and magistrates, etc. to control police and administrative actions against them. (Note: many a times all such people colluding with and aiding the criminal syndicate are promised and delivered a piece of the looted land/apartment/properties.)
(10) It is not possible for a single person to fight against this powerful land-grabbing syndicate. They have money and the muscle, a huge cadre of criminals to do their dirty work.
(11) A concerted effort from the Ministry of Law and Ministry of Home Affairs is necessary to go after these criminals of the land-grabbing syndicate.

Evidences: Victims include: Mr. and Mrs. N. I. Siddiqui and Dr. Oliullah of Zakir Hossain Road, Khulshi, Chittagong.

In April-June of 2005, Jaker Chowdhury and his land-grabbing gang evicted 16 tenant families, demolished nine homes, and cut down hundreds of valuable old (teak, mahogany, etc.) trees from the Siddiqui properties in Khulshi. Dr. Oliullah and his family, residing in 24 Zakir Hossain Road, were taken as hostages within their own homes, and ultimately settled with Jaker for several million Taka to escape terrorism. (See e.g., the Bhorer Kagoz, April 10, 2005; Janakantha, April 10 and June 18, 2005; Sangbad, April 10, 2005; Jugantar, April 10, 2005; Suprabhat Bangladesh, April 10 and June 17, 2005; Daily Azadi, April 10-11, 2005; Prothom Alo, April 10-11, and June 17, 2005; Daily Purbokone, April 10-11, and June 17, 2005; Weekly Holiday, April 29, 2005; Samakal June 17, 2005)

The Detective Branch S.P. Abdullahel Baki (then DC, North Ctg.) and DB Police Commissioner Md. Abdul Majed (then Police Commissioner, Chittagong Metropolitan Police), both stationed now in Dhaka have first hand info on how they were asked by the feared politician Godfather (and his APS - Abu Bakr Sidddique) not to meddle in land-grab of 2005 by his front-man Jaker and his gang of land-grabbing syndicate.
An unbiased police inquiry report, Memo # 192, dt. 26 May 2005, from DC (North) Chittagong, identified Jaker as a land-grabber, and recommended police action against him and his goons to restore the Siddiqui properties in June of 2005, which was subsequently carried out by the CMP in mid-June of 2005, roughly 10 weeks after the properties were intruded by the criminal syndicate.

Mr. Salman Ispahani (with properties next to the Siddiqui’s) of the M.M. Ispahani Ltd. was approached by the notorious son of the BNP-MP (then an Advisor to Prime Minsiter), in early April of 2005 seeking permission to allow Jaker’s goons to intrude into the Siddiqui compound from the Ispahani’s side, which he declined to grant. See Bangladeshi newspapers reports (between April 10 – June 30, 2005) cited above, esp. "Chattagrame 100 koti takar jami dakhal", Saptahik 2000, May 25, 2005 for details; the GDs filed in Khulshi Thana against some members of the Syndicate; the civil and criminal cases filed against the criminal syndicate; court verdicts against the syndicate leader and some members (April 2005-to date); Letters from the expatriate community to the U.S. Embassy, Dhaka, Ambassador Shamsher M. Chowdhury (USA) and Bangladesh Govt. seeking intervention and justice against land-grabbing syndicate.]

Soon after coming into power of the military-backed Caretaker Govt., Jaker and two of his miscreant associates were captured by the Police in early January of 2007 and put behind the jail. However, after serving some 35 days of prison time, he was released.

Jaker and some of his associates, aided by dozens of goons, intruded the Siddiqui properties again in January 31, 2008. They beat the security guards in “Aranika”, partly damaged the northern wall and demolished the security guard’s house. Despite all the calls to the local police station (Khulshi), initially the O.C. did not respond to the call. Only when he received calls from the HQ did he come to the crime scene for investigation, but by that time the goons had left. Reportedly, he was bribed by Jaker. A GD was filed by the Siddiqui family against Jaker and some his accomplices late that night. The thana O.C.’s problematic behavior was brought to the attention of the IG, Police; he was transferred. Arrest warrants were issued for Jaker’s arrest. Again, after serving only a day in the prison, he managed to get free on bail.

Jaker and eight of his major accomplices were found guilty in the Chittagong Court on May 26, 2008 in Case 47/06 filed by the Siddiqui family. They were sentenced to a total of 6.5 year Rigorous Imprisonment. However, with tacit approval of some corrupt Police officers, 6 members of the land-grabbing syndicate managed to escape from the court precinct while 3 others including Jaker was nabbed by the Police. After staying behind the bar for nearly five weeks, he and all the eight convicted gang members managed to get a temporary bail of six months, which already had expired on Dec. 18, 2008. He and his gang members remain free to intimidate the Siddiqui family while buying influence from police and judicial officers to further victimize law-abiding genuine land-owners.

Some police officers in the Detective Branch of Police, Chittagong are known to show serious dereliction of duty by aiding and supporting the land-grabbing syndicate. They are also reported to have taken massive bribes from the criminal gang so as to help their land-grabbing criminal activities. When arrest warrants are issued against the criminals, these officers are known to overlook such orders. They fail to conduct unbiased inquiry on criminal activities, including money-laundering, of the syndicate. They harass the innocent land-owners and demand bribe, which the legal owners always refuse to pay.

These police officers, tainted in corruption, are: Assistant Commissioner Wahidul Haque Chowdhury, sub-Inspectors Mizanur Rahman and Abul Hosain. The AC-DB is from the same locality as that of the criminal gang, and is known to show undue regional favoritism to the criminal syndicate. He has failed to discharge his duties by not only failing to conduct an unbiased investigation against court-mandated inquiries on land-grabbing and money-laundering but uses his official influence to harass and abuse the real owners of the land, while he lets Jaker and his criminal gang go free. It is widely reported that he and his colleagues have been promised lucrative apartment deals should they be able to help Jaker and his gang take possession of the Siddiqui properties. Some unnamed army officer (calling himself a Colonel)on deputation and a magistrate in Chittagong are also reported to have been induced by Jaker and his gang for promises of lucrative flats.

The gang openly used to mention that an ex-Judge, Chittagong Judge's Court - by the name of Shaha was in their pocket so that no case of the plaintiffs against the syndicate would have a chance to succeed. That was the level of their audacity! Some of the judges are reportedly bribed by the land-grabbing syndicate for favorable court verdicts.

The syndicate has also learned to harass its victims by filing false police charges and court cases against the legal owners.

What the new Awami League government ought to do?
In a land-scarce country like Bangladesh, land has become the best asset anyone can have. As such, there are quite a few land-grabbing syndicates that have emerged in various parts of the country to target innocent, vulnerable land-owners. Of these, the group led by an ex-Madrasa daptari named Jaker Hossain Chowdhury (who calls himself Jaker master) is the most dangerous one. He is a highly immoral, ruthless, liar, deceiver, forger, fraud and terrorist who knows how to commit his crimes well. He dresses up as long-kurta clad, cap-wearing, bearded old man with a tasbih in his his hand. All these simply to disguise his Satanic inner self. With forged stamps and seals, he knows how to doctor government records and deeds. He then approaches greedy politicians, corrupt government officers, promising everyone a share in the loot. His criminal action has devastated many families' resources, esp. given the fact that sometimes the same government mechanisms that are supposed to come to the aid of the victims are used by Jaker and his syndicate to victimize them.

The government of Bangladesh must punish all the criminals and culprits that victimize lawful owners of land. If the government fails to put the convicted criminals behind the bar, their inaction will be interpreted as a green signal by the criminal land-grabbing syndicate for further victimization of the innocent. It also creates a poisonous, painful atmosphere of vicious cycle where every greedy, corrupt and criminal person from corrupt politicians, police, magistrates and government officers to the land-grabbing goons -- associated with such a land-grab -- become filthy rich, while the victims are exhausted - physically, financially and mentally.

The Bangladesh Government ought to make land-grabbing a serious crime punishable to long term Rigorous Imprisonment terms. It must arrest the above named criminals to restore citizen's confidence in it. It must also arrest their partners in crime within the various government agencies plus the greedy, corrupt politician so that an example is set that shows that no one is above the law.

The government must stop all harassment of the legal owners by the criminal syndicate and its paid agents in various government agencies. In a crime and corruption-prone country like Bangladesh where almost anything can be bought for the right price and connection, government's firm action is needed to wipe out this curse from the society. Anyone benefiting from land-grabbing must be punished harshly.

A New Mideast Approach

Yousef Munayyer (A New Mideast Approach, Washington Post, Jan. 24, 2008) has correctly pointed out the problems and solutions to the most important issue of our time, i.e., finding a peaceful resolution to the Palestine-Israeli conflict that would allow the two sides to live as peaceful neighbors. Bush's policy tilted so much in favor of the hard-line Israeli government that it was a disaster, and only made things more difficult for the new administration to find a middle ground that could be trusted by both parties.

The appointment of George Mitchell was the best thing that could have happened in a long time. As a trusted friend of Israel, who is still admired by the Arabs for his honesty and integrity, he may be able to do something that others had failed so miserably. Who knows at long last we may really see an independent and autonomous Palestinian state living side by side with Israel without being choked and harassed by its powerful neighbor.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Good Governance in Bangladesh


Mr. Syed Ahsanul Alam Parvez has been leading a drive towards good governance in Bangladesh for quite sometime. However, like many other good efforts and initiatives, lodged by many concerned citizens and NGOs, Mr. Parvez's call for good governance thus far has only met deaf ears from those in higher offices. There is no doubt that without good governance, transparency and accountability, no organization, let alone a government -- liberal or illiberal, democratic or not-so-democratic -- can empower its constituents. Unfortunately, the absence of such building blocks has been the modus operandi of many governments, including that of Bangladesh.

In the write-up "A Cautionary Note to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina," Mr. Parvez has brought up some issues that deserve serious consideration from the newly elected government of Sheikh Hasina Wazed. I pray and hope that in the aftermath of recent election victory (considered to be the fairest election ever held in the history of Bangladesh and Pakistan), which epitomized citizen's overwhelming desire for a change, she will do the needful, thus transforming Bangladesh into a n ation of responsible and informed citizens.

My only serious concern is that change for better cannot succeed without having citizens that are good. This was rightly understood by our Prophet Muhammad (S), when some 14 centuries ago he said, "As you are, so will be your leadership." [Note that while many bad and corrupt guys have been overthrown in the recent election, there are still some criminals and murderers who got elected, which show that Bangladesh's citizens are far from being responsible citizens.] There is no denying that we have a serious leadership crisis in the Muslim world, and a drastic change in our attitude is necessary to tackle this grave problem (please, see the article: "A leadership primer; why are we failing miserably?" to read some suggestions I made last year; see, e.g.,

Stemming religious extremism in Bangladesh

Sajeeb Wazed and Carl Ciovacco's piece in the Harvard Internationational Review, Nov. 19, 2008 on "Stemming the Rise of Islamic Extremism in Bangladesh" deserves much praise for articulating ways and means to combating the so-called Islamic extremism in Bangladesh. With the Awami League's overwhelming victory over the BNP-Jamat right wing coalition, one can only hope that many of the suggestions made by these authors will be implemented to stem that rise.
Religious extremism of any kind -- Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Baha'i, Sikh and Jain - is bad. It is worse when such is allowed in politics. It should not be allowed to dictate public policy under any government. Such a combination can be deadly explosive, resulting in deaths and sufferings of many innocent people.
Unfortunately, we had witnessed a good dose of such a Molotov cocktail in many countries in the last two decades. We are all too familiar with monumental crimes of the brutal military regime in Burma that epitomizes religious extremism to enslaving millions of Burmese Muslims, esp. the Rohingya people of Arakan. Forgotten in this context is the fact that religious extremism can be equally deadly in some secular countries. If you believe in casualty numbers, in contrast to commonly held assumptions, some of the worst violators have been countries like the USA and India -- two of the largest democracies in the world. Both of these countries also profess secularism in one form or another.

President Bush's actions have resulted in the unnecessary deaths of more than a million civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone strangulation of a million people in Gaza in the hands of his trusted Jewish ally - first the openly murderous regime of Ariel Sharon and then the Olmert Government of Israel, which just before the change of government in the White House had killed more than a thousand civilians in what one can only describe a cold-blooded murderous orgy.

Many of the first groups of soldiers and volunteers sent for fighting for the USA in the aftermath of 9/11 in Afghanistan were also motivated by their deep Christian fundamentalism, i.e., extremism, with a hideous anti-Muslim agenda. How can we explain such a phenomenon in the USA, a country that is a liberal, secular democracy? We don't have to go too far back in history to understand that the nation has slowly but steadily been embracing Christian fundamentalism for quite some time, since at least the days of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. No wonder that millions of American voters today identify themselves as evangelists. Without their support, President George W. Bush could not have been elected in 2000, and surely not reelected in 2004.

Thus, 9/11 was not the triggering event that all on a sudden forced America to embrace Christian extremism, but it only acted as a catalyst to further the evangelist cause to seal the fate of the nation with a fellow evangelist Christian, who had claimed direct communication with the Christian God. So, it's not difficult to understand how the Bush Administration analyzed every global event from its narrow religious chauvinism and manipulated such events to accelerate Jesus's second coming on earth. Israel's savagery against the Lebanese Muslims and Palestinians was given an unquestioning endorsement. Hamas's election victory in a free democratic election was unwelcome and every hurdle was put to both unseat the government there and punish the entire Gaza population for their decision to vote in its favor. If the Iraqi experiment had succeeded we would surely have seen a continuation of the Bush Doctrine for years to come.

How about secular, illiberal Indian democracy where Hindu extremism has been responsible not only for the Partition of India in 1947 but also the murder of its most famous icon - Mahatma Gandhi? Not surprisingly, thus, that it was under the watch of the secular government of Congress that the historical Babri Mosque was demolished in India. How can also one explain the daily killings of Bangladeshi peasants around the border with India? How can one explain India's strangulation of Kashmiri people, who are denied their fundamental rights to choose on whether or not to opt out of the Union? How can we explain Narendra Modi's victory in Gujarat after the Godhara incident, which resulted in murder of so many Muslims? The simple answer is Hindu fundamentalism or extremism is on the rise in secular India.

Now the billion dollar question is: did the population orient the direction of the government to sanction religious extremism or vice-versa? Government in a democracy – liberal or illiberal – emerges, after all, from its own people and as such for the crimes of the government its people cannot shy away from their own responsibilities. As they are, so are their governments. Period!

In spite of its imperfect score on secularism, deaths resulting from extremist activities of religious bigots in Bangladesh are miniscule compared to many nations that try to self-promote themselves as secular havens.

As pointed out by the authors of the HIR article, Bangladesh had a very secular origin, and its people have been more secular than its neighboring India. While opportunist politicians have used religion to beg vote of the majority (by the way, this trend is not limited to impoverished, poor countries), religious extremism has hardly played a major role in the politics of Bangladesh. Even a religion-based Jamat-i-Islami (JI) party had never gotten votes that could be construed problematic for the soul of Bangladesh. In the previous governments either of the major parties had at one time or another tried to align itself with the JI so as to run the country. As the most recently concluded, albeit the most fair, election has demonstrated once again, the people's support of the JI and religion- based political parties is not something that should be a matter of grave concern. Our people are not stupid, but our politicians are who think that they have been able to fool the people. Voters, even if they may not all have long memories, do have short memories. That is good enough to unseat any unpopular government, and force both the government and the opposition to take them seriously.

Whether we like to admit or not, oddly, secularism has not always been the necessary protection or answer to stem religious extremism. In this age of ours, religious extremism is not a local phenomenon and is fast becoming a global phenomenon requiring cooperation between governments and NGOs to arrest this tide. What happens in next-door India cannot simply be hidden under the rug. We need a comprehensive approach to understand why and how it evolves, and then find solutions that are meaningful. A band-aid type measure will not work to fight extremism.