Wednesday, February 2, 2011



An Interview



[The People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the Democratic People's Party (DPP) are both fictionalized names of real parties. This manoeuver has been undertaken to protect the identity of the student politician, who is now undergoing his umpteenth rehab.]

“1987. Age 13. Class 8. I was mildly involved. From 1988 I joined the PDP, when I was in class 9.
“Family. I didn’t used to get along with my father. Normal with my mother. Normal with my brother. My brother knew about it a little; my studies were not being hampered by politics.

“Since I was in class 6, I had been observing the activities of the DPP with distaste. I used to avoid the party....

“1988. Age 14. Disgusted with the DPP, I myself created a group against them at school. This group used to print anonymous leaflets against the DPP. We used to prevent other boys from joining the processions organised by the DPP.

“1988. I knew a student worker of the PDP personally; he lived in my neighborhood. He organised a committee for me at my school. After the committee was formed, we printed posters and leaflets using the name of the PDP. Apart from the movement at school, I would take my boys to participate in movements conducted by the PDP outside school. Nobody at home knew because I would stay home at night, and was active only during the day. My grades started getting worse. I missed classes. Teachers would harass students belonging to the PDP, not because the students would not study, but because the teachers belonged to the DPP.

“1989. Age 15. The first ‘action’ at school. The boys of the DPP always came to school organised, in a group. We took an action against this. We decided we wouldn’t let the other boys enter school that day. Some boys used to stay at the school hostel. During the afternoon tiffin period, I left my pipe-gun and cocktail with my boys who stayed at the hostel and some of us left. We missed class that day. The other boys got wind of this, and they told their teachers that there were arms at school. If they didn’t get rid of them, they would inform the police. The teachers then started to question us. Then my boys put the arms in a sack and dumped them. So the teachers didn’t find anything. Then my boys showed the DPP’s papers to the teachers.

“The next day, the school was full of the DPP boys. On that day, I arrived at school at 9:30, long before classes started. We used to hold our meetings on the roof of the nearby market building. On the way there, the boys surrounded me. I ran. I reached the roof. We decided that some of us would have to attend class, no matter what it would take. After two of us entered class, the teacher started accusing us of wrongdoing. Then the teacher beat me and the other boy, and tore our hair.

“How I got hold of arms. The aim was to organise a program at school, save money and buy arms. The teachers tried to stop us, but we went ahead with the program. We also collected tolls [=extortion money] from businessmen in the area. Then we bought arms from an ironsmith. Pipe-gun, 250 takas ($4.5); cocktail, 1100 takas.

“After this episode, the PDP started giving us total assistance. They started to send boys from the armed cadres, or cells. They were our age; they didn’t attend school. Their sources of income were gambling, black marketing in cinema tickets, mugging, selling drugs, and extorting money from hawkers and shop-owners. These were ‘taxes’. Taxes were collected on a fairly regular weekly basis. The cadre boys would receive tax proportionate to the area they could control.

“1990. The aim was to disrupt the meeting of a prominent leader of the DPP. The DPP also had their armed cadres guarding the place. I now joined the student wing of the PDP. We led a procession towards the meeting. But the police stopped us. From then on the mid-level leaders of the student wing gave me a pipe-gun.

“1990. Age 16. I got into college in August. November. The anti-Ershad movement began [General Ershad was dictator at the time]. Everyday, we threw bombs at police cars, barricaded the roads and violated curfews to lead processions, then run.

“Nobody at home, except my brother, knew about my participation in these activities.

“Ershad broke up his own student body and harassed the other student bodies. He had broken up his student body, but he employed his own parties’ students as goons. These goons would beat us up in front of the police and walk around openly with arms. Besides, during election Ershad used to steal votes. All these things made me and my friends react to them. I reacted by joining the oust-Ershad movement.

“Ershad fell. The election came. There were two candidates for the party nomination, Ahmed and Azam [names disguised]. I was on Ahmed’s side. But he didn’t get the nomination. Then Ahmed got another candidate, Afzal [name disguised], from [a third] Party to run against Azam, so that Azam couldn’t win. My friends and I began to work for Afzal. The party members knew about all this, but nobody would talk about it openly. During the election, we used to break up the offices of the DPP.

“27 February. Election day. We went from door to door and picked up people in rickshaws and got them to vote. The rickshaw-fare was paid for by the party. We got people from slums to give false votes. We cast false votes ourselves. The election ended.

“1991. 1st year college. Age 17. The two factions formed during the election started to bicker. There were 50 boys in my group. The other side had around 10 or 12 boys. We threw them out of college. Then they started attacking us at sudden intervals. They used to beat us up when we went out. We used to get together before coming to college and stuck together even inside the college. We couldn’t go out of the college alone.

“We hadn’t yet had our Fresher’s Welcome. Using the welcome as an excuse, we collected money from the students. Later, we collected money from students when they sought admission to college, around Tk.1200-Tk.2000 per head. We bought arms with the money, mostly bullets and powder. That was what we did the whole of 1991.

“April. I learned from one of the boys that the other faction had taken over the college. This information turned out to be wrong, as I discovered after coming to college. I beat up the boy who had misinformed me. He became furious.

“July. Three months later, one night some boys from the other faction came to my house and called me out. I wondered to myself, 'Let’s see what they are going do to me.' A shopkeeper in my area had warned me earlier not to leave the house. They broke the lights and darkened the street. Fourteen boys slapped and hit me and beat me up with the blunt end of hockey sticks – they hit me everywhere, on my head, chest, arms, legs, body.... Sensing an opening, I sneaked out. I ran to the party’s central secretary at the college. I couldn’t stand on my feet; the secretary took me to a doctor. One of my boys got wind of what had happened, and they seized the area. I went home at midnight. The groups were agitated, and senior members came and got us to make up. But the resentment lingered in the area for fifteen to twenty days. We had made up only on the surface; inside we were angry.

“Family. Before this incident, I didn’t use to talk much with my family. I used to come home at night just to eat and sleep. There were no words spoken between me and my father. On that night, when I came home, I had to knock a long time before my father opened the door. He wouldn’t let me in. He said, “You go wherever you like, I have nothing to do with you”. When he saw what shape I was in, he softened a little, and let me in.

“In 1991, I had no feeling for anyone at home. I just lived there. Even if my father hadn’t allowed me in that night, I would have stayed somewhere else. I didn’t care. There was only one thought on my mind: how was I going to get even with those boys? My mother was crying, and nursing me. My brother was lost. I had to stay home for fifteen days in order to recover. Then my father’s affection for me increased. But I felt nothing for anyone. After fifteen days, my father sent me to another town to my grandfather’s place. I stayed there two months. I lost touch with the party. I used to stay home, rest, read books and go out now and then.

“Two months later. October. Things had cooled down. I returned. I wasn’t interested in the party like before. I kept thinking about only one thing: how to get more arms and recruit an armed cadre of boys.

“December. Two of the boys who had beaten me up were hanging around in my area. Four of us beat them up good and proper: we used hockey sticks, knives, and cola bottles. The doctor gave one of them 48 hours to live. They both survived.

“I couldn’t stay home after this. Most of the time, I would stay out. I would return at midnight, and leave at dawn. One night, on my way home, I was shot at, but they missed. I ran. Things went on like this.

“One day there was a shootout between us and them. We made up and things cooled off, more or less.

“January, 1992. One day, the DPP boys picked me up from the back of the college and beat me up in a college room and locked me in. My friend’s brother was a leader of the DPP. He got me freed.

“February, 1992. I formed my own gang of boys at college, mostly boys of my own class. I would recruit boys who were reckless and wild. They had a kill-or-be-killed mentality. I used to get into trouble with the party over these boys. I used to get into trouble over other things, like power, admission of boys to college, money, arms....

“March. The intermediate exams drew near. I had to study. I lost the power I had. I appeared for the intermediate exam in commerce, got a second division.

“August. After the exam, I got back to the party. I’d lost my earlier power. I started afresh to acquire power. I became insubordinate; I would refuse to listen to commands from the top. I would send boys from my own group, or simply say no.

“One day, in a procession led by the DPP, three boys belonging to that party were shot and killed. I wan sent there by command from the party bosses. I didn’t want to go there, but I had to. I knew there would be violence, even murder. However, I went in the morning and came back in the evening. The murders happened at night.

“I wanted to give up the party, but I couldn’t, I was too involved. I needed protection. My frustration mounted. I started taking drugs. I used to take drugs before the exam, but for fun. Now, it became a regular thing. After taking drugs at night, I would resolve not to take anymore. But even if I somehow managed to stay home all day in great agony, I couldn’t stay at night. This is how things went on.

“I went back to my grandfather’s place. I took the drugs with me.

“I used to feel very helpless at the time. I wanted my father’s help. But he didn’t understand that. He would only give me orders. I grew more desperate, more angry with my father.

“October. I went to my uncle’s house in another town. I felt terrible that night, but I was under control. I stopped taking drugs for three months at a stretch. I wanted to join the army, but that didn’t work out. From January I started taking drugs again right until June. My grandparents caught on. They told my parents; I stopped again.

“After June. I still take drugs. I feel very frustrated. Now I regret everything. What have I done with my life? And for what? I could have done better in my exams. The whole family – cousins, aunts, uncles – have become aloof; they avoid me. They think I am a goon. And this causes enormous frustration. I start taking drugs whenever I get frustrated. I am studying for my bachelor’s exam in commerce, but my heart’s not in it. I study just because I have to. I have no interest in commerce, but I don’t know what I want. I can’t sleep at night; I have nightmares. Most of the time, I see people fighting. I don’t want to rejoin the party. Now I realise what the party has done to my life. Now I want other boys not to get involved in politics, but I can’t quite put it into words.”

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