Stamford University students Shipra and Sefat, who went to Cox's Bazar to make a documentary with retired army officer Sinha Mohammad Rashed Khan, have been living a traumatised and ostracised life ever since Sinha was murdered.
The death of Sinha in police firing, being accused in three police cases and subsequently landing in jail had already jeopardised their lives. Now they have to endure social stigma even from their nearest ones.
"The situation we are going through and how damaged we both are mentally and individually beg word for description. Any attempt to explain it is meaningless since no one will understand it," says Shipra Rani Debnath. "Our lives seem to have stopped on the night of 31 July."
Major (retd) Sinha Mohammad Rashed Khan was shot dead by police at Shamlapur police check post on Cox's Bazar-Teknaf Marine Drive on 31 July. Police held Shahadul Islam Sefat who was travelling with Sinha. Then in a raid at Nilima Resort where the documentary-making team had been staying, police apprehended Shipra. Subsequently, two narcotics and an arms case was filed accusing the duo and they were sent to jail.
In an unprecedented turn of events, the shooting sparked countrywide outrage and Sinha's sister filed a murder case accusing the police personnel. With the arrests of the cops by the investigating agency Rapid Action Battalion, the details of the shootout started unfolding.
The students walked out of the prison on bail while a home ministry probe reportedly found that all the three cases against them were "false and fabricated".
Since police -- the plaintiff of the three cases against Sefat and Shipra -- turned out to be the accused in Sinha murder case, the question arose whether the narcotics and arms cases, or the murder case trial will proceed.
In the meantime, the students said the damage had already been done to them as the accusation and imprisonment has "put a blot" on their regular life. They said people who were close to them even started to treat them as criminals.
"I no longer can move around like before, people are following me everywhere – even at public toilets. I never was an attention seeker, and could not handle the changed situation. So, I stopped going out."
"The murder also killed my freedom and meaning of life," Sefat told The Business Standard.
Must appear before the court
Sefat said they have to appear before Cox's Bazar court regularly as the cases against him and Shipra are not dropped by the court. "I went to the court in November and the next appearance is scheduled for 21 December," he said.
Rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) has been providing legal assistance to Shipra. Her lawyer Arup Barua Topu told The Business Standard that RAB is investigating all the four cases including the Sinha murder case.
"They would not get relief from the legal battle until the investigating agency would file the charge sheets in those cases," the lawyer said. He claimed police framed Shipra in the cases to derail the Sinha killing investigation.
Meantime, legal counsel of the students Advocate Mohammad Mustafa told TBS that charge sheets of the cases might be submitted before the court by 13 December.
He said they are waiting for the charge sheet submission as it would pave the way for their next course of action.
Sketching relieves Sefat, family the main support for Shipra
Both Shipra and Sefat moved to their families in the capital after securing the bail.
Sefat said he has been resorting to sketching and painting nowadays as it relieves the trauma for the time being. He shared a sketch of a goldfish in a jar with the TBS.
"You know what – his life resembles the fish. Still alive, but have no control over it. There is no freedom – and a boundary is out there which we cannot cross," Sefat sounded sad.
"I have already done some wonderful sketches," he giggled.
In the meantime, Shipra told TBS that her family might be the main reason why she is still alive.
"However, it is not the life I dreamt to live. I wanted to explore the world. I used to travel and shoot videos a lot. Now I am confined within the four walls," she said.
"I do not know how many days I spent starving and how many nights sleepless. I also do not know how long this confinement will continue."
"You are killing us how you killed Sinha that night. Though we are barely alive, let us not forget that we will hold the railing of the court dock for justice until the last day of the trial," she says.
"This incident has already taken so many turns that a hilly track does not twist even in an hour. Maybe more turns and twists are ahead, but I have no interest. I am tired, devastated. If that night had been changed, I would have been the happiest person on earth."
What does the RAB say?
Colonel Tofayel Sarwar Mostafa, additional director general (operations) of the Rapid Action Battalion told TBS Thursday that they are very close to submitting charge sheets in the four different cases.
"We have done the investigations of the much-talked cases. As our director general got infected with Covid-19 recently, the submission was delayed slightly. Hopefully, we will submit it by this month," he added.